A Belgian malinois puppy plays with a red and blue rugby ball

What Age Should A Dog Be Before Starting Schutzhund Training?

There are elements of Schutzhund training that you can begin teaching to puppies from as young as 8 weeks of age. These tend to be encouraging and rewarding engagement, as well as simple commands such as ‘sit’, ‘down’ or ‘stand’ which are each crucial in forming a foundation for all disciplines but especially obedience.

At an equally young age puppies can also begin to be introduced to the ‘take’ and ‘drop’ commands which are essential for retrieval tasks.

Despite seeming a little general in nature, this basic skillset needs to be mastered by all dogs irrespective of age before moving onto more technically challenging skills. 

For highly physical elements of Schutzhund such as conducting the escape grip it’s best to wait until the young dog has developed enough muscle to reduce the risk of injury during high impact movements such as  jumping.

The American Kennel Club recommends holding off from encouraging your dog to undertake strenuous exercise until your dog is at least 12 months old to allow growth plates time to fully fuse and reduce the risk of long term damage.

For this reason too Schutzhund competitions are only open to dogs over the age of 12 months. 

Which element of Schutzhund training can I start first?


Translated into the English language as ‘Protection Dog’, the most common image of a dog practicing Schutzhund is that of a loyal canine protecting its owner from a human threat (such as pictured on the cover of Helmut Raiser’s training manual ‘Der Schutzhund‘).

The sport has actually rebranded a couple of times, most recently to ‘The International Working Dog Test’, in part so as to move away from the stigma associated with a dog displaying controlled aggression.

However the protection element is far from the first aspect of Schutzhund training that needs to be introduced to a young dog.

Out of the three competitive elements, obedience, tracking and protection, sculpting desirable obedience traits is the highest priority when introducing the sport of Schutzhund (or similar sports) to a new dog, regardless of their age.

If working with a particularly young dog, you might want to take a step back before teaching any discipline specific traits and first work on developing the bond that you and your dog have between one another.

This is important in the long run as when introduced to an environment with lots of distractions (people, other dogs etc) you’ll only have an effective working dog if their attention and focus remains on you, the handler.

Schutzhund Discipline What Age Should A Dog Be Before Starting This Training? What Tasks Specifically Can You Work On At This Age?
Obedience
8 Weeks
  • Imprinting
  • Developing Food Drive
  • Leash Training
  • Basic Commands
  • Heelwork
Tracking

8 Weeks

  • Developing Food Drive
  • Leash Training
  • Basic Commands

Protection

8 Weeks

  • Developing Food Drive Using Toys

What do the experts say?

The timeline of how old a dog should be before starting training has been neatly summarised by experienced Schutzhund trainer Kevin Coombs.

Kevin condenses over 15 years of his knowledge into a comprehensive online course New Puppy, Now What?” which is an easy to follow step-by-step guide that summarises when to introduce the, at a pace that works for both the handler and the dog. 

If you can’t join a local Schutzhund club then this level of educational material is the next best thing. Especially if you are keen to take more than a passing interest in Schutzhund over the long term. 

Start Schutzhund training today

If this is your first time teaching a pup Schutzhund you should be aware that the training is extensive and all encompassing, and will likely require a serious time commitment from yourself and dedication from your dog to truly master the skills needed to master Schutzhund.

For this reason, the earlier you can introduce a dog to Schutzhund the better as you’ll spend less time in the long run correcting less desirable behaviours. 

Good luck and happy training!