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So, You Want to Compete in IGP?

IGP is an extremely challenging three-phase dog sport that is comprised of tracking, obedience, and protection. IGP is an acronym for international utility dog test in German. Formerly known as IPO and before that Schutzhund, it was developed as a breed test for German Shepherds. It has since become a popular protection sport that multiple breeds compete in. The most commonly seen breeds, aside from German Shepherds, are Belgian Malinois, Dutch Shepherds, and Rottweilers, though several other working breeds participate as well.

Getting Started
If you are interested in IGP, the first thing to do is to go check out a local club. Although it is an individual sport, it is impossible to do without the help of knowledgeable people. To pursue the sport, expect a four-to-five-day per week commitment, plus a lot of time driving to tracking locations, clubs, trials, etc. Once you find a club you like, the training director and/or helper (the helper, or decoy, is the person who acts as the “bad guy” for the protection phase of the sport) will evaluate your dog. Not all dogs can do this sport. To succeed. a dog must have the proper temperament for IGP: He must be stable and confident, have the drive to work, and possess a balance of natural aggression and prey drive. Having aggression doesn’t mean the dog is nasty or mean all the time. The best protection, sport, and police dogs are social but are also capable of aggression and enjoy the fight when either they or their handler is threatened. A dog with prey drive is a dog that likes to chase and bite simply for the fun of chasing and biting. IGP necessitates a balance of both drives.

The BH
This is the entry-level obedience and temperament test the dog must pass before being allowed to compete in the sport, which starts at IGP1 and goes through IGP3. There are also advanced tracking titles available, an endurance title, and more, all of which require the BH as a prerequiste. The BH includes both on- and off-leash heeling with related excercises, an extended down stay with the handler at a distance while another team does its obedience, and a temperament/traffic portion. The BH is pass/fail while the others are scored and rated.

The Phases

Tracking: In IGP, the dogs are trained to do competitive footstep tracking. In this type of tracking, the dog is trained to follow the scent associated with ground disturbance and human odor left when someone walks through dirt or vegetation. he dogs are also trained to find articles, which the track layer “drops” along the track and the dog then indicates when he/she has found one. The dogs are trained to use scent discrimination, meaning they should only indicate an item that has the odor of the person they are tracking and should not indicate pieces of trash or debris that may happen to be along the track. Tracking takes an incredible amount of dedication and is personally my favorite phase.

(Top photo) Obedience: IGP obedience consists of off-leash heeling, in motion exercises (depending on the level, the dog has to perform a sit, down, and a stand position from heeling at either a normal pace or a run), dumbbell retrievals on the flat, over a meter hurdle, over a 6-foot scaling wall, and a send-out (in which the dog must sprint away from the handler and then down immediately on command). Obedience in IGP is very much judged based on the emotional state of the dog. Judges reward happy, powerful, intensely driven dogs that can maintain incredibly high standards of precision and accuracy.

IGP-Protection3 (1)

Protection: This phase starts with a blind search, where in the dog is sent around blinds searching for the helper. Then the dog must “bark and hold” the “bad guy” when he finds him. The dog must display powerful and aggressive barking as he guards the helper without biting him. After that the dog must prevent an escape (where the helper tries to get away), and finally, a courage test. For the courage, test the helper runs toward the dog threateningly, and the dog is sent downfield to launch onto the bite. This phase also has a lot of obedience, which includes precise heeling and control work, transports (escorting the helper), and disarming him, all on verbal command only.

One of the most commonly asked questions about training and competing in IGP is, “Will this make my dog mean or change my dog in his or her normal life?” The answer to that is it varies from dog to dog. I absolutely do not think doing IGP with a good helper/decoy (this is important) will take a social, stable dog and make the dog unstable and mean; however, you are absolutely teaching your dog that it is sometimes OK to bite. You are bringing out aggressive and prey drives, which most people spend a lot of time suppressing instead of encouraging. Ultimately, if you are not willing to manage a protection-trained dog safely, then do not do the sport in full. If you try protection for a bit and it changes your dog and you don’t like it, once that door is open, it cannot be closed. Protection dogs simply need to be respected for what they are.

IGP is an extremely challenging, dynamic, and engaging sport and an excellent outlet for any handler’s competitive nature, but most importantly, it is an incredible way to spend time and bond with your dog. Visit this link on the American Working Dog Federation Website to can find a list of clubs:

Meryl Cohen is on the board of the new working Cane Corso breed club, and here is that website, since it is not yet on the AWDF page:

Main article photo by: Photos by Golden Mal Photography