The K-9 Question, by L.D.

We won’t be talking about the family dog here. The family dog, to most households is quite often an undisputed, full-fledged member of the family.  In some cases “Fufu” or “Spot” is treated better than some family members. Those privileged pooches will, of course, figure into these family’s doomsday scenarios and allowances will, undoubtedly, be provided for the little darlings.                                                                                   

In this article we will be discussing working dogs.  It is some Preppers’ misguided belief that acquiring a big, mean, muscle-bound ball of fur with flashing yellow teeth, straining at the end of a chain, could be an advantage in their favorite post-SHTF world.

Many Preppers either have acquired or are considering acquiring a dog for the specific purpose of employing it as  a watchdog or four-legged protector of their doomstead.  With the right balance of dog and Prepper it can be a match made in Heaven.  But if the match does not work or the training is flawed it can turn out to be just the opposite and the animal you hoped would have your back when the chips are down can be more detrimental to you and your family’s survival than the worst gang of marauding scoundrels you can imagine!  You don’t need enemies on both sides of your perimeter wire.  

It all boils down to training.  Without proper training and development of the pooch’s raw talent you cannot be confident as to what resource you will have at your disposal when you call on him to do his thing.  A well-disciplined dog can guard your wire, flush game, provide security, lift your family’s spirits, and (or) keep you warm at night.  The main thing that you must determine from the get-go is just what you will be expecting out of your pooch…what his “job” will be.  Training a dog requires just as much, or more, training of the handler.  If you do not know what you are doing how can you expect the dog to know what you want from him?

In decades past, training disciplines involved intimidation, punishment, and, in some cases, brutalizing the animal to garner the desired results.  Thank Christ we have come a long way since then.  Although some trainers still employ those age-old techniques most enlightened handlers in the professional training arena now-a-days approach the task of dog training from the “positive reinforcement and reward” side of the docket.  Dogs are like children.  If they are having fun they will work hard for you all day long.  Just don’t let them suspect that what they are doing is work.

A good dog is highly instinctive and can see 20 times better than you can at night.  He can smell or hear an intruder long before you can even imagine someone is there.  He can fight fearlessly in advance of your patrol.  He can be the best d**n point man you could hope for.   He can sniff out explosives, or, unfortunately, the bodies of your loved-ones if it comes to that.  And he will do it all for a “Scooby snack” or a couple of minutes of shared time with you and a tennis ball.  The term “man’s best friend” most literally applies, be it a lovable mutt or a well-trained working dog.
  
Here is where training the trainer comes into play.  The dog only has to understand what you want from him and your expectations must never waver or deviate.  Confusing or conflicting signals can return you to square one in your training regimen.  Consistency is the key.

CHOOSING YOUR DOG:

Obviously, the younger the dog you choose the better, and do your homework.  Picking up a  rescue dog from your local animal shelter is a commendable, charitable gesture…and similar to playing an expensive game of Russian roulette with your time and hard earned money. 

Again, you have to determine what traits you want in your dog and what his job will be.  You may choose to  go with one of the smaller, feisty breeds.  If all you want is an early warning system you may choose a little yapper to alert you to trespassers or intruders.  They are easier on your stores of food and water and take up less space.

However, here we are interested in one of the more substantial breeds…dogs with predisposed traits that are specific to the breed.  The most appealing breeds for the end of civilization as we know it, are the hard working, herding breeds.

If you are looking for number one on our list and the number one desired breed by police and military around the world, the dog that ranks highest in every category is the GERMAN SHEPHERD.  Loyal and courageous, a German Shepherd will not back down in any situation, they are for the most part totally fearless.  They are intelligent and thus easy to train and anxious to please.  They are a great guard dog but in addition they are great with kids and will lay down their lives to protect their master if called on to do so.  Once the German Shepherd bonds with its owner and the owner’s family that bond is for life.  However the Shepherd needs a lot of exercise and can get bored and destructive if left alone or unattended. You cannot go wrong choosing a German Shepherd.

On the other hand, if children are not necessarily a consideration and your needs are for a one purpose guard dog you might decide on one of the BULL TERRIER breeds commonly referred to as Pit Bulls.  They are easy to find.  Every dog shelter is overflowing with them because they can be difficult to train for the novice due to their stubborn, bull headedness.  But for the right individual they can be a loyal and fearless companion.

Other breeds that require consideration…

BELGIAN MALINOIS;  Less known than the German Shepherd but in the same category Malinois are intelligent, highly-charged and obedient.  Easy to train and excellent watchdogs, a favorite of police, military, and homeland security.  They are also good with children as long as the children understand that they are herding dogs and might tend to practice their herding skills on them.  In addition they are a ball of energy and without a measure of attention can relieve their boredom by digging holes and destroying your hovel.

ROTTWEILER;  An excellent watch dog and guard dog.   Intelligent, easy to train, their reputation alone is a deterrent.  They are loyal and trustworthy and can also be good with children.

MASTIFF;  They are huge and present an intimidating presence at the door of your shelter.  They are not that easy to train due mostly to their laid-back and docile disposition.  They are excellent with children and once bonded with the family are highly protective. 

DOBERMAN PINSCHER;  Exceedingly intelligent, they may be a handful simply because they are often smarter than their trainer and being so they require a firm assertive “pack leader”.  If you establish
yourself in that role early they can be loving and excellent guard dogs.  But Dobermans are not for everyone.

