You read that right, one post that sums up what you need to know about using a dog to protect yourself, your family, business or home. Pretty cocky, eh? In all seriousness, I'm writing this post because I am well qualified to do so, and to clear up the myriad of myths and misconceptions about working dogs in general, and "personal protection dogs" specifically.
My qualifications, so you know this information is reliable- I run a home business training dogs for protection, military, and police work. I have traveled the US and Europe training with some of the best trainers in the world, soaking up their knowledge like a sponge. I have worked dogs that deployed in Iraq, Afghanistan, Oakland, North Las Vegas, and a myriad of places most of us would rather not visit. My partial resume can be viewed here- http://www.pasoroblesdogtraining.com/indexabout.html
In addition to the many years of experience and training I have with dogs, I graduated the police academy and have completed multiple firearms training courses, starting when I was 13 years old. Many of these courses were close-combat pistol training. For a short time I also offered firearms training through my business.
Enough about me, let's talk dogs.
It's a popular misconception that certain breeds are "natural protectors", and do not need training. Let me be very clear on this point- there is NO breed that will reliably protect its handler without training. That's right. Not a German Shepherd, not a Rottweiler, not ANY breed. Next point- good dogs are WHERE YOU FIND THEM. That means you can find protection candidates in most of the breeds, what matters is the INDIVIDUAL dog's temperament, NOT the breed!
Having said that, let's confine our discussion to breeds that are of adequate size to do the work. A border terrier with the perfect working temperament cannot be a man-stopper, even if he really wants to be. The smallest dog I would consider capable of downing a determined man would be about 55 lbs. A dog that small would have to have the heart of a lion to do this work, and the power of a Mack truck. At the other end of the scale, most dogs over about 110 lbs. are not capable of sustained battle, and are not usually fast enough. Exceptions to this do exist! My preference is for a 75-80 lb. dog that is all muscle with excellent structure. A dog this size can go over a six foot fence, run 25-30 miles per hour, and fight a man for longer than any human can handle.
So what breeds fit this description? Here is a list of the more popular breeds I have trained for this work, in the rough order of popularity-
American Pit Bull Terrier
There are many other "rare breeds" too, like the Presa Canario, but when you get into the less common breeds, your pool of candidates goes way down. There are also excellent dogs from breeds you would not normally associate with protection work, like Labs and Australian Cattle Dogs. Stick with the more common breeds, and you'll have an exponentially easier time finding a good dog.
CHOOSING A DOG
Many people chose a breed based on their personal tastes. There is nothing wrong with this, in fact, I recommend it. You have to love your dog if you're going to work together! Once you've selected a breed, you must now find a breeder that breeds for WORKING TEMPERAMENT. What is that?
A good working dog has solid nerves, first and foremost. It is not normally aggressive without being agitated. It should be approachable by anyone who is not a threat. Nervy, weak dogs look impressive to the novice; they bark, snarl and growl at everyone. These dogs fall apart under the pressure of training and real conflicts, and they create a hazard for children, stay far away from them. Good working dogs are comfortable every where they go, they do not mind loud noises, slippery floors, or unexpected situations. In a word, CONFIDENCE, the dog should exude it. Good working dogs are calm when they are not working, not spinning in their kennel or the back of the truck. They possess strong drives, or the desire to do something.
Drives that are paramount are: food drive (the drive to eat endlessly), prey drive (the drive to chase, bite, and hold), and civil or defense drive (the drive to protect itself, territory, or pack). I could go into drives for many pages, but this is enough to get you started. Dogs with strong but balanced drives are the best.
A good breeder will have working titles on their dogs, or other credentials to back up there breeding program's success. Stay away from breeders that make claims they cannot support, and there are a LOT of them out there! Many top-notch breeders exist in the US, you just have to ask around and seek them out. Europe has the best dogs in the world, but unless you know someone that can connect you to the right kennels, don't go this route, there a lot of scam artists in Europe too, ready to cash in on the perception that Euro working dogs are the best in the world. Some of these breeders will send you dogs they themselves would euthanize; in other words, their garbage. I recommend seeking out breeders that supply police forces and/or sport dog competitors, those will be your best bets.
