Buying a Protection Dog

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Protection dogs fulfill a very important role in a person’s security today as they have done for thousands of years. Buying a protection dog that's properly trained not only provides protection of one’s self, family, and property, but also provides companionship and unwavering loyalty to those lucky enough to be able to own one of these outstanding dogs.  All protection dogs for sale are not equal!  

Protection Dogs for Sale

Today numerous individuals and companies offer protection dogs for sale.  Many of these offerors have never had one of their dogs engage a determined criminal intent on doing harm, yet claim to have the “best”, “world class”, “exceptional” “unmatched” etc. etc. etc. Claiming to have exceptional protection dogs when one’s dogs have never actually engaged anyone in a real protection event is of course not a credible claim.  Could a surgeon that’s never operated before be the best?  Could a pilot that’s only flown a simulator be the best?  Of course not!  So how could you expect someone that’s never had their dogs engage a determined assailant to provide the “best” protection dogs available?  The obvious answer is, you can’t.

So how do you sort out the good from the bad?  You gather information and educate yourself.  A personal protection dog is a large investment in time and money.  We hope this guide will help you in your search for a well-trained protection dog that will actually come to your aid if and when needed and not look to you for its protection.

What Breed Should I Choose? 

There are only two real choices out there if you want a reliable protection dog that will consistently be there for you if needed that will get the job done.  1.  German Shepherd. 2. Belgium Malinois.  Have you seen any other breed used by the military or law enforcement?  Not likely.  Many years ago a few other breeds were tried, like the Doberman and Rottweiler but you would be hard pressed to find a single dog of either breed used in a protection/patrol role today.  Trainability, reliability, and temperament are the reasons.  The Dutch Shepherd is also a good choice but there are far fewer good Dutch Shepherds available than either German Shepherds or Malinois so we will confine this discussion to the two breeds listed above.

Why are the two breeds mentioned as the best choice for a protection dog?  It comes down to trainability, reliability, and temperament.  At Patriot K-9 Services we have deployed both the Shepherd and the Malinois to Iraq and Afghanistan as bomb and patrol dogs while working with the U S military.  Both breeds have been specifically bred and refined through the years as working dogs.  Although you need to be aware that some lines of both dogs have been ruined for working duties by irresponsible breeders that have either bred for pet owners, for the show ring, or simply for profit.  Many have chosen not to perpetuate the reason for the Shepherds existence, which is to be a working dog.  With the Shepherd, your prospective protection dog must be chosen carefully from sources that breed only for the work ethic the dog was bred for from the start.  At Patriot K-9 we lean heavily towards the German Shepherd from a working dog line in the Czech Republic for the vast majority of those wanting a personal protection dog.

The German Shepherd

The German Shepherd dog, (GSD) has been bred to work since the late 1800’s.  Their working characteristics of strength, trainability, and intelligence make them the preferred breed for police, military, and civilian working dogs the world over.

The GSD male will range in weight from 65 pounds to nearly 90 pounds.  Females will be slightly smaller weighing in between 50 to 70 pounds.  Color can be black/red, black/silver, sable, and dark sable with some variations on these main characteristics.  Long and short haired dogs can both be found.  The short haired variety is most often seen as working dogs.

The GSD needs a job or least an active lifestyle.  The have boundless energy and love their family.  They will bond with everyone in the family although they will usually attach themselves more firmly to a single family member.  They are generally cautious of strangers but accepting of others if their owners are.  The handler must establish leadership early on.protection dog

The Belgium Malinois

The Malinois, or Mal, is an extremely active dog that has an over the top level of energy.  They have been used as bomb dogs, drug dogs, and protection/patrol dogs.  They are popular with police and the military.

The Malinois is somewhat smaller than the GSD with males weighing in between 60 to 75 pounds with females between 55 and 65 pounds.  Colors vary widely but many have the distinguishing black face (mask) with lighter brown elsewhere.  Hair is short.

