Transformative Dog Training in Salt Lake City, Nashville, and Charleston, SC

On Guard: Understanding Protection Dogs


Today’s article is going to break a few hearts. Every time I talk about the topic I’m about the delve into I feel awful, because I’m destroying someone’s idea about their dog. But I think that it’s crucial for people to understand.

The myth I’m going to bust today is the idea that your dogs will protect you. In a real scenario, your dog probably won’t protect you. We do a lot of protection training, teaching dogs to protect a home or car or from muggings, and owners often call us to say things like: “I have a German Shepherd, and I know if push comes to shove he’s going to take care of me. I just want to make sure that he has the training to do it well.” That’s the phrase I hear a lot: that if my dog had to, he would certainly protect me.

The overwhelming majority of German Shepherds, Dobermans, and Rottweilers won’t actually protect their owners. Plenty of these dogs will bark at a window or vehicle. They’ll put on a show, but very few will actually engage another human when their own safety is on the line. That flies in the face of what most people think about their dogs, because so many owners are convinced that their dog would protect them.

We test many dogs, and the overwhelming majority of them won’t perform that way in real-life scenarios. Out of a hundred German Shepherds, one or two—if you’re lucky—will show a degree of protectiveness. There’s a lot of reasons for this tendency.

To actually engage a human being is a very scary thing for a dog. Most dog bites are born from fear. Dogs bite people all the time, most dog bites are born from fear. It’s a terrifying thing to engage a person. When confronted, the dog is normally at the end of his rope and feels like he has no other choice—so he bites. But that bite doesn’t come from a confident urge to protect its family.

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Now, I’m not saying that protective dogs don’t exist. You can still see news stories about dogs that protected their families or homes. But there’s a reason why it’s on the news: because it doesn’t happen very much! When push comes to shove, most dogs won’t protect. They’ll either run away or sit and bark, even if someone comes into your home or starts attacking you. That’s just the reality.

The second reason for this behavior is that the ability to confidently take on a human has been bred out of most dogs. Most dogs that will take on a man aren’t good to have in your home. They’re too intense and too powerful, and they push their owners around too much. The majority of dogs that end up out there in the public are not terribly strong. If they were, they’d quickly be shipped off the shelters. So much protective ability has been bred out of the majority of dogs, even those who stereotypically and historically were good protective dogs.

You have to buy from a very specific bloodline and undergo specific kinds of training in order to get a good protective dog. This isn’t one of those things that you can count on your dog magically protecting the family. You can hope for it and cross your fingers, but if you want a dog who will legitimately protect you then you need to start with the right dog and expect it to cost a lot of time, money, and effort into training. Otherwise you just have a well-bred dog who’s not very good at protecting.

I often compare this scenario to the difference between college and professional-level athletics. A lot of kids are fast, or jump high, or are good at shooting a ball into a hoop. But out of the millions of kids who can do that, only a few make it into college athletics and even fewer get to the pros. You’ve got to be special.

It’s the same with dogs, even those who are ostensibly supposed to be protection dogs. It’s extremely rare for a German Shepherd from the shelter to turns into a stellar protection dog. In fact, it almost never happens.
I’m sorry for being a downer today, but this is an important thing to know. I don’t like when owners bank on their dog protection them only to find out that when someone breaks into your home, the dog is more likely to show them where the jewelry is than to take a bite out of their leg.

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