Not all German Shepherd dogs have the ability to pass the grueling Schutzhund regimen. Even among German Shepherd dogs who are genetically the best-suited for the regimen, only a minority are capable of reaching the first step in the Schutzhund process, SchH I, and fewer still have what it takes to attain the top title: Sch III. In each part of the main Schutzhund tests (Sch I, II, and III), German Shepherd dogs are assessed on three criteria: tracking, obedience, and protection, with each dog receiving a per-section score out of 100. A dog will be considered to have passed the module in question with a score of 70 or higher, with the exception of the protection module, which requires a score of at least 80.
The tracking phase of the test requires the trainee dog to use his or her nose to find a person’s trail, along with any personal items that have been intentionally dropped along the trail. While the trail length and complexity varies with regard to the title being sought, it is usually done either in grass or on dirt. The tracking portion of the examination combines a German Shepherd's innate genetic ability to smell with the fruits of any tracking-specific training.
The second phase of the test is the obedience phase, which is thorough and highly demanding. A dog being examined in the obedience phase must be tested on sociability – including walking through a group of people and heeling both on and off the leash – motion exercises, performing routines, retrieval, and a test of composure, quite literally, “under fire”; the dog is subjected to the sounds of gunshot and is expected to react calmly and without undue aggression. In this test, as in the other two modules, any dog that shows signs of aggression or danger can be dismissed from the test immediately by the judges at any time during the testing regimen.
The final phase of Schutzhund for the German Shepherd dog is the protection phase, perhaps the most intricate and demanding part of the test. While many of the aspects of protection Schutzhund bear similarities to the work done by guard or police dogs, Schutzhund is in fact quite different. The purpose of this phase, above all, is to ensure that the German shepherd dog can display courage without viciousness and aggression – while the dog is called upon to “bite” the helper playing the role of “villain” in this scenario (clad in protective gear, naturally), he or she can only bite the burlap sleeve in a particular and prescribed manner, and must release the bite upon command. In short, the dog will fail the entire protection module if he or she does not release the bite when commanded to do so.