The Mal is a very high energy level dog and they maintain that high level of energy well into their adult years.  Don’t expect this dog to lie by the fireplace quietly and do nothing.  Be prepared to give him plenty of exercise each and every day or be prepared to replace your furnishing if the dog is kept inside alone with nothing to do.  The Mal is a very tenacious dog and we don’t recommend them for the first time protection dog owner.  They must be shown they are second in the pack pecking order from an early age.mal

Angulation in the German Shepherd

An inherent problem with some GDS's, especially show dog lines, is hip problems associated with too much angulation.   Angulation is the angle formed by the line that runs from the front shoulders to the hips of the dog and the ground.  Angulation is a subject in itself. Please read our post on the subject here.  Too much angulation for the wrong reason can be debilitating in the GSD.

Training Levels

If you have looked into buying a protection dog for very long you have seen “trainers” that sell you a dog they term either level I or II or III.  That is marketing language and simply another way of saying the dog is partially trained or fully trained.  One person’s level II is another person’s level III.  A level I dog that most advertise is nothing more than a dog that will bark.  It will not engage an assailant with teeth and claws.  If being attacked from behind the dog will not even have the opportunity to bark.  If approached from the front and the “level I” dog is pressed, it may very well go into avoidance if its bark doesn’t scare off the attacker.  In other words it will look to its handler for protection instead of providing it.  Many criminals, especially those on drugs may not be deterred by a barking dog.  You need a dog that will engage or you are simply being armed with a false sense of security.

Another marketing term used to justify an exorbitant price is to term a dog “executive protection” or “estate protection”.  We have seen the so called “executive protection” dog advertised as one that you can take to work and he will quietly lay at your feet under the desk for a full day’s work.  If a dog will lay under a desk for up to 8 hours he won’t even be considered by Patriot K-9 Services for training and shouldn’t be considered for your protection dog either.  The drive we require would simply not be present in sufficient quantities to meet our demands.

The proper way to get the training level you require is to speak with the trainer and make it clear what you want and what you don’t need.  Don’t pay for advance obedience you will not need and could even degrade the performance of a true protection dog.  How could excessive obedience be to the detriment of a proper working protection dog?  Have you seen obedience videos of dogs at heal and the dog is constantly staring up at the handler?  We want our dogs to be more aware of what’s around them and to the front.  A threat you would want to avoid won’t be coming from your shirt pocket!  We do not want a protection dog whose obedience is so strict that it detracts from his central duty and sense of surroundings.

In other words, pay for the training you need and not for training you don’t.  Don’t be taken in with flowery language that a determined criminal couldn’t care less about and that won’t make your dog one bit more helpful in an actual protection event and may even make him less effective.

Schutzhund trained dogs

Schutzhund (German for protection dog) is a German sporting dog event.  It is popular in many parts of the world.  It was first used as a means for which breeders of dogs that were sold as police and military dogs could show that their dogs were CAPABLE of being trained as patrol and/or protection dogs.  Have you seen the abbreviation IPO 1, 2, and 3 or perhaps you’ve seen SchH 1, 2, or 3?  That and other similar language are Schutzhund titles.  A titled dog will command a higher price but not necessarily be a better protection dog than one that’s not titled. Especially if the dog has not received the additional training necessary to transform a sporting dog into a protection dog.  The most important thing to remember is this – a Schutzhund dog is only a dog that possibly CAN be trained for patrol or protection duties but is not yet a legitimate protection dog.

Bark and Hold for Protection Dogs??

Many trainers today buy Schutzhund started dogs or perhaps Schutzhund titled dogs then sell them as fully capable protection dogs.  A Schutzhund trained dog is trained to, among other things, seek out a person hiding in a blind wearing a training sleeve.  The dog after finding the person (decoy) then crowds him and barks but doesn’t bite.  He attempts to goad the decoy into moving.  The dog is trained not to bite until the decoy moves.  After a quick move by the decoy the dog is allowed to bite the training sleeve.  This is called “bark and hold”.  There is much debate about the value of bark and hold but most agree it is a useless procedure in the real world of patrol or protection work.  Why?  There are a couple of reasons for this.  If you arrived home to see someone running away and carrying all the cash you had left in the house and your dog was in the car would you want the dog to go chase him down and bark?  Probably not.  You would most likely want him to stop him.  If you only wanted him to bark you probably shouldn’t have sent him in the first place.  Do you think a criminal is going to stand perfectly still as a highly trained decoy would while the dog barks at him?  Of course not.  The third point is when you send a dog trained in bark and hold you are leaving the decision to bite the person or not up to the dog.  We want to make that decision as the dog’s handler and not leave it up to the dog that we may not even be able to see at the time the suspect is engaged

