Prepping with Fangs: Dogs for a Survivalist, by Dale in Northeastern Tennessee

They can move faster than any man, their loyalty suggests an inborn canine bushido, their senses seem to border on the supernatural, and their situational awareness chart does not include condition white.  They are the creatures you want to sleep at your bedside, walk beside you, and watch your children.  While the choices available for study cover a broad range for the serious survivalist; and the options for raising animals include many worthwhile creatures, consider the canine as an early pick.  Long before we finished moving to our retreat I was already plotting the pros and cons of various parts of the property and outbuildings.  Too much woods for cows to graze, just enough grassy hills for goats, garden here, greenhouse there, new bridge over there.  The list of possible projects was, (and still is) a never ending source of satisfying improvements.  One of the earliest undertakings in our endeavors towards self-sufficiency was raising dogs.  The goal was to get far past the learning stage during the pre-collapse world and maintain a selection of working dogs in a normal society.  During a crisis, the dogs will be used for protection and barter. 

The first real choice that had to be made was in a specific breed of dog.  After much study I narrowed the selection down to three breeds; the German Shepherd, Doberman Pinscher, and American Bulldog.  All had key traits in common I found important for a survivalist dog owner.  All had a high level of intelligence, trainability, and protectiveness with the size, speed, and courage to back it up.  I considered each breed in light of how we would need to live together with our family in a long term collapse / worst case scenario.    The  German shepherd was the first of the three to be marked off the list for one reason: hair.  The German shepherd sheds once a year for 365 days in amounts that exceed all bounds of belief.  I wanted dogs that can stay by my side 24/7 but building an extra solar array just to power a vacuum lest we all drown in dog hair wasn’t going to happen.  Note that we live in Tennessee and rarely deal with bitter cold, in less mild climates I would’ve needed dogs with the German shepherd’s protective coat.  If dog hair is not an issue for your situation, that a German shepherd requires no ear trimming or tail docking makes them a stronger pick.    

I next looked into the American Bulldog (not to be confused with the more common English Bulldog), a breed once very popular in the deep South but became nearly extinct during WWII.  Despite my interest, I was unable to find breeders that I felt were trustworthy and had any puppies available within a reasonable distance.  My other concern was that they have a less well known reputation compared to the other two picks, in a barter economy I wanted a highly recognizable, commonly known breed.  Last of the top three first considered breeds was the Doberman Pinscher.  I was at first hesitant due to the need for a professional vet to trim the ears to get the Doberman “devil dog” look; but decided to pick function over form should TEOTWAWKI ensue.  A Doberman without cropped ears is readily identifiable, unlike the American Bulldog who gets a “what’s that?” response in many cases. 

I spent several months picking my first pair of dogs from separate bloodlines then training them with the help of an experienced dog handler/breeder.  The joy of living with such intelligent and graceful creatures I soon found to be a tremendous boon that transcends the planning and training of the more mundane aspects of survivalism.   Lessons learned along the way:    When one of you dogs eats an entire bath towel bed, you get to spend $1,700 at the vet.  When you quit using towels as beds and think straw is a good idea for a bed while they are in the kennel (such as when you are at work), its not.  It is a huge mess and can introduce mold, bugs, etc.  Dogs are not goats so save the straw for animals that produce cheese or steak.  A 2’x4’ outdoor panel secured over a 2”x4” frame will have plenty of give for a dog to be comfortable on.  Add a dog bed heater to the underside and your dog will snooze happily on it.  The inexpensive heaters stay about 110 degrees and draw about 40 Watts.  Use small slats of wood to keep the heater in contact with the underside of the flexible panel.       

When your female is in heat, the chain link fence dividers in the kennel will be ripped apart by your male, you will then have puppies earlier than you wanted.  When you make the chain link fence three layers thick to keep your male from ripping them apart and your female is in heat, your male will rip the door off of the kennel and you will then have puppies earlier than you wanted.  Light chain with carabineers securing the door in a “Z” pattern seems to work.       

