Schutzhund Trials Showcase Skills Of ‘Working Dogs’

BY ORA FREEMAN, Times-Union Correspondent

Randy Rhodes, of Rhodes Countryside Kennel, works with ‘Utz’ in last weekend’s Schutzhund trials. Photo by Ora Freeman

What makes a dog a working dog? That question was answered this past holiday weekend when Rhodes Countryside Kennel held its annual Schutzhund trials.

According to Mike Hamilton, this year’s judge, Schutzhund is “a test developed 70 years ago in Europe to evaluate the temperament and working ability of the working breeds.”

Schutzhund was designed especially for German shepherds, but has been adopted by 20 working breeds. It is broken down into three levels, each progressively more difficult than the first, with an increase in the number of exercises. The goal of Schutzhund is to see whether the dog is a good citizen; it must be approachable and able to be touched by a stranger.

Saturday eight dogs were tested in the three Schutzhund categories: tracking, obedience and protection. Tracking involves the dog following a scent, and object trail to find a person. Obedience tests the dog’s ability to take commands from its master. Protection tests the dog’s ability to protect its master and its biting ability.

Host Randy Rhodes is well-versed in Schutzhund training. He has trained three champion dogs, the last being national champ, North American champ and world qualifying champ. In 1995, his dog Digger was ranked third in the world.

One local dog, Utz, scored high at the trials with a 93 in tracking, 91 in obedience and 99 in protection. Utz has a kind of comeback story. Three years ago he was diagnosed with leishmaniasis, a terminal disease in animals. Utz’s owner, Debie Quaka, refused to give up and worked on the Internet to find a cure for her dog. She worked with the CDC in Atlanta, Michigan State University, and a vet in Canada who feels he has a cure for the disease. Utz was down to 50 pounds, but three surgeries and a lot of medication later, he has returned to be ranked a Schutzhund one dog.

“It’s been an emotional roller coaster just keeping him alive,” said Quaka, “but it’s all worth it.”

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