Find a local trainer, with a solid reputation, to help you select a dog once you've got a breeder in mind. Plan on visiting a few kennels, and TESTING dogs, don't take someone's word for it. A good trainer will be able to test a dog in very short order. A world-renouned European trainer told me, "I can spot a good dog in 10 seconds." The man was not exaggerating. It takes the rest of us much longer, but 10-15 minutes with a dog can tell an experienced trainer a LOT about a candidate. If you cannot find a trainer in your area, you can email or call me, and I will find you a trainer to work with. I can also direct you to European kennels if that is your preference.
Now you've got the kennel picked out, and a trainer to work with, do you buy a puppy or young adult dog? Both have their advantages. A puppy is not a guaranteed worker, but is ready to impress with good work habits and bond with the handler. If you have time and a breeder that will guarantee their pups working ability, this is the best route. On the other hand, a young adult can show you EXACTLY what they have to offer RIGHT NOW; they are ready to work. If you don't want to take a chance, or need protection immediately, this is your best option, get a 9-12 month old adult.
OK, so you found a trainer that will help you, and you've gotten a dog to work. Now what? If you've purchased a pup, you will have months of imprinting ahead of you, concentrating on obedience work and some fun prey work. If you've bought an adult, you can start up the serious bite work right away. Most dog trainers do not do "internet training" or training over the phone, because there is WAY too much chance a client will mis-apply what we tell them and screw up their dog. So, I won't go into any techniques here. I will tell you that proper training makes or breaks the dog, particularly when it comes to the bite work. The man in the suit or sleeve that gets bit is called the decoy or helper.
The decoy is THE most important element in the bite training!
Select a decoy for your dog by asking around, talking to as many references as possible, and choosing wisely. A good decoy is talented, experienced, and usually pretty quick on his feet. Good decoy/helper work is not cheap, police departments pay many thousands of dollars for training, but you will not be training your dog to do as many tasks as a K9, so expect a more reasonable figure.
A good training program will take you and your dog through three basic stages of work- teaching, training, and proofing. Teaching is the dog's introduction to what will be expected of him, there is only reward, no negative anything. Proper response/behavior is rewarded, undesired behavior is ignored. After the skills are consistently displayed, training can begin. This is where proper behavior is rewarded, and undesired behavior is corrected. Finally, proofing occurs when the dog is rarely making mistakes in training, and we PURPOSELY attempt to get the dog to make a mistake. Proofing is the most important and most commonly overlooked part of this process! Proper proofing results in a dog that is rock-solid and dependable under stressful conditions, which is where you need it most.
If you own a gun and dog, you need to training on using both simultaneously. There are not many trainers that can do this, most of them work exclusively with the police departments. There is much you can do on your own, simply by doing advanced obedience work at your local gun range, but I'm not going to give training advice here that might be mis-used and ruin your dog. Suffice it to say, you should train how you will fight, and fight as you train.
This is what you can expect out of a well-trained, finished dog-
Calm, controlled behavior around children and adults. Confident behavior in all situations. The dog will display a visible threat on command, and cease threatening behavior on command. The dog will obey on the first command in stressful situations. The dog will engage on command, and release his grip on command. The dog will be sociable, able to take anywhere. The dog will not require a collar and leash, though you should always have one on hand. The dog will be an asset, not a liability.
Here are some videos that show what proper training can do for a solid dog. Notice the wagging tails, these dogs love to work!
Hope this has been informative. Feel free to ask any questions.
Thanks for this post, tictac. That third video is incredible -- the dog walks backwards to keep pace w/its owner but simultaneously keep an eye on the potential threat. Wow.
Viva -- Sager
Good post TicTac. I've thought of raising one of our Anatolian Sheperds, we're graziers,in the house with our children and Border collies, Do you think the Anatolian a sufficient breed(assuming good temperament)for basic home alarm defense etc.?
