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'Protection dog' can be an ill-defined term, with people bringing their preconceived ideas about what the job entails. A protection dog is not quite the same as a guard dog or an attack dog. Whereas a guard dog is trained to alert of intrusion, and an attack dog is taught to attack and cease attacks on command, a protection dog combines these behaviors with his own discernment of threatening situations and positive socialization to allow him to interact with non-threatening people and animals in a normal well-socialized manner. Because German Shepherds are natural guard dogs, bred to protect livestock, property and people, these dogs are naturally smart, independent thinkers, which comes from their herding heritage. They possess the traits necessary to create a protection dog that can also function as a family pet and have an instinct for guarding, determining threats and hazards and reacting aggressively when commanded or required to protect their handlers from dangerous situations. Harnessing a German Shepherd’s natural aptitudes along with intensive training is required to create a successful protection dog.
Training for a protection dog requires maturity and life experience, as your German Shepherd not only needs to have developed some of his natural guarding and protective instincts and obtained adequate size and physical ability to protect, but also have the understanding to discern threats and respond as directed or required in a threatening situation. Because there are complex behaviors, your dog should probably be about 2 or 3 years of age before training is initiated.
A protection dog is trained never to attack or protect when the owner is present and in control of the situation; that is, they have not indicated distress or provided a command to attack or protect. A protection dog must have good obedience to respond to direction to cease an attack, so that he can be called off if protection is not required, or if he misreads a situation. Protection dogs should also be well socialized and have excellent off-leash recall. The ability to read and determine when a situation is dangerous and a real threat is present is part of protection dog training, as is exposure to real-life situations. Because of these requirements, professional assistance in the form of a professional trainer and/or a club is usually required to complete protection training. Facilities and protective equipment, as well as knowledgeable assistants to train protection behaviors are required that are not readily available to individuals. Also, safety while training protection behaviors, such as attacking on command, requires protective equipment and trainers that can read a dog’s behavior, anticipate situations, and take steps to correct problems as they arise, to keep people and dogs safe.
Comprehensive training for protection dogs in conjunction with professional trainers and clubs is time-consuming and can take up to 12 months. It is also expensive, costing several thousands of dollars and requiring many hours of careful, controlled, expert training. This is not training that an inexperienced handler should initiate on their own. A protection dog will learn appropriate behaviors to deal with several real-life situations, including different types of physical attack with different weapons and in different situations on a handler or family member, abduction attempts, home invasions and even searches for a child or missing family member. These are skilled behaviors requiring independent thinking on the part of the dog and extensive training is required. Not all dogs have the aptitude for this complex job.
Protection dog training requires expert knowledge from trainers, multiple handlers, and assistants. A variety of artificial and real-life situations and scenarios need to be provided to develop experience as well as expert training and safety equipment. Obtaining the assistance of a professional organization, and trainers that are equipped to provide these resources is needed. Also, training a protection dog is a large time and financial commitment, and you will need to bear this in mind when initiating this type of complex training. Your dog will need to be well socialized and have good obedience and manners prior to training. Protection dogs need lots of exercise to maintain peak physical performance and ongoing training and handling.
The Develop Defense Skills Method
Develop socialization and obedience
Develop a strong personal bond with your dog, take him with you places, exercise and play together, train him to have a strong response to obedience commands.
Pair verbal 'attack' command
Put on thick dog attack gloves, tap your German shepherd on the face until he grabs the mit, provide the attack command “attack” or another word used for that purpose. Trainers often use a word from a foreign language that someone else is not likely to use either accidentally or on purpose. For example you can teach your dog to “attack” by saying the word in Russian or Japanese. Reward your dog for responding to the command.
Pair verbal command to stop
Teach your German Shepherd to break off the attack by providing a word to 'release' or 'stop'. Again, these words can be in a different language, as they should be unique and not something someone else would use. Reinforce your German Shepherd for ceasing attack on command. Practice with a mitt and then a large padded doll or object.
Have a protected assistant approach
Have an assistant with safety gear, a padded dog attack suit, approach you and your dog in a controlled environment. Your assistant should be an experienced dog handler that knows how to use safety equipment and keep himself and the dog safe from injury. Have the assistant enter and act aggressively.
Provide 'attack' and 'stop' commands
Provide the 'attack' command and allow the dog to grab an arm or padded area. After a few moments, provide the 'release' command. Practice repeatedly in different scenarios always ensuring that the dog learns to obey the command to break off the attack.
The Develop Guarding Method
Introduce a young German Shepherd to lots of people and various situations, take them on trips and expose your dog to other dogs and people.
Teach your young dog firm obedience commands like 'sit', 'stay', 'down', leave it', and 'come'.
Teach your dog to bark on command, and to stop barking, by pairing a 'quiet' command with 'down'; it is difficult for a dog to bark when in the 'down' position.
Set up "intruders"
Teach your dog to bark at strangers, and to stop barking on command. When a stranger approaches you on walks, or approaches your property, encourage your dog to bark, and reinforce barking. Ask your dog to cease barking and enforce “be quiet” to give you control over the behavior. Have assistants play the role of intruders trying to trespass on your property, have them run away when your dog barks to reinforce the behavior.
Establish property boundaries
Teach your dog the boundaries of his property and contain him behind a fence. Avoid tying up a guard dog, as they can injure their necks when they get excited and lunge towards strangers, and the tension created can escalate uncontrolled behaviors.
The Combine Skills Method
Practice scenarios for guarding property and people in varied settings, such as on wooded trails, in back alleys, in parks and on roadways.
Introduce scenarios where there are multiple attackers with a variety of weapons.
Introduce unexpected situatons
Incorporate strange noises and behaviors. Gide your German Shepherd to respond appropriately.
Practice during daylight and nighttime, during different weather and lighting conditions.
Add noises and distractions
Introduce loud frightening noises like gunshots and explosions and distractions. Practice guarding, defending and protecting behaviors with distractions present.
By Laurie Haggart
Published: 03/28/2018, edited: 01/08/2021