If you hang out in any IGP or PSA Facebook groups, you will start to see a trend. People are looking for advice on selecting an “off breed” for a biting dog sport, or for a club that will let them play. While Malinois and German Shepherds are commonplace in these sports, you will occasionally see other breeds crop up. Traditionally, Dobermans, Rottweilers, Boxers, and Giant Schnauzers have all been participants in these sports, and there are breeders today who still work to preserve the working character. Every now and then, you see something different. Somebody working their lab/cattle dog/collie in IGP protection, or trying to get a PDC with one. Some can pull it off, most can’t. They do not have the right building blocks.
“But my dog loves to tug, and loves to bite toys, and has super prey drive. He will definitely love bitework.”
This is a very common misconception, and protection sport people are partially to blame. To help people understand the sport, and to make it more palatable, people will talk about how the dog is biting an extra large tug toy in the shape of a sleeve or a suit jacket. While for many dogs this is a giant game, it isn’t as simple as a jumbo game of tug. There are pressures and challenges in these sports that require very specific traits that off breeds typically don’t, and shouldn’t, have.
The History of Protection Sports
Schutzhund is the sport that most people are familiar with when it comes to protection sports. Now known as IGP, this sport features tracking, obedience, and protection, and was designed as a breed suitability test for the German Shepherd. In order to prove that your GSD was suitable to produce offspring, you had to achieve a base level of proficiency in the sport. Just like hunt tests were designed to test labs and hunting breeds, and earth dog was designed to test working terriers. Other sports were designed to test the qualities of a working police dog, and other breeds of guardian types were developed with these programs.
Over time, these sports have developed into more of a sport than a breeding test or a police dog test. We have specific lines of Malinois for IGP, specific ones for French ring, and still others for the KNPV sport in Holland. A German shepherd who competes in the AKC show ring generally does not have the same character as a modern working bred GSD, who excels in all three phases of the IGP sport that they have been selected for.
Slight Off Breeds
After Malinois, GSDs, and Dutch shepherds, there are a couple of breeds that you will see relatively frequently in protection sports. Dobermans are probably the next most common, followed by Rottweilers, Boxers and other bully breeds, and Mastiff breeds such as the Cane Corso. You will see these dogs titling, and sometimes to high levels. Dobermans and Rotties have stood on all breed championship podiums, and there is a Beauceron with a Mondioring 3.
But there are some issues here. The selection pressures on these breeds have not been the same as the main 3 breeds. Most of these dogs that you see from reputable breeders today are being bred for the show ring or for performance sports, and there isn’t as much of a focus on the things that a protection dog needs. There are health and structure issues that can cause these dogs problems moving to higher levels of sport, especially the ringsports. So while there are some phenomenal working Dobermans out there, they are hard to come by.
Very Off Breeds
A border collie competed at the FCI IGP world championships, and people were all about it. It was a much different dog to see in a see of shepherds and Malinois. The performances were also much different. This is a border collie in a million to be able to take the pressure of world championship helper work, and even he could not muster a passing score.
There are a good number of breeds with Schutzhund 3 titles. Labs, goldens, a great dane, some cattle dogs and border collies. These dogs become beacons for people who want to go out and show the world that any dog can do the sport. But for every dog that you see who makes it through at the club level, there are 1,000 who would not and could not. Nor should they. When I look for a correct lab or golden, I want a handler sensitive, soft mouthed dog with exceedingly friendly character. A good retriever should not have a full hard grip on a sleeve, and they should not see stick hits as a fun cue to keep sparring. When I look for a correct herding dog, it is a major issue for them to have a death grip on a sheep. It is a major issue for them to be eager to get into fights.
Why can’t you just teach the dog to go down the field and bite the tug? Because the guy is trying to get them not to bite. Pressure is poorly understood in most dog circles, and we do not always perceive it in the way that dogs do. I can have a rock solid stable cattle dog or lab, not worried about anything, who is worried about the type of pressure that my Malinois lives to work under. It takes a very specific kind of dog to do a PSA or Mondioring attack with accessories. It takes a very specific kind of dog to bark in a dominant and powerful way for a minute straight. These things may seem simple from an outside perspective, but it’s hundreds of years of genetics that make those things happen. And for your collie, there are hundreds of years of genetics telling it something else.