Thanks Robie Robinson
What an excellent post! Thanks tictac1. Protective dogs and guns for self-defense are two subjects with a lot in common. Just buying a dog or a gun doesn't do much for you, at least not that you can count on when the chips are down. Training is vital. We are certainly an interesting and talented little community here in CM land, aren't we. Too bad we don't all live in the same county....
While I have not worked with any Anatolians, I have seen some in action (guarding goats used for brush control). They give me the impression that individuals from working backgrounds would probably be suitable, at the very least for a Level 2 (alarm & deter) protection dog. I have seen pictures of this breed being used for serious bite work (that would be Level 3).
They certainly have the size and build for the work, and all current working herders are solid dogs, physically. The best thing to do would be get a temperament evaluation for the dog you want to train from a trainer near you. Many trainers will evaluate the dog for free, since they want your business!
Thank you for a great thread! I grew up with Milanois, and they're wonderful dogs in all regards. Thanks for such a concise and informative post.
Thanks for the reply. How does one find a reputable trainer. Pups are born once a year on our farm, it would be good to get a consult at 6-8weeks post partum. Pups are "spoken for" yet we can select for our home before others.
We raise goats as well as sheep,beeves,swine,fowl,children,"All Creatures Great and Small"
Excellent write-up. Thanks for sharing your expertise.
I have a few questions:
(1) Why, in their bite training, does it seem that dogs are trained to grab the arm or body and not the hand or for lethality, the neck? Quite frankly, if I was experiencing an armed home invasion, I'd certainly want the dog to have as much chance for survival as us and would want the dog to take out a perp as quickly as possible.
(2) If one has multiple dogs for human as well as animal protection, is it best to have all the same breed or can one mix breeds (and I know that the answer to that question can be dependent upon the personality of the dogs, the breeds, etc.)? I'm thinking of something like a couple of Anatolians for outside guarding farm animals (we have coyotes, wolves, and rarely, mountain lions in our area) and another different type of dog in the house like an Argentine Dogo.
(3) Do you have any opinions on Argentine Dogos (other than making sure they have no problem with deafness)? I've always been attracted to the breed but never had one.
(4) Is there a preferred gender mix for having multiple dogs and assuming you are not planning on breeding them, would you have them spayed/neutered and if so, would it be before or after the bulk of their training?
Thanks for you help. BTW, where are you located?
What sort of daily time commitment is involved in this sort of training?
When we got our family dog, I insisted on a trainer to teach us the basics of "how to speak dog," so to speak, in other words it was the owners that were being trained! But there is STILL constant training and reinforcement... and this is not even bite training!!! But, that sort of training sounds serious and not to be entered into lightly. You may have found the ideal dog, and the right trainer... but the owner really needs to understand that sort of committment and follow-through, don't you think? Although, I have heard of places that will take your dog for 3 months, train the dog, and bring the dog back...
1) Bite training typically focuses on four "targets"- upper arms, upper thighs. Various sports target other areas, but those are the four that you will see the most.
Why not hands? Hands move quickly, we don't want the dog to "hunt" for his favorite target, we want the dog to take the grip that is available to him. Also, teaching a dog to bite your hands presents serious protective equipment concerns, hands break rather easily.
Why not other areas? Mostly, liability. K9's are considered "less than lethal", which is why PDs can deploy them in a wide variety of situations.
All that said, working dogs develop their own preferred targets. It is not uncommon to see dogs that will grip what they can get, and then transfer to their "sweet spot" when the opportunity presents itself.
All patrol/protection dogs should go through muzzle training as the last step in their prep work; correctly done, this ensures the dog will charge in and "hit" the bad guy, not just run up and start looking for a grip.
2) You can mix and match all you like, but remember these rules for protection dogs- Never male/male or female/female, always mixed sex and not dog aggressive. Dogs worthy of personal protection are inherently dominant. Also, remember you will have to train two dogs at the same time if they will ever deployed at the same time. I have done a little of this work, but it presents serious safety issues for both the dogs and the decoy.
3) Unfortunately, the Dogo falls into the same rare category as the Presa and Dogue de Bordeaux. Not enough dogs to select from. Thus, if you are set on the breed, you may find it is impossible to find a candidate.
