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No Club - Now What?

Preparing to track at dawn. Photo: Zane Daggett

Training clubs provide the handler with a support group and training team. But alas, you have looked at the list of Schutzhund clubs in your region, only to be met with dismay. There are none within a reasonable distance, maybe not even in your state! Or perhaps you have contacted a few local IPO clubs, but the response has been either less than promising, or nothing at all. Now what?


This is a common response from clubs, along with "our club is closed for membership", for several reasons. First, the club may indeed be at capacity. Clubs are limited on how many members they can take, as their resources—the helper and the training director—are limited. The helper can only work so many dogs. The training director can only instruct so many handlers. However, a club might also give this response if they are working out club dynamics and aren’t ready to take on anyone new yet, or if they have a high number of young dogs and/or new handlers who need more intensive and focused training.

If you receive the response of “Our club is full” or “We are not accepting new members at this time”, don't be discouraged. It will not be this way forever. Politely ask the club if they have any upcoming events or trials where you can attend as a spectator or help out (helping out is a great way to make connections with a club!). Ask if they have any members who do private lessons, or if they could recommend any local trainers to help you get started in IPO properly. You might also ask if there are any other clubs nearby that they could recommend. However, sometimes you just strike out, and you may be left without access to a club for a period of time. In this case, check out some of the suggestions below.


1. Check all organizations. Be sure to check all the different organizations first—USCA, DVG, AWMA, GSDCA, etc.—to see if any have training clubs within a reasonable driving distance. You may need to expand your search to areas outside your immediate location. Many dedicated handlers have to drive two hours or more to their club just to train.

2. Look for a local training group. Local training groups are informal groups of people who meet to train their dogs in obedience and tracking, and possibly protection. There are several ways to go about locating or even forming such a group:

  • Ask around in your area to see if such a group exists, or if there is interest in forming one.

  • Post in online forums or IPO groups like the IPO 1 Schutzhund 101 group or IPO Training group on Facebook to see if there is anyone in your area wanting to train in Schutzhund.

  • Contact the Regional Director for your region, and ask if they know of any groups in the region seeking affiliate club status or forming a new club.

  • Contact nearby working dog breeders to see if they know of any training groups. If they are training and titling their dogs, they must be doing this somewhere!

3. Start your own club. If you have already gone through the process of creating or joining a local training group, you may want to continue this momentum and become a new club. Each organization has different requirements for becoming a club, so decide which organization you want to affiliate with, and then go from there. Forming your own club allows you to further pool resources to bring in helpers and outside trainers for seminars, and to host sanctioned IPO trials.

4. Find a private trainer. Search for a private trainer who can work with you and your dog. But beware! Screen trainers carefully. They must have real experience in Schutzhund or IPO. Far too many call themselves “trainers” when they hardly have any experience themselves. They claim they can train a dog in Schutzhund, when they themselves have never done it successfully and therefore have no knowledge of what is required. Also, be aware that Personal Protection and Schutzhund are very different, so just because a trainer does Personal Protection does not mean they can successfully train you and your dog for IPO!

Look for someone who is progressive with their methods, who has dogs that are enthusiastic and happy to work with them. Additionally, they should be training both you and the dog, not asking you to pay thousands of dollars for a finished product that they create without you. This makes their experience in Schutzhund all the more important, because they are also training you how to train and handle your dog in this sport.

If you are going the private trainer route, contact the closest training club and ask if they have any recommendations for trainers in your area (or recommendations on trainers to avoid!). For any trainer you select, investigate them thoroughly. Check their reputation by asking around about them locally. Look for reviews on Yelp or Ripoff Report. Post in an IPO training group and ask for feedback on the particular trainer. Inquire about watching a class or session first, before committing to training with them. Observe the trainer in action, see their methods, and ensure that they are experienced and are fair to both dog and handler.

5. Build your resources. This includes books, online courses, training DVDs, and seminars. There are several online and video resources out there, including but not limited to:

Some of these - such as the courses through Fenzi Dog Sports Academy - put you in contact with a common learning community, offering you additional support in your training endeavors and developing a network of like-minded people. And attending IPO training seminars even just to 'audit' or spectate are an additional way to build connections and learn more about the training.

No matter how we look at it, IPO is a hard enough sport as it is. It is even harder without a club. If we are serious about competing in IPO, then we must work diligently at building our support network for this sport, however and wherever we can!


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