Sometimes I think I know at least something about every possible canine sport in America. Then I interview a dog owner who, in the course of the conversation, mentions one that I have no clue about.
Such was the case when I talked with Amy Peterson about her dog dock jumping at the Incredible Dog Challenge in Las Vegas in March. She said she was training her dog in mondioring. “Mondo-what?” I thought.

A dog takes the nearly 8-foot palisade during a mondioring trial. Photos courtesy of Rogue Ringsporttraining club

So, of course, I had to find out what this mondioring (pronounced MAHN’-dee-eh-ring) is all about.

It’s a Fédération Cynologique Internationale-authorized protection sport, along the lines of Schutzhund or French ring, “designed to level the playing [field] and allow competitors from any of the world’s disciplines to compete in a common dog sport,” according to the United States Mondioring Association. In addition to Schutzhund and French ring, it “combines the best” of Belgian Ring, IPO (Internationale Prüfungs-Ordnung) and KNPV (Koninklijke Nederlandse Politiehond Vereniging).

Mondioring was developed in the late 1980s so that dogs trained and trialed in any protection sport could travel to another country and compete.

Leaving tempting food alone is one of the exercises every mondioring dog must master. Here, Lisa Geller’s dog Stetson shows how it’s done.

Lest you think this is about training police dogs or even training your own dog to protect you, Lisa Geller, president of the association, says that’s simply not the case. She says that even her own dog, which just won the national championship on May 19 in Rush City, Minn., would never bite anyone. “We have an exercise that’s called ‘defense of handler.’ I don’t think there are many dogs that do mondioring that would defend their handlers,” she says, except in a trial, adding that they’re just too friendly. Considering how long it takes to train a dog in the sport, it’s no surprise that they’re socialized to that degree.

Although one exercise involves a dog protecting its handler, United States Mondioring Association President Lisa Geller says that she doubts that most mondioring dogs would actually protect their owners except in a trial.

Neither does the sport teach dogs to be aggressive. Geller says that when she does a mondioring demonstration at a fair, for example, she walks her dog around the crowd during the preceding presentation. “I let people pet him, and the kids pull his ears. I give them treats to give him. When they see what the dogs are like in real life, then they see the demonstration, they kind of understand.” In fact, one of Geller’s retired Schutzhund dogs now lives with a woman who has multiple sclerosis, more commonly called “MS.” Five-year-old Tango, a Belgian Malinois, is the woman’s service dog.

Any breed of dog or mixed breed can compete in U.S. mondioring trials, however dogs need to be athletic to handle the physically challenging exercises.

Who Can Do It?
Malinois are the breed of choice, at least in the U.S., for mondioring dogs. About 80 percent of the dogs at the recent three-day national event were of that breed, Geller says. However, a Doberman competed at Level III, an American Bulldog at Level II and a Dutch Shepherd at Level 1 in Rush City. “They’re doing it with a lot of different breeds,” she says. Any breed or mixed breed can compete in the U.S., however to enter a trial in Europe, a dog must be registered because the events fall under the FCI umbrella.

However, not just any dog will succeed. “They have to be fairly athletic,” Geller says. “They have to be able to go over an almost 8-foot wall and do the long jump. They have to be willing to work.” No adjustments are made in the exercise based on a dog’s size. In addition, successful mondioring canines “have to be pretty confident and stable.”

One of the reasons Malinois are good at it, she says, is that “they’re willing to do” anything their owners ask of them.

Belgian Malinois are the most popular mondioring breed, however a variety of breeds participate.

To be a successful handler, Geller says, you must have the persistence to “stay with the training.” It’s a sport for people who truly enjoy training their dogs. “You’re never really done training the dogs. When we do a retrieve with the dogs, they have to retrieve whatever we throw.” So you can’t just train with a ball or a toy of some kind. You have to teach your dog to retrieve many, many different objects. “I tell people the reason I personally love mondioring is that by the time you’ve created a mondioring dog you’ve created this great companion. You have to take the dog everywhere with you.” When Geller goes out to run errands, she takes the dog she’s training along so he can practice behaviors in the park or some other place. It’s not enough for him to do something well in the backyard. He has to be able to do it anywhere.

