Five Characteristics of a Family Personal Protection Dog
Now that you have been toying with the idea of welcoming a dog into your house that will be both a part of your family and a form of protection, let’s examine what features to look for.
1. Obedience and Control
A huge part of training a personal protection dog is control work. The level of advanced obedience these dogs possess allows them to be a constant part of your life and in your environment. You will have the dog with and around you at your home, at the beach, during a picnic in a public park, while jogging, or walking with you and the baby stroller. Your dog will thoroughly understand the difference between neutral situations and a threat, but respond only as directed by you.
Dogs with a naturally strong protective instinct (most herding, working and terrier breeds), if left untrained, may decide on their own when you need protecting; more often than not, inappropriately. A personal protection family dog is only allowed to react without your command if you are physically threatened. It takes many hours of “proof training” employing several kinds of distractions to reliably teach a dog the appropriate response to any life situation — for example, recognizing the difference between horseplay among the kids and a real threat by a criminal.
2. Social Disposition and Environmental Soundness
Your family protection dog is expected to live in your home and at your side, whether you are home alone, out and about in town, at a park, or during your annual dinner party with many guests. Your dog is also expected to focus his attention on you and be oblivious to neutral environmental stimuli. This feature, as important as it is, needs to be identified and trained for from a very early puppy age. It is significantly more challenging (and sometimes impossible) to catch up with many critical imprinting events in the puppy’s early life.
At North Edge K9, we start this process from the moment the puppies’ eyes and ears have opened. By the age of 10-12 weeks, our puppies are sound desensitized and have been exposed to a plethora of surfaces, materials and situations. Extensive socialization has been provided and must continue for the next several months to achieve the best results. This is a lot of work but the only way to raise a socially and environmentally sound dog.
3. Balanced Temperament
Within each breed there can be significant temperament variability, depending on breeding line(s). In addition, because dogs are a product of nature and nurture there can be significant variability even between litter mates. Significant fractions of the dog’s overall temperament are inherited (nature) and inherited character traits are amenable to change through training (nurture) to a limited degree only. Thus, selecting the right dog for each home setting is crucial. When we encounter ‘problem dogs’, the underlying cause is often neither bad dogs nor bad owners but a mismatch of temperament and setting.
Imagine trying to have a police dog as a family pet, or vice versa. It’s a bad idea either way. Wanting a family personal protection dog must start with selecting the right dog, and you are well advised to seek help from a seasoned professional. What you are ultimately looking for is a dog that has a clear and balanced temperament (understands when “the game” is on and when it is off). Appropriate dog selection is as important as correct foundation work and upbringing.
4. Confidence and Boldness
Most dogs instinctively recognize and understand the difference between a friendly person on the street and the threat of a potential attacker, but it is the conditioned response of how to work against a threat that elevates a family pet to an effective personal protection dog. Most companion dogs will more likely than not bark defensively at strangers approaching “their” territory, following animal instinct. This may deter some burglars as it raises attention, but any effect on an intruder or on violent crime is negligible with a family pet, regardless of how big the dog is and how mighty its bark. The vast majority of dogs will choose flight over fight when challenged and only bite as a last resort.
Dogs must be conditioned to react appropriately if you want to depend on them for protection. Simply watch a few YouTube videos of a simulated burglary or strangers approaching people walking their dog, and you realize that most dogs don't make good protectors at all. This is not surprising as it takes careful foundation training and stepwise progression to have a dog act steadfast under pressure. This characteristic is not inherent to most dogs and has to be developed and trained. Simply stated, “bluff dogs” end up with hurt owners. There are no shortcuts. Achieving reliable protection from a family personal protection dog requires time, dedication and skill.
5. Breed and Size
It makes sense that most people are emotionally drawn to certain breeds and not to others, as all breeds have certain general physical and temperamental characteristics. However, in our experience, arguing over breed preferences is as futile to arguing over which rifle is best for hunting deer. And while most inquiries we receive start out with what breed of dog we would recommend, quite a few happy and satisfied customers now live with dogs they initially would not consider. Similarly, what matters is the size of fight in a dog, rather than the size of the dog in a fight.
The German Shepherd is a prime example of many current U.S working dog lines that have been significantly 'diluted' over the past decades by emphasizing show and beauty over performance and health, to the detriment of the breed. It comes as no surprise that many police and military working dogs have strong genetic roots in Europe and reinforces the point of having reliable professional help for selecting the appropriate protection dog for your family. Well-bred GSD are bold, confident, fearless and extremely intelligent, while showing a calm demeanor in the family household.
Our personal favorite breed for a family personal protection dog is the Belgian Malinois because of its temperament, very healthy disposition, comparatively long lifespan, physical strength and courage, loyalty, trainability and toughness. Well-bred Malinois with the proper upbringing and training are extremely social and can easily be turned 'on' or 'off' by their handlers.
Very similar in many ways is the Dutch Shepherd. Most Mastiff breeds including Cane Corso have generally less need for physical exercise and are well known for their physical strength, protection instincts, courageousness, and docile family loyalty. The Doberman is yet another traditional German breed, named after a German tax collector in the 19th century who needed a strong and intimidating dog for excursions into shady parts of town. Because of breeding tendencies towards more aggression in the past, finding a Doberman with balanced temperament can be difficult. Rottweilers are relentless protectors of their pack, originally bred to protect cattle. Giant Schnauzers can be intimidating, strong and dominant, and their extreme family loyalty makes them excellent protection dogs in the right setting.
There are several other breeds including the Rhodesian Ridgeback, the Akita and the Staffordshire Terrier (often confused with the Pit Bull) that have strong protective instincts and most definitely, like all the above breeds need careful selection, a strong handler and strict training. Protection qualities come with the absolute requirement of providing plenty of physical exercise and mental stimulus, and ideally periodic refresher training with a seasoned K9 trainer.
More important than choice of breed in having a protection dog is the realization of added responsibility. While all of the above breeds are known to make good family pets, they are still very powerful animals with primal instincts. It is the human responsibility to ensure the safety of family members, guests, and neighbors and the public through proper selection, socialization, control and training. On the upside, you will have a 100% loyal companion that can never be turned against you.
For More Information
Our team at North Edge K9 is comprised of active police K9 handlers, trainers and breeders with decades of street experience. We are available to help you finding the perfect family personal protection dog and assist in all your training needs. For more information, e-mail us at firstname.lastname@example.org .