4) Generally, spayed/neutered dogs do not make usually make good protection candidates. However, they can still be trained and worked, just not usually at the same capacity.
On time commitments-
This is huge, and I should have addressed it in the main post. You should NOT purchase a dog if you do not like dogs, or do not have the time to train! Typically, my obedience classes last an hour (one on one) and they are once per week. Bite work usually takes 3x a week, but the sessions are very short, probably no longer than 15 minutes totally spread over an hour.
I am not a believer in boarding a dog for training. I do not do this type of work because the results are second-rate. A dog is not a machine, you can't program it and give it to someone new, there needs to be a working relationship.
An experienced trainer or handler can teach a pup the basic obedience commands, using food as a motivator, in about 5-10 minutes a day over a few weeks or months. Most people do not know how to effectively train, though, so 90% of what I do is ACTUALLY training people to become dog handlers, and dispelling dog training myths. Ineffective handling wastes time, creates bad habits, and can ruin some softer dogs.
Dog training is a life-long commitment if you value performance, just like firearms training, or any other skill set. If you don't use it, you will lose it!
Those answers really clarify a lot of things. I totally agree about the boarding/training... it doesn't make sense unless you have that relationship. And making sure a that a pair of dogs are of the opposite sex... that makes sense.
I have a few more questions:
About the spayed/neutered dogs: wouldn't it be a distraction for a dog in heat to focus on protection? It always seemed that when our animals were in heat it was a bit of a crazy time!
Also, the dominance factor... I'm not sure if I understand what you mean by "inherently dominant," I understand that they need to have a strong mental attitude, but where do they belong in their human "pack." I have firmly established w/ my dog that I am the alpha, then the rest of my family, the dog in last place. Does an inherently dominant dog accept not being the alpha?
Lastly, any thoughts on the APBT or pit bull mix? In general, of course, as each dog would need to looked at as a specific individual.
Pretty interesting...I'd be interested in hearing more about this.
Most of that article is hype. I work with police and military dogs, as well as civilian "black tie" protection dogs. In general, the military and police have lower quality dogs, because of the cap placed on dollar amount for the initial purchase.
I'll point out some of the more obvious bull-
Ti caps are done because the dog has broken his teeth. This is usually because of "leaking drive", i.e. a dog that takes out his frustrations on his surroundings, and ruins his teeth. Common, but not ideal. Caps don't improve bite quality, nor are they "razor-sharp", nor do they penetrate body armor any better than regular old teeth. Plus, body armor is designed to be worn over the "10 ring" on the chest and abdomen, not the target areas for K9's, so penetrating body armor is not needed. That said, regular teeth and Ti teeth both can do serious damage in short order on unprotected flesh. The compression alone causes pain and bruising, even when I wear my bite suit.
They cannot differentiate between a hostage and a hostage taker. They CAN, with handler help, attack the correct person, with probably 80-90% success. The only possible exception to this would be in areas where all the "bad guys" eat the same thing, like in Vietnam with the VCs.
I'd have to see proof that their dogs will obey commands via radio. Most police/military dogs won't out even with their handler standing there screaming at them, and have to be "hard outed" or physically removed. The "bark and hold" is a Schutzhund technique used in police work to cover strict liability issues. "Yes, your honor, my K9 has been trained to perform a bark and hold", so the perp must have done something to trigger the dog to bite." In reality, we cover it enough to say we cover it, then concentrate on ensuring the dog doesn't let go prematurely or fail to engage, which is what happens when you spend too much time on the BnH.
Overall, you will see the best training and best dogs in the hands of civilians. This is because the military sets a purchase cap at $3000 per dog (last I checked), and good dogs usually start at $5000. Also, their trainers are not the best. Hands down, the best dog trainers come from Europe, and are usually the product of generations of families working with dogs, and competing at high levels of the bite sports.
I'm not trying to take anything away from our military dogs, just set the record straight. They are capable of stuff most people think improbable, if not impossible. However, the same quality of dog or better is available to anyone with money to spend, and time to invest in good training.