What Are the Exercises?
As with most protection sports, the trial exercises test a dog’s obedience, agility and protection skills. By the time a dog reaches Level III, it must complete 17 exercises – all off leash – and it takes about 45 minutes. The purpose of the obedience exercises is to prove that the dog is in control, regardless of what distraction it faces. The jumps that test the dog’s agility show its structure and willingness to follow its handler’s commands. In the protection exercises, the dog must “demonstrate tremendous control,” according to the association. “The complexity of the trial field [and] the demands of extreme control combine to require that the dog be clear-headed with excellent character.”

Chasing after the decoy, a person in a protective suit, is one of 17 tasks a dog must perform at the highest level of competition.

Some of the obedience exercises include heeling without a leash, going away from the handler, refusing to eat food, searching for an object and retrieving an object. The three jumping exercises require the dog to make a long jump, take hurdles and climb over a palisade, essentially a wall. The protection portion of a trial may require the dog to flee an attack, stop fleeing, defend its handler from an aggressor, guard an object or bite a baton or other object swung toward the dog. All of these are done while potentially being yelled at by a decoy – a person in a protective suit. The decoy can also move threateningly toward the dog and shoot a blank pistol. Rules for the decoy say that he or she must be totally impartial, never cause pain or damage to the dog, know the mondioring rules and work all dogs with the same level of difficulty.

At Level I, a perfect score is 200 points, which are added and deducted based on the dog’s performance. For example, the dog gets 15 points for searching and finding an object, 30 points for defending its handler and 30 points for guarding its handler. Some exercises’ values vary at the different levels. To move from Level I to Level II, a dog must score at least 160 points twice. At that time, the dog is awarded the Mondioring 1 title or MR1. To advance to Level III, a dog must score 240 of a possible 300 points twice, thus earning an MR2. At Level III, dogs must earn 300 of 400 points two times for the MR3 title.

A Bervet, or entry, level allows young dogs to try out some of the exercises. Dogs cannot compete in Level I unless they are at least 1 year of age. With continuous, consistent training, the average dog will earn its M1 between ages 2 and 3, Geller says, although that can vary.

During a trial, “[D]istractions are placed at strategic points on the trial field. While the exercises remain the same from trial to trial, the order and the setup will change with each judge’s own creativity. No two trials are ever alike, thus preventing the possibility of preparing the dog ‘by rote,’” according to the association.

A mondioring dog gets a lot of love from his owner after completing a trial.

Why Do Mondioring?
Geller got into the sport about eight years ago after doing Schutzhund. She met Belgian Malinois breeder Michael Ellis who “talked her into mondioring,” she says.

She started training a new puppy, Mongoose, now 8, as soon as she got him. And now, she says, she’s addicted. Although Mongoose has retired from the sport, her 3-year-old Malinois, Stetson, competes at Level III. And she’s training her 9-month-old Dutch Shepherd as well. While admitting it’s the most fun sport she’s ever done with a dog, Geller says it’s really about relationship building. It also appeals to the trainer in her. “When you go out there and compete, it’s not like you’re competing with multiple people. You’re testing your training.”

When Malinois dominate the sport, why did Geller decide on a Dutch Shepherd? “Again, it’s the trainer in me. I just wanted to see what it would be like to do it with a different breed.”

Although the United States Mondioring Association was established in 1998 with just a handful of members, its roster today stands at 175. About 75 percent actively trials their dogs.

“Mondioring is a very difficult sport to do,” Geller says. “It takes a lot. It takes a big field. It takes a lot of people. It’s more difficult than a lot of sports. It takes years before you’re actually competing with a dog.”
One of Geller’s goals as the association’s president is to “build the number of people who are mondioring in the United States. What I’m really looking for are people who are dedicated to training.”

It sounds like they would have to be.