A frequent difficulty with criminal attacks is that they can be so complex that no single defense option, no matter how much it dominates its own corner, covers everything. That’s why the best security plans will encompass locks and alarms, together with hand-to-hand as well as armed capability. I’ll tell you something, though, speaking as a gun expert: The single most versatile part of any protection system may be the protective canine.
TIPS FOR NEW DOG-OWNERS:
You can start taking a martial arts program and then drop out if you get bored with it, and all that will happen is that you don’t develop the self-defense skills you wanted. But with dogs this approach is dangerous. A trained protection dog—one that will fight when you tell it to fight and, even more importantly, stop when you instruct it to—requires substantial and constant training. That goes not only for you and the dog, but also for every family member who’s going to be working with the dog! Most folks I know who have serious working dogs like these try to commit at least one evening a week to serious training. Dogs can kill people. The animal needs to be constantly refreshed as to what’s expected of it and reminded of who’s in charge in the relationship. A properly trained protection dog will be trained to attack on command. It also will be trained to attack, on its own, anyone who violently attacks the owner or a member of the owner’s family. Most importantly, it will be rigidly trained to stop that attack on the appropriate command.
The big thing to remember with the protection dog is that you can’t just buy it. You need to spend quality time with it. A long-haired German Shepherd, for instance, is going to need a brushing 365 days a year no matter what the season. It takes care of you, but you take care of it. You don’t need to love your locks or alarms or guns. But you absolutely do need to love your dog. Anyone who is not prepared to give the animal the same commitment of time, of patience, of attention and, yes, of love that they would give to an adopted human child should probably discard the idea of having a hard-trained protection dog.
“Beware of Dog” signs are a good idea. Top-tier dog trainer Peg Hickey advises, “The signs should be at every entrance, and all around your property. They should have a picture of a dog with fangs bared, because courts have ruled that even someone who is illiterate can understand that it means there’s a dog inside that may bite.” You have to remember that your dog won’t be able to distinguish between a firefighter breaking into your house after a lightning strike ignited a conflagration, or a cop responding to your burglar alarm, and the actual burglar. Even if your property is fenced in, remember that police may have to chase a violent criminal across your yard in hot pursuit.
When you leave a dog in your car, you’ll obviously crack the windows, but make sure the windows don’t allow the dog’s head all the way out or a child’s arm to reach in to try to pet the animal. The dog can’t tell the innocent from the guilty and will bite to protect the turf it has been trained to protect. That’s why you see those warning signs on the side of police K9 vehicles. In the same vein, people in the household should never “play-fight” in front of the dog. The animal will perceive it as an attack on someone it was trained to protect with a predictable outcome. At best, it can confuse the animal and set it’s training back profoundly. At worst, well, use your imagination. The most enthusiastic dog-lovers estimate that these animals are as “smart” as three- to four-year-old humans. We do not give deadly force to our human toddlers. The hard-trained, substantial-size working dog trained for protection, in essence, is a deadly weapon, and we have to keep that in mind when we leave it unsupervised. No one in the family should know the “attack” command until they are at an age and level of responsibility at which they would be trusted by their parents with deadly weapons such as firearms.
RIGHT DOG & TRAINER:
Personally, I have found that the best approach to finding the right guard dog is a circuitous one. Ask a police K9 officer to recommend a veterinarian specializing in working-breed canines and ask that vet the following questions: What breeders around here would you recommend? What trainers would you recommend? The local vet knows who is brutalizing puppies into vicious junkyard dogs and who is training well-adjusted animals. This approach can save you a lot of grief. The debate over the “best breed of dog” is akin to that of the Glock or 1911 or revolver. It will be answered more from personal predilection than anything else.
Pick your dog like you’d pick a friend: not by appearance, but by individual attributes. You want a strong, smart animal that loves people and revels in doing what it was trained to do. Costs will vary. A Schutzhund III trained Alsatian imported from Germany may cost upwards of $25,000. Top-bred Rottweiler or German Shepherd puppies can be had for less than $2,500. Full training may run $5,000 to $8,000, but those of us who have owned such animals will tell you that they’re worth every penny. Remember those lines from the Rifleman’s Creed? “Without me, my rifle is useless. Without my rifle, I am useless.” It’s the same with dogs. It’s a lifetime commitment between their species and ours, of mutual protection in a world that has always been dangerous. The author wishes to thank Peg and John Hickey of Von See Stadt Kennels in Lake City, Florida, for their assistance with this article.