Dogs in heat are a distraction for MALE dogs, neutered or not. Females in heat are not allowed to compete because of this. However, a female in heat does not present a problem for herself, in my experience. We use urine from a bitches heat cycle to purposely distract our dogs in training. Also use coyote urine.
By "inherently dominant", I mean the dog will general seek higher pack rank. For a human who is naturally "in charge", this is not a problem. Between dogs, it IS a problem, since they will work this out through violence. Often times, this behavior will not become an issue until the dog is 3 or 4 years old.
As for APBT and mixes, yes, each dog is an individual, but many of the pits I have seen are too trusting to use as security dogs. There ARE exceptions, I happen to own one, and I know of several lines that have been bred exclusively for bite work for many generations. However, these dogs are not available to the general public as their breeders are understandably concerned about the dog's image when used in this capacity. If you happen to get lucky and get a pit that will do the work, they are usually extremely tenacious and durable. You will have a hard time finding someone to train the dog, though, since most trainers are not familiar with the breed in this context, and the training techniques ARE different. GSD training methods used on pits typically produce lackluster work, pits need more stimulation in the early phases of training to take it seriously.
Overall, you would be better off to stick with the standard breeds unless a good candidate falls into your lap.
Another thanks for continuing to share your knowledge. Your work is a small world and an insider's perspective is very valuable.
Much thanks! Great information. I tend to raise an eyebrow about the sensationalism, but I didn't think anyone would be able to substantiate some of those claims. The Radio commands struck me as particularly unrealistic, as the propensity for headsets to get jacked around on a canine would be real high.
So the level of training that you're likely to see amongst these dogs is probably about the same as what you'd see with a Police K9 unit?
No offense to our SOCOM friends, but there's a shit ton of sensationalisation that goes on that blurs the lines between fantasy and reality.
I have SpecOps friends, and we get along fine, but the egos occasionally fill the room...:)
Actually, the level of training from dept. to dept. and military branch to military branch varies more than you'd think. For example, "passive apprehension", where the dog bites a stationary, non-threatening suspect is standard training for some, and against the use of force continuum at other depts. Even the equipment used varies, some PDs still only use the sch. sleeve, while most have moved to the full body bite suits. The vests for dogs were the latest greatest thing when they first came out, but then handlers noticed their dogs overheated way too easily, so they have fallen out of favor unless they are mandated. Dogs don't deal with heat very well.
In general, PD K9 work has morphed to resemble military training in most ways, especially the SWAT K9 training, which also includes rappeling, live fire/gas, Simunitions force-on-force drills, etc. In my experience, the best trained dogs come from PDs that employ private contractors to do the bulk of the training.
Here you go.
We have a dog in our security plan, eventually ( as long as the cats don't kill us).
Beautiful picture. Great looking dogs. We have three boys(GSD) and we love them. My wife was a little apprehensive before our first one, now gone, but now loves the breed as do I. The GSD was my suggestion at first. We live in the country and have plenty of room for them. I will not have another breed. Thanks for the pic.
Do you know of a book you would recommend to help a person train their dog as you would? Thanks
Bear in mind, the only training of the dog you can do yourself is obedience. The protection phase requires a "helper", though contrary to title, he's the one doing most of the work. You COULD try to train a helper yourself, but this would be the blind leading the blind, and you would either ruin your dog or get someone seriously hurt.
A good book to get you started is "The Business Security Canine: Selection and Training" by the Duets. This is an excellent primer to temperament and end-goals with respect to the work.
When you are ready to start training, get "Dog Training with The Touch". Both Tom and Annetta really know their craft. Follow their advice closely for obedience foundation work.
The decoy seen in many of the photos in that book is Ron Marshall, one of the top decoys in the world, in my opinion. His basic approach is very similar to the techniques I saw in Slovakia, and are very similar to my own, all of which are roughly described in "The Koehler Method of Guard Dog Training".
