I was recently in a social setting where I was asked about my dog, Rocco. Rocco is my Rottweiler who has undergone extensive protection dog training. We were engrossed in a discussion about his training and capabilities when we were overheard by another person.
“Oh, you shouldn’t train your dog to do that stuff. That makes them vicious,” was her statement injected into our conversation. I was initially a bit taken-aback and annoyed; not only was her comment unsolicited but it was based on a lack of knowledge. As I thought about it more, however, I came to realize that this is a common style of thinking. There are many misconceptions about protection dogs and protection dog training. Let me dispel some of the myths of protection dogs and talk about protection dog training at its root to combat some of the more prevalent misinformation.
First, let me do a bit of defining. There are many terms thrown around that are often interchanged incorrectly.
Attack Dog- A poorly trained, typically anti-social, and fearful creature. Ineffective except for looking tough.
Guard Dog- A dog that is trained to guard an area. Guard dogs are often used on estates, warehouses, or open areas that need guarding. Guard dogs may or may not be good with people and may or may not have obedience training.
Police Patrol Dog- A dog that is trained to work chasing down criminals. They are trained to be used on the offensive.
Protection Dog- A dog that is trained to be used first and foremost as a defensive deterrent. A protection dog is trained to show aggression on command and turn off on command. A protection dog is trained to attack on command or if the aggressor is not deterred by the show of aggression. A protection dog has high levels of obedience training.
So now let me return to the original statement. Does training a protection dog make him vicious? I understand why many people would assume this. After all, you are training a dog to show aggression, bite a person, and do what is necessary to combat a human. Protection dog training does not, however, make a dog vicious.
There are several styles and methods for protection dog training. At its root, however, there are two instincts, or drives, that protection dog trainers harness time and time again to achieve results. Let’s examine them.
Prey drive is a drive that most dogs possess, not just protection dogs. A Labrador retriever chases a tennis ball because of prey drive. The local mongrel chases a car because of prey drive. Essentially, prey drive is a dog’s desire to chase and capture a fast moving object. Nothing vicious about it. A good protection dog trainer will harness this drive to teach a puppy to chase a rag. As the puppy grows older he graduates from a rag to a tug. From a tug the trainer teaches the dog to bite a sleeve or a dog training bite suit. All the while the training is approached as a game. As a fun way to use energy and satisfy drive. Basically, the decoy, or guy wearing the bite suit or sleeve, is not viewed as a ‘bad guy’ but as a partner in a fun game. As training progresses, a good trainer will train the dog to discount the presence of equipment and view the person as the prey object. All of this training is done on command only. As training progresses the dog is taught to only respond when he hears the dog training command from his owner. This ensures for safety and control.
All creatures have some sort of defense mechanism. Dogs have three ways of dealing with an aggressor: fight, flight, or avoidance. In protection dog training a good trainer will utilize a dog’s defense drive to build on what he has learned with prey drive. The trainer will show the dog that in certain situations a person is a threat and can be dealt with using the skills taught in prey drive. In this way, prey drive and defense drive work together. In essence, a dog is taught that when given a command that the aggressor is a real threat and he should use his skills to fight the threat. As with prey drive these skills are taught only under command and with high levels of control and safety.
There are not many dogs capable of this level of training. A dog that can accomplish this is a strong and very confident dog. This level of confidence is what often makes protection dogs safe and good with people. They are so confident that they don’t view people as threats unless told to under command by their owner. Protection dog training often bolsters this confidence as these dogs learn the power that they have and their innate abilities.
So are these dogs vicious? Absolutely not. Their natural drives have merely been harnessed to teach them new skills. I like to compare a well trained protection dog with a well trained soldier. Is a soldier more of a danger because of his training? Many would argue that he or she isn’t. The advanced levels of training turn a soldier into a person who is extremely confident. A soldier is capable of being a loving and caring family member in one setting and tool of battle in another. Just because a soldier is capable of using weapons under one setting does not make that person ‘vicious’.
Confidence is the opposite of fear. Fear is what causes many problems both in dog and human alike. When you combine the confidence and high levels of control in a well trained protection dog, I contend that you have a dog that is safe to be around and definitely not vicious.
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