A Sleeve Only Dog Is Not A Protection Dog

A sporting dog is mainly trained to bite the decoy wearing a training sleeve.  There is a saying “once a sleeve dog always a sleeve dog”.  Many Schutzhund trained dogs will ONLY bite a sleeve.  A criminal is not trained in the ways of sporting dog decoys and will not be wearing the training sleeve on his arm that the dog is so familiar with.  So when the Schutzhund trained dog reaches the person they have been sent him after what do they do when they don’t see the familiar training sleeve?  We have seen sporting trained dogs in Afghanistan sent after extremely dangerous people that of course didn’t display the familiar sleeve.  When they arrived they didn’t know what to do and after a brief confusing attempt to apprehend the person they simply gave up and left.  A dog that will only take an arm bite is not a protection dog.

At Patriot K-9 we seldom use training sleeves after the first couple of weeks.  Hidden sleeves and suites are preferred.  Other techniques are employed so the dog is not looking for equipment to “apprehend”.  We train so that the dog will willing engage and prevail should he ever be called on to do so.  We also train every one of our dogs to go towards gunfire and not away from it.

A real protection dog MUST be trained in a wide variety of locations with a wide variety of people wearing hidden sleeves.  Schutzhund trained dogs grow use to working under the same conditions in the same location with the same decoys day after day after day.  A felon assaulting you in a parking lot or coming through your window at 3AM is most likely a scenario a sporting dog has never encountered in a simulated environment.  Actually very few dogs sold as protection dogs have done little more realistic training for protection work than most sporting dogs have.

The Sleeve Swing

When you watch the bulk of the videos provided by most trainers today (if it’s even provided) does it show the familiar sleeve with the exaggerated swing after the bite and little else or does it show the dog taking leg bites or upper body/shoulder bites too?  The swing you see where the dog bites the sleeve then is swung off the ground and in a circle is actually just a maneuver that’s designed to help the decoy absorb the shock a running dog delivers when he bites.  Other than that, it is only for dramatic effect in the video.  It serves no real purpose nor does it prove drive or ability to protect in the real world.  We’ve recently seen a video of a dog that the trainer was selling as being very good because he took a wide swing after biting the sleeve.  We can assure you any legitimate protection dog will bite and hold the sleeve while he’s swung off the ground.  That should never be a selling point!

Show Dogs vs Working Line Dogs

angulation2Dogs from show dog lines can usually be identified simply by the way they look.  They will have the "slopey" back half look like the dog above on the left.  Many of these dogs, even if they were able to be trained for some protection work may very well develop hip dysplasia long before their working dog bred counterparts. We have a working line imported Shepherd that spent nearly two years er.

in Afghanistan then over a year in Iraq as a bomb/patrol dog.  He’s now retired and lives at home with us.  He will soon be 14 years old and still gets around very well!  Another very important attribute a working line dog has that is mostly absent in show dogs is drive.  The intense drives needed for reliable, consistent, working dogs are usually absent in show dogs.

In addition to the angulation talked about above, show lines can usually be identified by color.  Red/black shepherds are not found often in the better working lines.  Most Shepherds can be trained to bark at someone and most can also be trained to bite a sleeve.  We’ve trained a friendly Yellow Lab to bite a sleeve but he would never make an actual protection dog.

Biting a training sleeve alone IS NOT evidence of a well-trained protection dog.

 

So with the above information in mind, we recommend the following: 

  • Choose either a German Shepherd or a Belgium Malinois when buying a protection dog. They are your consistent winners in the job.
  • Do not accept a Doberman, Rottweiler, Giant Schnauzer, or other breed that is considered unique in the field. Use the dogs the military and police forces worldwide use.  Select the GSD or the Mal.
  • Insure your dog is bred for work and not for show.
  • Ask your perspective trainer if any of their dogs have ever engaged in real protection events. “No, but they could” is not a sufficient answer, only an excuse for not having real protection dog experience.
  • Ask if/how the dog was trained any differently than a Schutzhund dog.
  • Look for a kennel that has not opened up recently.
  • DO NOT pay exorbitant prices for a protection dog simply because a prefix of “executive”, “elite”, or “estate protection” is attached. A well trained dogs doesn’t know if he’s protecting an executive or a blue collar worker.