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Leerburg Dog Training Blog

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Thoughts about the current state of biting dog sports & working dogs

I have been involved in club dog sport for a long time. Initially because I was interested in protection dog training. Back at that point in time there was still a lot of people who had the same interest in dog sport, the training and handling of protection dogs. Eventually my interest was in the police service dog where it remains today as a primary reason for my participation in dog sports.

Today, dog sport has changed. Yes there are a few people who see dog sport as a protection dog platform. Very few among the IPO and Ring groups that dominate the biting sport in North America. Some of this is good and shows a respect for the sport as a sport and the dog training as a means to a competitive endeavor. This in turn has contributed to changing the emphasis on training to those techniques that can produce precision, lower stress (to obtain the many repetitions necessary to obtain both precision and enthusiasm) and a picture of work now popular especially in IPO.

The sport has always promoted a dog that is tractable and handles pressure well. It has not always promoted raw power, hardness, and aggression (a layman’s term I admit but effective for this writing). Over the years we have seen the total split in the GSD breed to two distinct populations, the show dogs and the working dogs (there is no argument to this point today, anyone who tries to argue this is simply showing their lack of understanding of the breed).

Today, those of us that I call end users of the working dogs, law enforcement, military, security services, have forced a industry of breeding dogs for our use. There are breeding stations in places as far-flung as Slovakia, Mexico, Colombia, Brazil, whose sole purpose is creating barely civilized, selection tested dogs for sale into this market. 12-18 month old dogs which have been exposed to drive development techniques for the singular purpose of trying to get them to pass selection tests of various types. Making cash for the next generation of dogs. Pedigrees on many of these dogs are anyones guess. So they do not further the breed nor an understanding of the breed. This includes temperaments, drives, and health issues. They simply do not contribute.

Many of these creatures also have significant challenges to training and deployment! Yes, they have been reared to pass selection tests but this is no substitute for being reared for the personal animal of a dog sport enthusiast, a companion, an all around dog. Something is missing and that something is a result of the continual interactions and understanding of the human and man made environments to which all of societies within which all working dogs must function.

It is always a gem when I can find a family raised sport dog available for me to place into a police working situation. This is the best possible situation when training a new handler and trying to achieve the best program possible.

When I can do that and know the pedigree of the dog and health history as well as the working history the success rate sky rockets! This goes for any breed.

So, back to dog sports! I had a discussion at my IPO club recently, it centered around the loss of traditional purpose for the clubs. Frankly, they are social clubs for dog enthusiasts and casual dog trainers who want to have their pets trained in a traditional fashion so they can live with them. They also like the traditional roles the working breeds represent. Protection, family security, farm animals etc. This has given way to competitive dog sports. Its all about the performance at trial. As I watched a club member with a very strong dog work his dog I observed that he will never title his dog. Yet, he enjoys the dog, it listens to him, and does the basic skills necessary but both the handler and dog totally lack precision. Yet, it fulfills the needs of the team entirely. Should this person not be recognized by having a basic certificate of performance? Should he have to train and perform for current standard that asks for precision and style? I would say no because that is not the goal. I would say we as a culture have dumped the folks that are not interested in playing game that IPO has become. It is the biggest reason that IPO based clubs are loosing participation world wide. The SV has lost half of its participants in the last 3-4 decades. This is telling in a environment where the need for working dogs of the highest quality has risen immensely!

Now, the world of the pedigreed Malinois has been sucked into a mirror image of the GSD IPO world. They pretty much skipped the show portion and went straight to the IPO circus. Too bad as sports such as Belgian Ring and FR have given us some superb animals. IPO will wear that down without a steady influx of dogs from outside the IPO world.

The Dutch have produced an entire industry based on their Malinois crosses and Dutch Shepherd Crosses. These Dutch dogs may represent the best of the best in terms of actual working dogs…those that perform on the street at a high level. If not he best at least the population producing the most in the arena of high end dogs.

We see many of these dogs creating foundation stock for a newly recognized breed through the AKC. This can’t be good. Why do we need this? It seems that the only reason is that we have people who want to compete with a recognized breed in IPO or Mondio Ring?! Can’t we learn?

Yes I know there are a million reasons that people have for doing things with dogs. I for one simply want a handful of things, power, character, and health. Yet, we as a working dog culture seem to make way too many detours away from these ends.


  1. Avatar
    December 27, 2017

    Love this article! I was so disappointed when a respected breeder of working line Dutch Shepherds pushed to get the into AKC..The almighty $$$$$. I have a new pup that may get me back into a working sport. But he won’t be a high points dog, but a serious dog. But that’s what I want. Or maybe SDA.. Thanks for saying what needs to be said.

  2. Avatar
    Bob Scott (OED)
    December 27, 2017

    Outstanding article!

  3. Avatar
    Rob Jemison
    December 28, 2017

    Spot on as usual Kevin!

  4. Avatar
    Joseph k
    December 28, 2017

    It’s a paradigm shift to commercialization.
    I believe in the US , sporting dogs have an increased personal liability risk, that may be a reason we’ve seen a decline in interest.
    When that happens you loose the ability to evaluate the dog in a more natural environment.
    It’s all centered on commercial use, staged to make a sale.

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