Introduction to IPO Dog Sport

This is one for the uninitiated …

An article by Ron White outlining the sport of IPO (formerly ‘Schutzhund’); including descriptions of the three phases as well as how and why IPO came to be.

With the removal of the long established barriers which prevented us from having free movement with our dogs to mainland Europe , a whole new area of opportunity now exists to compete abroad in shows and schutzhund trials.

It is on this latter subject that I have been asked to write, for the benefit of those who are not familiar with the sport of IPO and it’s origins.


At the beginning of the 20th Century, the effects of the Industrial Revolution were sweeping across Europe and changing a way of life that had existed for centuries. Rapid modernisation of rural life made many traditional methods of farming redundant and the value of the indigenous working dogs was in danger of being lost forever.

The early creators of the German Shepherd Dog, led by Captain Max von Stephanitz, were among the first to realize this and recognising that their beloved breed was capable of being adapted to all sorts of utilitarian purposes, they conceived a system of standards for identifying those animals considered suitable as breeding stock.

The conformation show served as the arbiter for correct type and uniform physical structure and they devised a working test to identify those animals possessing the necessary stable characters, strong drives and overall working ability.

It was from these early working tests that the sport of Schutzhund(IPO) evolved and whilst various elements have been refined over the years, the original objectives and ideals remain the same.


IPO is a three level, three phase dog sport.There are three progressively more difficult levels of competition that lead to the IPO titles from IPO 1 through to IPO 3.

Each level comprises three phases — Tracking, Obedience and Protection.At all three levels, each phase is allocated 100 points and from these the judge deducts points for any errors according to the points system. To qualify at any level, a minimum of 70 points must be achieved in each phase.

As mentioned above, there are three phases to the programme :–

Tracking – which is the development of the dogs natural scenting ability and it’s willingness to work for it’s handler.

The track is laid in an open field and the dog must subsequently follow the footsteps of the tracklayer finding and indicating articles that have been left on the track. With each level, the length and age of the track is increased with IPO 1 level tracks being laid by the handler and IPO 2 and 3 by a stranger.The handler follows the dog at the end of a 10 metre line when working the track.

The aim is for a well motivated dog that tracks accurately and at a consistent pace.

Obedience – which evaluates the dog’s responsiveness to it’s handler in a number of different situations.

The exercises require the dog to heel attentively at the handlers side in a pattern of turns, changes of pace, stops and distractions such as gunshots and a group of people. The dog must be left in the sitting, the down and the standing positions and come when called. Retrieval of a dumbbell is required on the flat, over a 1 metre hurdle and over a climbing frame ( A–frame ). A sendaway from the handler with a down on command is also required.

The dogs work Obedience in pairs with one dog working the exercises whilst the other dog remains in a down position away from the handler.

An alert, attentive, attitude is preferable throughout the work.

Protection – which determines the dog’s courage,drives,self-confidence and resilience whilst still under the control of the handler.

The exercises require the dog to search for and find a hidden “criminal” (the helper), warning the handler of his presence by barking and preventing the helper from escaping.

A number of simulated attacks are made by the helper, who wears a protective suit and a padded sleeve. In IPO, the dog is trained to grip on the sleeve and when the helper stands still the dog must release the sleeve immediately and attentively guard the helper.

Control and discipline are paramount in protection training.

Protection work is without doubt, the area which is most misunderstood by people who have never participated in it and despite criticisms to the contrary, protection training will not change the dog’s basic temperament. Only confident animals with completely stable temperaments and strong nerves should undertake protection training. An inappropriately aggressive dog is not a good candidate and nervous, shy animals are totally unsuitable.

An IPO dog ensures a confident, reliable companion whose reactions become predictable and controllable under any circumstances — the most dangerous dog is the one apt to bite out of fear and an inability to deal with the world at large.

In 1991 the German SV (which oversees the IPO sport world wide), introduced a preliminary basic temperament test – the BH – and made it mandatory for this test to be passed before entry into the IPO levels was permitted. The BH comprises two sections, the first being an Obedience section which is very similar to the Schutzhund 1 Obedience routine but without the retrieves or the sendaway.

The second section tests the dog in a series of simulated everyday situations such as traffic, crowds, reaction to other dogs and people and absence of owner. This is a very interesting and revealing temperament test and an excellent evaluation of the dog’s basic character and will hopefully go a long way to alleviating any concerns about IPO training.

I hope that the foregoing gives an insight into what IPO entails and from a dog-sport started by a few enthusiasts in Europe some 100 years ago, it now has many thousands of active participants in over forty countries and six continents.

Whilst a great deal of time and effort goes into training a dog in IPO, the rewards are enormous in terms of producing reliable dogs suitable for living with families and able to cope with the stresses of contemporary society.

I think that Captain von Stephanitz would approve!

By Ron White