Training a dog in protection is a passion of mine, now there is bound to be people out there reading this that have already developed a picture of some cowboy teasing a dog and making it vicious, and I don’t blame you, I often conjure those images myself.This happens because so many weekend warriors and graduates of the YouTube Training Camp pull on a sleeve and tease defence drive out of a dog, producing a dog that displays aggression on certain triggers and is really now a fear aggressive liability. The end is usually when the dog bites someone and gets put to sleep.
Well you will have to read on to truly understand that is not what I am aiming at, producing or anything like it. To give you the picture I am going to need to lay down some basic terms and premises so we’re all on the same page.
Lets first understand what a protection dog is, and what it isn’t.
What it isn’t.
A dog will not “protect” you and “keep you from harm” directly or knowingly. The species isn’t weighed down with worry about family members being hurt and the concept of mortality, so let’s understand up front your dog doesn’t want to keep you safe.
A protection dog is not the “ultimate weapon“, it is no match for a gun in the hands of a person who knows how to use one, but wisely deployed, a dog can be very effective.A protection dog isn’t simply a biting machine with the single aim of hurting people, or at least it shouldn’t be.
A protection dog is not a robot that will follow every command without emotion, thought or consideration of itself.
What it is (or should be)
The dog should be able to differentiate between a true threat and a person who is either unfamiliar to the dog or behaves in a non familiar manner. A drunk for example may behave in a manner that isn’t the same as most of the people walking past the dog, but being drunk should not make the person a trigger for the dog.
The dog should be very confident and self assured and not be driven by fear or the lack of flight options.
The dog should be aware of the handler and follow commands given by the handler, even if they end the fight or the handler is not nearby.
The dog should be able to assess a situation and make a judgement and whilst often influenced by the handler, not totally handler dependant.
The dog should be as safe as it would have been (in many cases more safe) before the training.
So you can see that agitating a dog that is back tied in a corner and hitting it with a whip or stick won’t produce these qualities…
So how do you end up with a protection dog?
No matter how good a trainer is, they can never bring the dogs performance above its genetic level, I believe the best trainers (regardless of what they are training) will elevate a dog to its genetic capability.
Many years ago we could see advertisements for certain breeds with the caption “Suitable for pet, guard or show!“. This is something that has disappeared from many advertisements these days because to find a dog that will fit all three of those categories would be extremely rare and anyone bragging their dogs can excel in all, might be a better salesman than a breeder.
Dogs that are bred for Protection, Police, Military Careers etc are ‘Working Line” bred dogs, as opposed to “show lines” perhaps. Working line generally means that the dogs being bred have been selected from stock that have the desirable criteria that departments such as Police are seeking to use in their work, or have come from dogs that are fulfilling a career in the Military, Police or high end sport worlds such is IPO, Mondio, KNPV or similar.
Show Line dogs are often selected from stock that has the desirable criteria that can present well in a Dog Show which has a certain standard of appearance they are aiming at.
Look at the full mouth grips on these dogs, that is great genetics paired with great training…
Ideally a dog from a suitable breed could do both but in reality the separation between working and show lines is becoming greater all the time, show lines are being bred with less drive, less social dominance and a softer temperament and working lines adhering less and less to the standards, moving away from traditional colours and look.
Is one better than the other? Well that depends on what you want to do with the dog I guess, if your goal is to show your dog and breed that dog and aim at producing show dogs, many working line dogs will not help you succeed and just the same if you want to breed dogs that might be selected by our Armed Forces, Police, Military etc, then having show lines may not be helpful either.
Can show dogs work and can working lines win shows? Sure I guess so, but just as a three legged horse can win a race, I wouldn’t bet too much on it; and effectively, that is what you are doing, your buying a dog from a breeder that (hopefully) has the understanding of what you’re looking for and can produce it, so this pup won’t be a couple of hundred dollars. Your housing and raising this dog and putting in time perhaps with a trainer to develop and shape this dog.
Getting the dog to early maturity and finding out that it isn’t suitable for the career you chose it for is an expensive venture.
Knowing what you’re looking for genetically is the best advice I can give you, which is better? I have my personal preference of working lines, I have Working Line Malinois and Working Line German Shepherds, they have the drive and sheer power that I like in a dog, but may well be too much for most people.
I prefer to train most things with toys and tugs and Working Line Dogs ideally will give me more prey drive to utilise and ideally working line dogs will be bred with a solid nerve so that is also high on my list of “must haves”. In fact about 6 months ago we were offered a Working Line German Shepherd Pup, he was only about 8 weeks and was in the wrong home.
Too much dog for them even at 8 weeks, perfect for our family dog. Whilst we use his high prey drive for recall training etc, I chose him as he has very solid nerves which mean he doesn’t become frightened easily perhaps bite my children and or their friends. I believe this is a safer option for my family, but perhaps not such a great idea for people who will not use his prey drive as a training motivator.
Dogs with unsatisfied prey drive often pull wildly on leash, not recall and become aggressive when they see other dogs or prey, this is due to no outlet for this high powered reward system.
Pick the right puppy and raise it the wrong way and you can be on a slippery slope, breeders have a responsibility to provide you a good genetic specimen that you can develop into your dream dog, but then it is up to you!
How do you do this? It is a subject that is really never ending, but I would like to use the phrase “controlled exposure” to start with.
Now if you’re still sceptical you may have just jumped up to say “he wants to leave the dog unsocialised!“.
