Isabella Oxsengendler has spent her entire life around dogs, starting with her first at the age of three — which is why no one was surprised when she became a professional dog trainer.

Calgary’s K9 Force Working Dog Club show off incredible maneuvers by their dogs. Produced by Sam Nar and Isabelle Bennett
But unlike other trainers that ran obedience classes dedicated to teaching dogs to keep their sharp teeth to themselves, she specialized in training dogs how to bite.

Now, president and lead coordinator of K9 Force Working Dog Club, a non-profit team based out of Priddis View Farms filled with dedicated trainers that welcomes all dog breeds, she’s taking her passion to the next level with Schutzhund training.

What is Schutzhund?

Originally developed in Germany during the 1900s, Schutzhund was meant to test the mating suitabilities of German shepherd dogs.

The test has since then, evolved to become a sport that encompasses multiple breeds including Labrador retrievers, Dobermans and terriers — all sharing courage, tenacity and high drive.

Dog copyDogs in Schutzhund, like the one featured in the photo above, love being working dogs and can hardly contain themselves when the ball is thrown. The club trains approximately three days a week. Photo by Sam Nar
“It’s quite an elite sport. A dog needs to be very active and have [the] willingness to work with the handler. [They have to be] precise, focused and happy,” Oxsengendler explains, adding that handlers have their fair shares of responsibilities to bring to the table.

“We spend a lot of time developing our handlers because the life of a dog in the sport is very short.”

According to German Shepherd Schutzhund Club of Canada, the cost of training a dog for Schutzhund competitions can range anywhere between $1,000 to $10,000 depending on the working capabilities of the dog. 

The stages of Schutzhund

Oxsengendler says Schutzhund competitions, also known as trials, are assessed based on three stages: obedience, tracking and protection; each step requires coordination between the handlers and their dogs, but precision is the core element that ties the whole sport together.

“We get judged to specific techniques the dogs need to follow. If a dog is [in]attentive … we get penalized for that.”

The precision at the obedience level is then challenged in the ‘tracking’ stage, where dogs are required to use their nose to accurately indicate a path of articles such as jackets, shoes and other items laid out for them.

Oxsengendler says one of the most difficult parts of tracking is teaching the dogs to ignore ordinary distractions and to signal to handlers that they’ve found something important between their paws.

Photo1 copyIsabella Oxsengendler has three German shepherds at home including her main competition dog, Xtris Azelle. Photo by Sam Nar
“Not indicating, fast enough, the articles or touching the articles get points off,” she says.

The most well-known portion of the sport is the ‘protection’ level where handlers enlist the assistance of ‘helpers’ to don thick sleeves to shield themselves from fierce teeth. The intention of this stage is for dogs to keep the helper in place until the handler arrives.

What it takes to succeed

“A lot of it is just being in shape. You always want to build the dog’s confidence, make them seem like they’re the 800-pound gorilla in the room even though they’re … not,” says Dominic Scarberry, a visiting helper from Ohio who has racked up years of experience in Schutzhund training and trials.

“[The hardest thing is] reading the dog; what the dog is showing, what the dog isn’t showing and how to switch them on and off.”

Despite the sport’s frantic movements that could easily be misconstrued as ferocious, safety is the number one priority in Schutzhund, both for the dogs and the people around them.

“Our dogs are absolutely not aggressive,” says Oxsengendler, emphasizing that Schutzhund is meant to create dogs that are confident, stable and happy.

Editor: Sam Nar |

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