Other than the aforementioned surprises, everything went exactly as planned; good thing we started learning sooner rather than during a crisis.  A 20’x 60’ concrete slab under a roof to the side of the workshop proved to be a perfect location for a dog lot.  I partitioned it off with commercial dog kennel panels, reinforced on each side with an extra layer of fence.  A brick at the corner of each interior kennel section makes it easy to hose things down (a big plus when one kennel is full of puppies). I added lots of insulation to the ceiling and enclosed the walls with OSB and thrift store windows.  New shingles ended some rainwater leaks.   During the first winter after setting up the dog lot, I used an electric space heater to keep the temperature above 55 degrees.  The power bill was unacceptable!  The second year I insulated the roof which was previously plywood and shingles and switched from straw to heated wooden beds.  I kept the space heater set at 45 degrees but it proved to be largely unnecessary.  A large sheltered dog lot will make life much easier.  Don’t skimp and just throw a tarp over some 6’x6’ chain link fence.  Your dogs need protection from weather and room to play.  A lone dog is a little lot will be miserable but several dogs with room to exercise will be more content when they need to be out from underfoot.  When there is company, or when we are cooking, and certainly when pressure canning; all dogs go out to the dog lot.    

Cost: Kennel and dog lot remodeling ran $2,000.  Each dog was about $1,000 after ear trimming, shots, etc.  Each dog consumes about 500 lbs. of dry dog food per year, their diet is supplemented with eggs from our chickens, leftover meat from supper, and the occasional canned food as a treat.  I use Black Gold brand dog food in the black bag from my local farm store.  This amounts to $250 per dog each year.  Dry food in the bag stores for about a year and a one year supply for two dogs will stack on two standard pallets without being so tall as to be a hassle.  

Puppies:  After we’d had a bit more than a year of training our adult dogs we started raising litters of puppies.  Since the dogs were an exercise in prepping from the start, the puppies were an extension of this.  The first litter was a learning experience but over time the puppies have paid for the initial investments.  The best idea on puppy for prepping came from my wife.  She was looking at our then current “to buy” list of gear and noticed several firearms.  “Not everyone has the money to buy an expensive purebred puppy, but some people might have some guns they would trade instead.”  Now any time we have puppies available, we let people know if the price is too high for them, we’ll consider “an old deer rifle or something” as part of the deal.  As a survivalist this has been a huge benefit.  For example, last litter I ended up with a H&K MP5A5 look-alike in .22 LR.  I took it to a gun show and swapped it for an AK for my wife.  From other puppies I kept a very nicely modified Mauser and a .243 Savage.  We live close to the border of another state so I do take care not to deal over state lines, not that I honestly suspect an alphabet agency is looking for dog breeders to make examples out of, but I feel it is only prudent to be above board.  So far I have found that most of my customers have previously owned Dobermans, and are either in law enforcement or military families.  The most satisfying puppies were the ones that have gone on to be therapy dogs for disabled veterans.  In a long term crisis, and even post crisis, I suspect there will always be a market in the barter economy for a recognizable working breed of dog.  Practicing up on breeding, training, and trading has had a high initial cost and been time intensive relative to our other prep work.  Pure “dog time” runs about 1-1½ hours a day during puppy raising months, when the puppies are sold or the next litter still on the way I focus more heavily on training the adults.   

Whatever breed you select, be sure to do plenty of homework before you purchase your first dog.  Know what health problems are common in that breed.  Find out what problems come from genetics and if the parents have been tested; don’t discover that at age five, your dog comes from a line of dogs with terrible joint problems.  Pick a line that dies after a very long life rather than one that falls apart and has to be put down young.  Get your property ready, be it dog lot, kennel, or crate for housebreaking inside.  Have collars and leashes ready with spares for the ones that get chewed up or lost.  Find out what brand of food the breeder you’re purchasing from uses and have a supply of that.  You can gradually switch over to a different brand but have plenty on hand before you get home.  AKC has plenty of good information on basic training and breed specifics that you will want to consider before getting your first dog.  If you desire to have your dog professionally trained for protection, expect the trainer to ask you to wait until your dog is 18 months old or more so that they have had time to finish developing properly strong bones and an adult temperament.    

Be good to your dogs, and before you hand over a puppy to their new master, look them in the eye and know that those brown orbs looking up at you are going to change someone’s life forever.