A properly trained protection dog works for fun, it never attacks out of fear.
I’ve been asked by the East Africa Kennel Club to write an article about Protection Dog training, especially concerning the need to hit the dog while training.
I have been working with Protection Dogs since 1998. It is my dream job come true. Training them is a calling for me.
I excelled in different aspects in my professional life as a Greek Navy Petty Officer and then an Officer, but dog training was always my passion. I was persistent and lucky as the Navy gave me the opportunity to study abroad in Europe and in the USA for their Military Working Dog Program (MWDP).
I was the Program Manager for the MWDP for 8 years. Endless days and nights were spent on trying to bring the best of me to the dog training program. Every day I learnt that there is still more to learn.
You are probably wandering why I used “Showtime!!” as my title on a short piece about training dogs in Protection. What does it mean?
We want a dog to protect us from the “bad people” life may throw our way. We see TV shows and movies about Military and Police dogs performing these difficult tasks, taking bad guys down or detecting explosives in various locations.
We then start looking to procure a dog cheaply and with the help of an “experienced” trainer who may have worked in Private Security or maybe just claims to be qualified in this field, one hopes to make it into a protection dog.
One may get a puppy from ones’ friends or neighbours who bred it (accidentally) in their backyard out of his “vicious” dogs who may have even have bitten someone.
If we are a little more informed we might go to a “professional” kennel and look for the vicious parents. If we are satisfied with the colour, size and “aggression” of the parents, we get a puppy out of this kennel.
YouTube trained trainers are popping up like weeds. Backyard “Trainers” are training trainers and handlers for some small amount of money and off they go to ruin dogs.
Training starts long before you procure a dog. It starts with you. You need to make a list of why you need a dog and what type of dog is good for your lifestyle. Then you need to do some research about availability of dogs around your area which are, at least, registered with the East Africa Kennel Club.
What about the trainer?
How does the trainer train a dog to protect you and your family? First he needs to have experience. Lots of it! Every dog is different so there is no step by step handbook that will work on every dog. The trainer needs to have the right tools. They (the trainer) needs to channel the drive, the desire of the dog to perform a certain behaviour, in order to succeed and satisfy their needs.
Training protection dogs is as far away from tying them to a pole and hitting them with a stick as making ice cubes in a frying pan.
A trainer needs to have a well laid out plan. The dog needs to have a strong grasp of basic obedience and “plug” an ON-OFF switch early in their life. To encourage the working drive without losing control.
Now comes the ShowTime! The trainer with the handler and the decoy(baiter) must gradually expose the dog to the stimuli to which they are meant to respond. With the right tools: Bite suit, Hidden sleeve, Muzzle and deconditioning equipment. NOT only a bite sleeve! Trainer and decoy can only teach the dog to have a reliable bite with control! This does not happen in one week! It takes time, effort and money.
What about hitting the dog to aggress?
The trainer-decoy must fake the hits. They must never hit the dog in order to bring pain. The “hits” are nothing more than a pat on the side and/or on the shoulder like dynamic petting.
We don’t kick the dog hard in order to test their pain threshold. We, as trainers, gradually expose the dog to the body language that they may face when dealing with an assailant (Hands, arms, legs).
We use different distractions and common items that an assailant may use when inside our property or outside in the road. The trainer-decoy must be a very good actor!! Even a handler plays a big part in “setting the stage”.
Never forget: you are not the police. You cannot not send a dog (your weapon) to apprehend a suspect who is running away from you. We should be using the dog more as a deterrent than an assailant.
If you are interested to learn more, keep an eye on the East Africa Kennel Club website to see if they have any seminars and always ask them if your dog is genuinely registered. Just like not all people can fly a spaceship, not every person can be a trainer!
Lt(ret) George Karavis