Well sit back down because I don’t, but I also don’t want to give the dog license to go exploring and find that its incredible (often over the top?) prey drive is an excellent tool for hunting down anything that moves.
Controlled exposure is a very, very summarised premise that I want to complete with my puppy, controlled exposure to toys and tugs mean “give me the tug when I say out” and “bring me the toy when I ask for it” and tugs and balls are prey items, not cats, possums, sheep, horses etc.
Dogs are similar to you puppy, not exciting, not frightening and not stimulating, they just are the like a piece of the environment that you may need to work around.
Adults and Children are not friends, toys or play things, nor are they to be feared, they are just there.
Toys and tugs are not yours, and unlike many people who will stamp their feet and say “they are mine!“, they are not mine either, they are a link to have fun with me.
Guard them from me, take them from me or refuse to give them to me, you spoil your game and let me off the hook of playing with you. I don’t expect the dog to know this, I teach my puppy this.
I believe training a dog for any high end activity is best done with a method that uses the dogs instincts to gain reward. Does that mean I don’t use food, praise or affection? no, of course not, but the “way” I use them is incredibly different.
I want to build a foundation of play and drive games that I can call on to teach my dog any skill, including the protection skills, so it is the first thing I want to establish.
You notice how I mentioned that I don’t think all the toys are mine, I tread cautiously here because I don’t think that the dominance theory is a good place to spend a lot of time when talking about a Socially Dominant, High Drive, Athletic and strong animal.
In fact I really don’t want to bring conflict or challenge to the relationship at all, and I find that if I don’t bring it to the table, the dog never does either.
Now half the readers are dividing again as they think that I must be a softy trainer that never would say no to his dog. Wrong, in fact I am super strict on most fronts, not because I am the “Alpha” but because I won’t accept the behaviour, as any level pack member.
I don’t want this to be a Dominance Theory discussion so I will finish this part to say:
I deliver the rewards and imply the limits in my dogs life, if that makes me the Alpha in your mind, so be it. Just know that I deliver these rewards and imply restrictions based on the behaviour, not pack position.
I teach my dogs cues and predictors, these allow me to convince my dog that I know the behaviour that he should deliver and how the future will pan out, this of course gives me great value in his mind.
Starting with what I call “primary communicators” I teach my dog “yes” to access the rewards experience, “nope” when he just lost the reward experience. To a driven dog this is a powerful set of cues.
Time sensitive structure
I want to expose my potential protection dog to certain aspects of training at certain times. This may include teaching him to open his jaw a little further than normal to become comfortable biting larger objects, like bite sleeves!
It may include teaching him that he can gain advantage in a fight by targeting certain body parts at certain times, like working a decoy across the diagonals to unbalance them.
I include balance, fitness and strength training and teaching my dog to assess human body language.
And much more…
The mature dog must hold his head high, not expect or fear punishment from the handler, fear from the attacker or that the handler is only there to take away good times. He must confidence in his own decisions.
The dog must maintain dignity and the training, any training of any discipline must not take this away.
The essential skills
I guess most people somewhere have seen a dog bite a sleeve, whilst this is common I personally don’t like to work a dog on a full sleeve much. The sleeves keep the dog outside the frame of the decoy and the dog up on his back legs, this is actually taking away much of the dogs tactical advantage, speed and leverage and can also place the dog in a position in which the attacker will have access to the dogs eyes, belly and other less defensible areas.
The Bitezone of a full sleeve is also on the outside of the attackers arm and this is rich in muscle and harder skin. I favour teaching the dog to take advantage of the attacker by biting places that are rich in soft tissue, nerve endings and do not expose the dog to injury.
Inside arm bites, above the knee, back of the shin and upper shoulder bites can really bring a dog to a position of advantage when it has to deal with an attacker, that is bigger, stronger and at times just as motivated to succeed.
They can also help to defeat the mind of the attacker who may see some options of defence against the dog, which in turn motivates the attacker to continue and then be further injured.
Searches and send aways are helpful to send the dog to an area that may compromise your safety.
Object and Person Guard mean you can leave your dog to guard an object of value or a person of interest (perhaps your child) whilst you investigate.
Now some people will be again wondering why put your dog in such danger that it needs to defend against an attacker? The answer is it is a choice that people make based on circumstance. Just like running your dog in sports, like Agility, Dock Dogs, Herding, FlyBall, Weight Pull etc. There is a fair risk of injury in life, so this is just another, albeit less mitigated risk.
Is it necessary?
What does that really mean? Do you need a dog to protect you? In an ideal world no, but in some situations, non ideal worlds etc then perhaps it is?
There is also the prospect of instinct vs. necessity, I have had many clients want to train bitework just so that they could get a handle on the dogs instinctual behaviour in many circumstances. Some run “Recreational Bitework” lessons with me in which we can rehearse all the moves, bites and related obedience and control without any pressure or true aggression. This doesn’t make the dog aggressive or different than before, but it is a recreational – rewarding – tiring – balancing activity. I feel the IPO is something like this for many dogs.
What’s in it for the dog?
If you have not seen a well trained dog working a decoy it is a thing to behold. The dogs love it, Venom gets adrenalin quivers all through his body in pure delight if he even thinks it’s on.
I have taught Venom to play tug the day I met him, he lives for it. The only thing that surpasses it is BITEWORK.
They love it.
This isn’t an article to encourage you to Protection train your dog, far from it really, and whilst
cowboys do exist in Protection work, some don’t ride at all 🙂