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Most dogs are instinctively protective of their owners and families. However, not all dogs know how to effectively protect their family in a threatening situation. Training your dog to have the skills he needs to warn off an attacker before the situation escalates provides effective protection. Some breeds are more naturally protective than others and harnessing and directing these behaviors so you have an effective protection dog will prove more successful than training a dog that lacks confidence. The Staffordshire Bull Terrier is one of those naturally protective dogs. Sometimes 'Staffies' are referred to as 'The Nanny Dog' because of their ability to guard and because they are naturally good with small children in their home. This trait can be harnessed to make a 'Staffie' an excellent protection dog as his instinct is to guard and protect his 'people' from threats. If you are interested in training your Staffordshire Bull Terrier to be a protection dog, make sure you have the resources available, the assistance of a reputable professional trainer, and that you are aware of regulations in your area involving 'bully breeds'.
The Staffordshire Bull Terrier is fearless, tough, and oddly enough, nurturing of their people. This combination of traits will make an excellent protection dog, providing that their protective behaviors can be controlled and directed. This is where training your Staffie is important. You will want your dog to respond immediately to threats and, with complete control, to directions to break off aggression. Staffies are very loving dogs and training them with attention and praise can be effective. You will not only need to teach your dog to 'heel', 'sit', 'stay', and 'come', but also to 'Leave It', 'Sit-Stay', and 'Down-Stay' so that you can call off protective behavior when it is misplaced. Exposing your Staffie to lots of different situations is important. To be protective, you will train your dog to bark when necessary, and if you feel that further protective behaviors are required, you can train your Staffie to attack to protect you. But you must also ensure you can call off attack behaviors. Attack training should only take place with the guidance and resources of a professional trainer.
Although Staffordshire Terriers will work for affection, treats are a good idea to positively reinforce obedience commands. An assistant who is a stranger to your dog and who can act threatening in a controlled situation to elicit protective behaviors will be required. Someone who is experienced training dogs, and specifically protection dogs is recommended, as their approach and timing will be more precise. If you are training your dog attack behaviors, you should seek the assistance of a professional trainer that will have the knowledge, facilities, and equipment to safely train your dog to perform these potentially dangerous behaviors.
The Threaten Strangers Method
Teach obedience commands
Teach your Staffordshire Bull Terrier obedience commands such as 'sit', 'stay', 'heel', and 'down'. Expose your Staffordshire Bull Terrier to lots of different situations and people so he is well socialized and is not fearful or aggressive in new situations.
Bark on command
Teach your Staffie to bark on command. Wait for a barking trigger to occur naturally, or create it, and pair a command for 'speak'. Reinforce this command and gradually you can remove the reward. Add a 'quiet' command so you can stop your dog from barking.
Have a 'stranger' approach
Engage an experienced assistant to approach you and your dog out on a walk and behave in a threatening manner. The assistant may need to wear protective equipment in case your dog becomes overly aggressive. However, before conducting this training exercise, you should have good control over you dog so this does not happen.
When approached, command your dog to bark. Let him continue barking while the 'stranger' runs away. The retreat of the intruder acts as reinforcement for your dog. Ask your dog to stop barking after the assistant leaves.
Practice his protective, threatening, and warning behaviours with your assistant on several occasions. If possible, change assistants and environments.
The Complete Control Method
Teach 'leave it'
Having complete control of your dog is necessary, as Staffies are strong dogs with powerful jaws and can do serious harm if you lose control of them. Teach your dog a strong response to the 'Leave it' command. Hold out a treat in a closed hand and command your dog to leave it. When he leaves the treat, reward him with a different treat from your other hand.
Practice 'leave it'
Practice 'Leave It', making the behavior more complex. Use different treats and toys left out on the floor. Practice out on walks with different items your dog is attracted to. Make sure this behavior is 100% reliable.
Teach 'sit/stay' and 'down/stay'
Teach your Staffordshire Bull Terrier to perform a 'sit/stay' or 'down/stay' command. Use treats to reinforce and practice in a variety of situations and when your dog is at different levels of excitement and distraction, until behavior is absolutely reliable.
Practice 'speak' and 'quiet' at home and out on walks, directing your dog to bark and then asking him to be quiet. Reinforce behavior with treats and then with praise.
Use commands to call off aggression
Practice allowing your dog to bark at assistants encountered on walks, and then commanding 'quiet', 'leave it', 'sit/stay' and 'down/stay' to ensure you have complete control over your dog's aggressive and threatening behaviours.
The Attack Skills Method
Get professional help
Engage a reputable, professional trainer to assist with attack training if you decide you need your Staffordshire Bull Terrier to perform more than just threatening protective behaviours. Only proceed once you have established complete control of your dog and on the advice of a trainer.
In a controlled environment or at a professional training facility, your trainer will have an assistant put on a protective padded suit and approach you and your dog in a threatening manner.
When your dog responds with aggression, you can add a command to 'attack' and release your dog who will attack the assistant. An experienced trainer usually plays the role of assistant as someone who will not panic and knows what to expect.
Call off attack
Use your call off commands such as 'leave it', or use your recall and 'sit-stay' command to get your dog to return to your side. Remember that this is the key to having a well trained protection dog.
Reinforce following directions
Reinforce successful acts of breaking off of the attack. If your dog does not respond immediately, or completely, you will need to go back and work on control commands until they are fully established before proceeding with attack training.
By Laurie Haggart
Published: 06/06/2018, edited: 01/08/2021