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Canine Behavior/Typically Friendly Breeds as Guard Dogs

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Question
I am not yet a dog owner, but I am currently in the process of finding the right dog breed and breeders in order to adopt a puppy. I have found that Malamutes, Samoyeds and Huskies are nearly perfect for me and my lifestyle- but I find their overall lack of guard dog abilities a bit concerning. I am not specifically looking for a highly protective dog, I simply want to be confident that if a dangerous situation were to arise, like a home invasion, that my dog would more likely protect me than run and hide. That being said, is a dog's instinct to protect more dependent on the individual dog or its breed? Can characteristically friendly and social breeds like those listed above be trained as guard dogs?

Answer
Thank you for your question. I commend you for doing some real research before committing to any particular dog. Far too often people acquire a dog impulsively when they see and fall in love with one, without regard to how that dog's personality and temperament are likely to fit with their lifestyle, so it's a great thing that you are taking your time to find the right combination of size, temperament and personality to fit your needs.

The short answer to your question is that any behavior is going to be unique to that particular dog. I've known golden retrievers who were terrified of water (most love to swim). I've known doberman pinchers who were afraid of their own shadow (most make excellent guard dogs). I've known huskies and malamutes who were lazy couch potatoes (though most would love to run the iditarod!).

For your specific needs, I think your best bet is to find a dog whose personality and temperament fits your lifestyle and then spend a lot of time creating an excellent bond with that dog. Use force-free and fear free (positive reinforcement) training methods where you set the dog up for success and tell her/him how great a job they're doing so that they are likely to do that behavior again. This not only builds a fantastically well adjusted, obedient dog, but also creates a deep and abiding bond between you and the dog because the dog will learn they can trust you to make life awesome and to keep them safe.

As for guard dog training, the most important thing you can do is create a ton of positive (happy, pleasant, relaxed, non-stressful) socialization opportunities for the dog both at your home and in public. You do not want a dog who is spooky and making decisions on their own about who is safe and who is not. That actually creates an extremely unpredictable dog who is more skittish and will set you up for some serious liability when (not 'if') s/he attacks the wrong person. Instead, you want that dog to know that nearly everyone is friendly and reliable and safe. You want to demonstrate for your dog that you are trusting of all the people you invite over and this dog should be trusting as well (tons of treats, love, games, etc. with all visitors including workers).

Teach the dog an excellent Sit/Stay command. Teach the dog to bark on cue. For guard-dog training I often use a word or phrase such as "Warning #1" or you might pick a German, French or Russian word (it could be the German, French or Russian word for Cookie - it doesn't have to be a scary word). Teach the dog to speak to that cue. Then, if you're confronted by an intruder you can give the dog a Sit/Stay, and then give the dog the cue to start barking. A dog that is sitting perfectly still, but barks on cue (and of course teach a Quiet command as well - maybe "not yet...") is usually intimidating enough. The intruder only has to THINK your dog will tear them to shreds. It's far better if your dog is highly unlikely to actually do that.

And, the most important take-away here is this: If your dog trusts you when you say that visitors are safe and fun, and your dog is super social and friendly whenever you invite people over (including the plumber or electrician), then your dog will feel/see/smell your fear if there is an actual intruder and seeing/smelling/feeling your fear is far more likely to get your dog to respond offensively than trying to teach the dog to be a guard dog. And it dramatically reduces your liability if your dog is not trained to be wary of everyone coming over.

When you find your great dog, if you're wanting more directed training then I encourage you to look into finding some Schutzhund classes in your region. Make sure they are using positive reinforcement methods and not aversive training (aversive = choke chains, prong collars, electric collars, scruffing, poking, jabbing, kicking, smacking, stringing up by leash/collar, etc).

Schutzhund is a sport that emulates cued attack and release (think Police K-9 type work). When done without pain or fear (using play - usually tug toys - or treats to reinforce the charge, bite and hold behaviors) it is just a fantastic game for the dog, but you are teaching cued signals to tell the dog to charge, bite, hold and release.

This is a book for teaching Schutzhund through positive reinforcement.
http://www.amazon.com/K9-Schutzhund-Training-Reinforcement-Professional/dp/15505

This is a website for a Montana Schutzhund training club. If they are not in your immediate area, they may be able to help you find a club that is conveniently located.
http://bigskyschutzhund.com/what-is-schutzhund/

Good luck on finding just the right fit for your family!

Please feel free to followup if I can be of further assistance.

Jody, CPDT-KA, APDT
Worcester, MA Behavior Specialist
Masters of Animals and Public Policy 2016 candidate
http://NutzAboutMutz.com

Canine Behavior

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Jody Epstein, CPDT- KA, APDT

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IF YOU BELIEVE YOUR DOG IS ILL OR INJURED, PLEASE CONTACT YOUR LOCAL VETERINARIAN IMMEDIATELY. THIS IS NOT THE FORUM TO ADDRESS URGENT MEDICAL ISSUES. I AM NOT A LICENSED VET AND HAVE NO DIAGNOSTIC SKILLS. ***I have been answering questions on All Experts for over 5 years now. I enjoy being able to offer assistance in this forum. I do need to be clear, though. If you’re looking for free advice about a specific behavior question, you MUST submit your question to me via All Experts. If you bypass All Experts and write to me directly through my website, I will ask you to submit via All Experts. On the flip side, if you’re local to Los Angeles and you wish to speak to me privately about an in person consultation, please go through my website. I appreciate your assistance in keeping my volunteer work on the volunteer site.*** I can answer questions about the following canine behavior issues: obedience, timid/fearful & fear-based aggression, nuisance behaviors, families that are expanding with either new human or new animal members. If you have potty training questions please first read my trio of blogs at http://CashewsCorner.wordpress.com/ If you still have questions after reading the blogs you can post your specific questions here. PLEASE be as specific as possible when asking a question. Give me a detailed example of the situation - dog's behavior, body language, circumstances surrounding the issue, what the consequences are (another dog's response, your response), etc. I can only provide insight if I can get a picture of the whole scenario. If I ask for further details, please provide them. In person I would normally observe for at least 90 minutes to assess the situation and the dynamics before offering tools and suggestions to modify it. In writing it is ever so much more difficult. Thank you for your participation in the process.

Experience

I have been professionally modifying behavior and training obedience for 7 years. I have owned dogs my entire life. I have just changed the name of my business. It is no longer Good Dog! Dog Training. The new name is Nutz About Mutz!. If you see previous questions with the Good Dog! website information, that is my response.

Organizations
I am a Certified Profession Dog Trainer - Knowledge Assessed (CPDT-KA), #2133301 ; I am a member in good standing with the Association of Professional Dog Trainers (APDT), #77763 ; I am an AKC certified Canine Good Citizen evaluator (CGC), #71253

Publications
http://NutzAboutMutz.com ; http://CashewsCorner.wordpress.com ; Multiple articles in the local pet magazine Pet Press (found across Southern California)

Education/Credentials
I have a graduate education in animal behavior and learning. (While I completed my coursework and did the requisite research, I did not defend a dissertation. I am qualified, but not certified and so technically not a doctor. This is commonly referred to as Ph.D.-ABD which means All But Dissertation.) My educational focus was with non-human primates, but my personal interest is with domestic dogs and their relationships with humans and other animals. I continue to educate myself to canine-specific behavior through extensive reading, online interactive workshops, vidoes and attending canine behavior conferences.

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