I’m going to write something fairly controversial here about dog training ethics, but it’s an idea I believe in strongly and I wanted to put it in words.
I get a lot of people who contact me wanting guard dog or protection training for their dogs. There is a whole world of dog sport centered around Schutzhund, or PSA, or any of the innumerable others, sports derived from military and police dog training. Military and police dogs provide invaluable service to their community and their handlers, and are prime examples of the beauty of a working dog relationship in a real world application.
I have absolutely no beef with the use of dogs in military or police work, and absolutely no beef with those competitors dedicated to their sport and working their dog in this context – after all, engaging in a sport that activates the genetic drive of your dog is challenging, beautiful, and wonderful.
That’s not what I’m talking about here, though – I’m talking about the dozens of people who contact me about teaching a family dog protection work. They want the dog to be protective.
Not only do I not train these skills simply because I don’t know how (which is true!) but personally, I feel it’s inappropriate to train a family dog for protection work. I think the skills and mindset of a protection trained dog are incompatible to the life of a family dog. I do know some sport dogs who live with families, and their handlers treat them like working dogs.
Why do I feel this way? It’s two sided, my argument.
One, dogs have the mental development of toddlers, approximately. Their judgement, while it can be excellent and while you can develop it to be intensely valuable and mature, is still their judgement. They are independent, thinking beings and you can’t always know what their decisions are going to be. When you teach a dog to attack people, you give them that skill and they will always have that skill no matter what – which means that if their judgement fails and they use that skill on a person inappropriately, there’s nothing you can do to go back from that.
With a family dog in particular, where you aren’t making a consistent, concentrated effort to control and train these skills the dog’s entire life, that judgement has even more opportunity to go awry. It’s like handing a toddler a knife and teaching them to stab strange people.
The second reason I don’t believe in using a family dog for protection is that the nature of crime is such that the reason a dog is valuable for protection is in prevention. Criminals will understand that there is a dog in a house, or with a person, and that fact – of the dog’s very existence – is enough to deter them. If the criminal decides that they’re willing to risk it regardless, they’re well and ready to kill your dog if need be – which goes against every understanding of the ethic to protect your dog.
So, I don’t train dogs for protection, and try to do my best to discourage clients from doing the same. I don’t judge other trainers that do teach family dogs protection work, because there’s certainly a market for it.
But frankly, if you feel like you need to protect yourself and your family, buy a gun, not a guard dog. You’re much less likely to end up hurting yourself or your kids.