Mention the Koehler method among professional trainers, and you'll get a lot of people rolling their eyes. Ignore his obedience material, there are far better methods (like the ones in The Touch). BUT... his method of guard dog agitation is FAR superior to the crap being taught by most Schutzhund trainers. Sport trainers train for maximum points on the field, and they are very good at that. The Koehler method is a much more serious approach, and will produce a dog that takes his job seriously, and can be depended on when deployed. With sport-style training, there is always the possibility that the dog will not engage in real life.
The most cost-effective approach that will work is to train the dog yourself, starting at 5 weeks, in obedience and chase and bite games. Then, when the dog is 6 months to a year old, pay the money for a professional to do the agitation and bite work.
Another option is to buy an adult dog, but a fully guaranteed protection dog will run you about $6K or more. I know one guy that sells dogs for $15K all day long...:(
I'd be interested in your comments on this news event:
I understand the dog was previously severely stressed, in a strange environment, and a strange person got in the dog's face but since he initially seemed tolerant of her petting him, I'm surprised at how little he telegraphed his bite.
I had not seen that.
Couple things I noticed-
- The dog is panting. Unless he's been excercising, this is a sign of stress.
- The dog is being "reassured" by his owner. Frequently, this can reinforce the stress response. I tell my clients to ignore all negative responses to training, i.e. do not pet, praise or reassure a dog that is exhibiting signs of stress/avoidance. Praise the good, ignore the bad.
- The reporter makes direct eye contact, while maintaining a dominant (elevated) body posture. This is viewed by dogs as threatening or dominating behavior. Most dogs will tolerate it, some won't.
- The reporter then puts her face directly into the dogs. This is very threatening. If you've ever seen a dog fight, the most common IMMEDIATELY proceeding event is nose-to-nose or cheek-to-cheek contact, then BAM!
I tell my clients and kids DO NOT EVER give a strange dog "kisses". It is stupid! You are basically telling the dog "I am the dominant one". Some dogs will respond with "no you're not", like this dog did. I have seen even very stable, friendly dogs nip people in this situation, and children are frequently bitten in exactly this scenario.
Another factor, though minor, is that the dog is a bull breed (as opposed to a herder). Bull breeds typically telegraph less, in my experience, and are frequently quiet about their intent.
When I decoy, I intentionally put the dog under pressure. I use my body language to convey to the dog, "I'm dangerous". Here are the common signs that the dog is going into avoidance. "Avoidance" is the stress response that immediately procedes a flight response. If flight is is not practical, you usually get the fight response. You can use these cues to see what the dog is thinking/feeling-
- laid back ears, wide eyes
-tail tucking (most people recognize this)
-hair coming up
-turning away from the threat (I can't see you, so don't pretend you're there!)
-sniffing the ground
-walking behind the owner, looking to the owner for support
She could have avoided the whole incident by simply maintaining a neutral posture, and being satisfied with petting the dog on his shoulders/sides, not the head. You can't really blame her, though, most people do not know this stuff.
I would bet my paycheck that this is NOT the first time the dog has shown human aggression. Contrary to public opinion and news stories, dogs do not "just snap". Dogs are actually pretty predictable, if you know what you're looking at. I make it my business to ALWAYS know what the dog will do next, it's how I keep myself from being hurt while intentionally provoking aggression. I get within an inch of dogs that want to kill me, without protective equipment, and still have my face, fingers, and toes...:)
The "snapping" excuse is simply owners that either were ignorant of the aggression signs, or don't want to admit to knowing about the dog's propensity for violence.
I think my Bulldog is broken. He just sleeps - alot.
He sounds like standard-issue...:) If he's an American Bulldog, you might be quite surprised as to how he'd act under the proper stimulation. I find that many sleepy family dogs will rise to the occasion with a little training. A calm, confident dog fares much better than a hyper-vigilant man-hater.
Thanks for the very insightful observations tictac. I definitely learned a few things.
Doberman Pinschers have been used often throughout history and are now employed in security, police, and military roles. I think that in many countries, Doberman Pinschers are one of the most recognizable breeds, in part because of their actual roles in society, and in part because of media attention.
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