Would you load a Glock, chamber a round, set it on the coffee table and leave the room?  Would you fill a bowl with hand grenades and place it on the patio?

These sound like ridiculous questions, yet I’m contacted several times each week by people who want to obtain a dangerous weapon; they want their dogs attack trained.

Many dogs are naturally protective. Herding breeds can make excellent guardians because by instinct they are accustomed to protecting their flock, and when we bring them into our homes they consider us their herd. They have a constant awareness of their surroundings and the ability to monitor threats. Many herding dogs will do a great job of alert barking, and livestock guardian breeds, such as the Great Pyrenees or Anatolian Shepherd are likely to protect should the need arrive. Dogs from the Mastiff family and breeds such as Akitas, Dobermans, German Shepherds, Rottweilers, Olde English and American Bulldogs /Bulldogs, Pit Bulls, and many others also have the potential to be natural guardians. All of these breeds can be wonderful dogs, but they can be difficult to live and work with because of their high drive levels, the intensity of their working desire, and their assertive and sometimes challenging personalities. They should be owned by experienced dog owners or people willing to work closely with a qualified trainer.

Dogs that are natural guardians remain alert to their environment and have an instinctual desire to protect their families. They don’t need to be trained to bite. The critical element when one owns such a dog is to first ensure he is well-socialized. This concept is sometimes difficult for the pet owner to grasp. I have been told by more than one person that they don’t want their dog socialized, fearing socialization will make him too friendly and thus a poor guardian.

In truth, unsocialized dogs are often fearful and anxious, and can become aggressive towards the wrong people. A fearful dog will often flee if advanced upon.  Someone intent on robbing you will be content if your dog runs and hides, but a friendly child might well back him into a corner and be severely bitten. By exposing the dog to a wide variety of people, sounds, sights and circumstances, he develops both confidence and the ability to accurately decide what is and is not a threat.

Obedience training such dogs is also very important. Dogs are intelligent and observant, but they don’t always read situations correctly. For example, a friend of mine and her husband were mock-wrestling; having fun with one another. Their Old English Bulldog misread the situation and moved aggressively towards the husband in order to protect my friend. This type of misunderstanding can happen with guardian type breeds, which is why obedience training is so vital. The dogs need to be willing to immediately respond to commands they are given, so that accidents can be prevented. Part of this training involves establishing and enforcing clear rules. The specific rules don’t matter, but the existence of the rules creates a sense of order and a more reliable dog, as he recognizes that there are expectations for his behavior.

Dogs that have been protection trained are highly sensitive to strangers, sudden movements, high pitched squeals and screams and unexpected physical contact.  Anything that can be perceived as a threat may initiate an attack, such as shouting, an old buddy playfully punching you in the shoulder, someone raising an object; the list goes on. Because of this, should you be determined to get your dog specifically trained as an aggression dog, realize that the law may view your dog as a loaded weapon. You need to research the laws to see what regulations may apply to owning such a dog. You also need to check with your insurance company to ensure they will cover you should an incident occur. Your liability increases greatly when you own a trained guard dog. Should your dog bite anyone, he will not be treated the same as a pet dog. Because of the risks associated with owning a trained protection dog, it is vital that such dogs are properly trained by a professional in this field.

There are many great dogs out there that are capable and able to protect you should the need arise.  Carefully selecting one of these breeds and ensuring they are properly trained and socialized is the key to having a mentally sound, well-adjusted dog able and ready to defend you, and is usually a far better choice than having a dog trained to attack.

Karlene Turkington, a Certified Professional Dog Trainer, is a lifelong animal lover who has been training dogs for over 20 years. Readers are welcomed to send their questions to: info@TrainMyK-9.com This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it for possible inclusion in future columns.  Information provided here is a basic overview of issues.  Specific health or behavioral concerns should be discussed with your veterinarian or qualified animal trainer or behaviorist.