Dogs have thrown in their lot with man, as companion and protector for as long as… well, for as long as there has been any sort of organized human civilization. Even cats have not the same sort of closeness that dogs have; cats deign to live with us, more for their own amusement and to serve their purposes more than ours, and if they catch the occasional rat, mouse or squirrel – well, that’s because it amused them at a particular moment to do so. But dogs – we humans have molded dogs by breeding them for specialized purposes in our service. Their purpose is in their bones at the cellular level, and in every fiber of their hearts. They live to serve; the mission for which they were bred over hundreds or even thousands of years is always there, just below the surface, no matter how long has been their tenure as just a pet and companion. Anyone who has seen a rat-terrier ruthlessly hunt down a rat, a young Newfoundland jump into deep water to rescue a child, or a greyhound run – those are dogs who are reverting to their purpose, even if they have never in their own lives seen a rat, a drowning person or a race-track. Their ancestors did – and that is what matters.

The happiest and most fulfilled dogs that I have ever seen are working dogs; sheep-dogs and military working dogs for the most part. The first of those were of no particular breed, the second an assortment of large breeds like those in this book – and all of whom look extremely happy. Originally the schutzhund program was the creation of a German breeder and trainer who wanted to perfect the working breed now known as a German shepherd. Over the last hundred years, it has evolved into a competitive sport, involving other large working breeds: Alsatians, labs, and boxers are featured throughout this book, in competition and training.

It is an intense and challenging competition; both of the dog and the trainer. The dog must excel in three distinct skill sets, all of which are shown in considerable detail. Tracking, where the dog must follow a course and locate objects placed along it. In the obedience segment, the dog must obey voice commands, must retrieve objects – and must not react to the sound of a starter pistol or be distracted by other people. And finally, in the protection phase, the dog must search out and apprehend a hidden decoy-human, to attack, guard, escort and release – without loosing self-control, reacting inappropriately or disobeying the trainer. The dogs pictured in this book are athletes all, at the peak of their game, and competing in the dog version of the iron man, or the triathlon. Without exception, they are focused, intent on their mission – and they are having a whale of a good time. Nothing matters to them, save their mission, and the affection rewarded to them by their human afterwards. They know nothing of ribbons and records. It’s their human handlers who generally look anxious. This is a lovely and detailed book, both as an introduction to a relatively unknown sport, and an affectionate tribute to our oldest and most dedicated friend – the working dog.

This book is only available through the website www.bjspanos.com.

Sgt. Mom is a free-lance writer and member of the Independent Authors Guild who lives in San Antonio and blogs at The Daily Brief. Her current book “To Truckee’s Trail” is available here. More about her books is at her website www.celiahayes.com

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