Let's start at basics. The KNPV is not a sport. That alone distinguishes it from Schutzhund or any of the French, Belgian or Mondio Rings. The KNPV, and its sister organization the Diensthond, certifies dogs for police, military and other government service. It is accordingly administered by governmental officials. Many of the dogs certified will see service as police, military or customs K9's. However the KNPV also requires the ultimate handler of the service dog to be certified with the dog.
Until very recently the KNPV offered five different titles: the PH 1 (Police dog 1), PH 2(Police dog 2), Objectbewakingshond (guarding), Reddingshond (search and rescue) and Speurhond (tracking). . However the Reddingshond title has just moved from the auspices of the KNPV to the Dutch National Ministry and the Dutch Kennel Club (kind of an odd combination, eh?) However that is just an aside for my purposes here. In this article I want to focus on the PH 1 since it is the most popular certificate awarded and, to us in North America, is what we generally mean when we say "KNPV".
Contrary to what you may have thought or read, the PH 1 is NOT an entry level program. True, the PH 2 does follow the PH 1, which makes the titles look interconnected like the way that a SchH 1 is a prelude to a 2 and then a 3. But banish that thought from your mind. The PH 1 is a Police Dog title: once you achieve it the dog is not only qualified but also certified for active service in the police force, military, customs, etc. For most purposes there is no reason for the handler of a PH 1 dog to go on to certify the dog at PH 2. This is reflected in the fact that the vast majority of service dogs that achieve the PH 1 do not ever go on to compete in the PH 2.
The PH 1 test is so difficult and the exercises so demanding that a dog is typically 3 1/2 years of age or older before he is entered into the PH 1 examination. So if anyone pictures a PH 1 as being a softer test on a dog (the way a SchH 1 is the least demanding of the Schutzhund titles), forget it. At one PH 1 competition I attended the decoy, on the "test of courage", broke the stick (a solid branch the thickness of my thumb) over the backs of at least 60% of the dogs entered.
The PH 2 program involves a variety of complicated exercises designed to show superior control and handling skill. This is not to say that the PH 1 program lacks control: the exercises (except for one heel on leash exercise) are done without a leash or even a collar. And yes: that includes the bite work! However the complexity of control exercises in the PH 2 is even greater. Few police and servicemen enter their service dogs in the PH 2. The competition is generally entered by "elite trainers" and by civilians who want to showcase their dog for promotional reasons (ie: stud).
The fact is that at the championships each year, throngs of people who want to see the spectacular test of temperament and courage which is the PH 1 crowd the stadium. And then they filter out, leaving only a few hardcore disciples to watch the tests of advanced obedience that is the PH 2.
In brief, the PH 1 exercises are set out below. However this is only a brief and omits many of the nuances and complexities of the exercises and the examination. For example, you would be underestimating the difficulty of the obedience routine if you didn't know that the field is baited with food and your dog is not allowed to eat any of it. Likewise you would be underestimating the intimidation of the test of courage if you didn't know the dog is hit for real (not tapped) before he even has the reassurance of having bitten the decoy. The transports are complicated too: at one point the prisoner will begin to stagger like a drunk (making a very attractive target that the dog is not allowed to nail); additionally the decoy will attempt to drop evidence on the handler's blind side and the dog must notice and retrieve it to his master, all without command.
1 heel on leash (left side of handler).
2 heel off leash (on left and right sides).
3 heel off leash on bicycle (right side).
4 long down with handler out of sight.
5 food refusal (presented and thrown by decoy)(the dog must bark with aggression to warn him off to get full points).
6 refusing food found on ground.
7 silence under gunfire (this is to show the dog will not give away the location of his master to the assailant).
8 jump over hedge with return jump on command.
9 climb 1.75 meter fence with return jump on command.
10 jump 2.25 meter ditch and return on command.
11 area search and retrieve (14m x 14m field, handler on sideline - without a leash, of course - the dog must find 3 articles about the size of a 9mm casing).
swim canal to opposite shore, wait and return on command.
swim to retrieve large article already in the water.
object guard (the dog must bark aggressively at the decoy to warn him off for full points). The handler is out of sight so there can be no command for the dog to bite, release and return to the object.2
search the woods (without handler) for a large object and indicate the find by barking until handler arrives.
search the woods (without handler) for a decoy and indicate the find by barking (like a Schutzhund blind search, accept the dog doesn't know where to search).
transport the prisoner.
"test of courage". If the dog misses or loses the bite the decoy will continue to attack and hit the dog.
transport the prisoner, and stop him when he attempts to escape.
refuse commands from the decoy.
attack the decoy escaping on bicycle.
transport the apprehended bicyclist and stop his escape.
attack the decoy through gunfire.
maintain the bite on decoy through a barrage of thrown piping.
transport the apprehended decoy and stop his attack on the dog's master.
send the dog on a "test of courage" but recall him without a bite while the decoy is still running away.
We all have to temper ourselves against "jumping on the bandwagon" of something new to us that comes from abroad. However, I challenge you to go and watch a KNPV examination and then tell me that the dogs and the spectacle aren't more than a little impressive.
A few people might argue that in KNPV a dog will pass whose obedience, by Schutzhund standards, is sloppy or lack-lustre (such as: the heeling is a little wide, the sit crooked or even non-existent); maybe the dog would even fail the Schutzhund trial because multiple "out" commands were required, yet the dog passes the KNPV. But that type of criticism is missing the point. Unlike the other dog sports, this is not a game. These are not dogs whose most difficult challenges are those in the artificial training and testing environment of the sport. These are police dogs. The most difficult trial is likely to be easier than the challenges the dog will face on the street, in real life situations that the handler cannot control. For this reason, above all else the KNPV tests for the dog that is exceptionally tough.
All the dog sports test character and training, but they all draw different balances between the desired drives (prey v. defence, etc) and the "polish" necessary to get the control points. The KNPV (at the PH 1 level) is probably the least demanding of any of the dog "sports" on the polish expected. Control is vital, but precision is not. If the KNPV is the least demanding in precision, however, it is also the most demanding in terms of the raw power and resiliency required of the dogs' temperament.
If I sound like I'm on the KNPV bandwagon, well I probably am. But let me add a warning to the unwary, for there are two (or more) sides to everything. The KNPV is not a breed club. The KNPV is responsible for producing dogs suitable for police work.
Chances are that doesn't sound like much to be cautious of and most readers don't hear warning bells going off. But there is a real danger here, though it is subtle. Since the KNPV is not breed specific, it certifies the quality of a dog by the standards of the Dutch police. It does not certify the quality of a dog as judged by his breed standard. Therefore, a Bouvier that earns a PH 1 is a damned good dog but he or she is not necessarily a good Bouvier. What constitutes a good Malinois is not the same as the requirements for a good Bouvier: the differences in the correct characters of these two breeds are patent. But the KNPV doesn't care about the differences: it cares if the dog can do the work. So they award titles to Bouviers and Malinois alike, as long as the dogs earn the titles by doing the work. And therefor the KNPV will happily certify a Bouvier with Malinois-type character just as long as that Bouvier does the PH 1 program well.
If you are concerned about the breed, rather than merely the Certificate, you will agree that it is not enough for a Bouvier to have or at least be capable of a KNPV title. To live up to the name "Bouvier" a dog should be able to earn the KNPV certificate as one step and still carry himself with Bouvier style as a second step. That doesn't mean he has to be a dullard on the field, the way most people think of a Bouvier. Quite the contrary: with a good Bouv you may not be able to tell much difference between him and a good Malinois on the field. It's when he's off the field and you see him in ordinary life that you will see whether he is in fact a correct Bouvier, equipped with the calm discretion that distinguishes his breed.
My caution is not a criticism of nor does it show a weakness in the KNPV. If your goal is to have a great, tough-spirited dog, then you can take the KNPV at face value. There is nothing wrong with that goal, just recognize that it puts "performance" above the breed. For this kind of person the goal is to compete as well as possible; he uses the dog to do that, so the dog may be a Bouvier this year, a Malinois next year and a Dutch Shepherd the year after. But if you put the breed ahead of performance then instead of using the dog, you are using the competition to test the dog. The goal for this kind of person is even more difficult to fulfil than the goal of the competitor. This person competes with a Bouvier year after year; he uses the standard of the KNPV as a supplement to the breed standard. He uses both standards, weighing the performance of the dog on and off the field against the ideal established for the breed. And that is the devotion that makes the KNPV perhaps the best source of the Super Bouvier.