Any of these or a dozen other breeds or mixes of these breeds will give you excellent service in the field when the inevitable collapse occurs and will stand by your side in the tough days to come.  Properly trained, they can save your family and those dearest to you.  What more can you ask?         

ESTABLISHING TRUST: 

The first few days are very important. It is the time in which you to begin to create the bond that you will enjoy with your dog for the rest of your dog’s life.  Share as much time as you can with your dog just getting to know each other.  Petting, brushing, nail trimming, anything that requires hands-on participation on your part will go a long way in establishing that bond.  You should perform health checks on your dog from nose to tail daily.  These inspections can catch possible medical issues before they become serious.

Pick a quiet place, even if it is just your living room or kitchen and walk your dog around on a leash.  No commands or expectations, that will come later. 

Any food or needs that the dog has must be addressed by you personally.  Feed your dog by hand.  Everything your dog eats should come from you and you alone so that your dog begins to realize that you are, and will be from then on, his only connection with food and anything else he might need.  The goal is to get the dog dependent on you so that your dog identifies you with what he/she needs to survive.  Your dog at this point needs very few things in life; food, water, and your attention.  With these necessities coming directly from you a lifelong bond is inevitably established.

Do not attempt any command training or break the bond you have been trying to establish for the first few days.  This will be conditioning that will pay off when you enter the next phase of training.

BASIC TRAINING:

If the following sounds repetitious welcome to the world of dog training.  You must endure daily, mind-numbing sessions of repetition with persistence and patience your mantra.  Though tedious you must keep the training fresh and fun for the dog so he does not lose interest.  Bear in mind that your goal for training is your end game.  Dogs  learn constantly, whether you are aware of it or not, both good and bad behavioral responses.  You must establish clear goals by using positive reinforcement initially to shape the pooch’s behavior.

With each lesson learned your dog will become more enthusiastic at the progress he has made and you will find, in turn, that the same will apply to you.  There is nothing more gratifying than that “light bulb” moment when your pooch “Gets it”.  What a joy for you as well as Fido. 

Never punish a dog unless you are  100% sure that the dog knows what you expected of him, why he is being punished, and that his acting up or failing to respond to your commands was a no-no.  Just because he performed the activity correctly a few times does not mean he is sufficiently imprinted with the command that you should expect a positive result every single time.

Never give a command to your dog unless you are willing and ready to reward or punish your him for his response.  Again, consistency.  Do your research and understand classic conditioning and positive reinforcement techniques.  Remember, in the world of dog training, as every other arena of life, experts abound and opinions on training dogs are like elbows, everybody has their own.  It is, unfortunately, up to you to sort out what you are comfortable with and what best applies to you and your own dog.

It is best to use commands or verbal queues in a language other than the one your dog hears around him and that you and your family use constantly in your everyday life.  Example, if English is your native tongue, give your commands in German, Dutch, or perhaps French insuring those commands do not become lost in the “white noise” of normal, daily conversation. Without commands earmarked specifically for your dog the pooch may become confused or ignore you all together unable to sort out your commands from your family’s everyday babble.

SPECIALIZE:

With the previous accomplished you can begin to proof your dog’s training by walking him on a lead until he is comfortable with you.  Then move your pooch’s training to a variety of different locations involving distractions your dog will have to learn to face in his daily routine.  Your dog will not be
working in a vacuum.  He must become accustomed to the hustle and bustle of everyday life and
still stay on mission despite those distractions.

THE FOUR “Ds”: 

When proofing behaviors learned in these different environments you should only work on one of the following at a time, difficulty, distance, duration and distraction.  For example if you want to teach your dog to “stay” longer (duration), ease up on the other three “Ds”.  Concentrate on one discipline at a time keeping the distraction level to a minimum.  You may want to return to the kitchen his safe, familiar environment, until he begins to respond in a positive manner regarding the lesson at hand.  Concentrating on one “D” at a time.

During this time you need to move closer than normal and start with an easier command in the beginning.  Give your dog a “lay down” command instead of a “stand” command.  With the “lay down” command your dog will be more stable than with the “stand command” and the dog won’t have a tendency to creep towards you in his excitement. 

Once your dog understands a sufficient number of queued behaviors introduce some real life scenarios.  Dogs, for the most part, associate very well and the time spent will be invaluable. 

SOCIALIZATION:

Even after “the Event”, we all know is coming with the certainty of a run-a-way freight train, an unsocialized dog can give you a measure of grief that will only complicate an already stressed out existence and will be an  unnecessary contaminant to your daily struggle.  You cannot have your dog tearing up the neighbor’s dog or worse, eating his children.  That’s just not being a  good neighbor in any sense of the word.  Some people use “socialization”, our expert prefers the word neutralization instead because you will want your dog to pay strict attention to you and your commands exclusively and view at the world through your eyes and your eyes only.  Your dog must focus on you first and view other dogs, people, or any number of distractions as if they are a tree in their environment until you tell the dog differently.

BITE RESPONSES:
Considering bite work, our expert recommends attending one of the many protection sport clubs, such as Schutzhund, French Ring, Mondio Ring, Belgian Ring and the like.  These protection sport clubs have very experienced decoys/helpers who, for minimal fee, will assist you in training your dog in the necessary bite work scenarios.  Our expert tends to discourage the use of so called protection trainers that many of you might have become aware of.  Any doofus can hang out a shingle as an “expert” dog trainer.  You need to really do your homework.  If they are not willing to give you a list of half a dozen satisfied customers, steer clear.  Your pocket book will thank you.

Remember a poor trainer can do irreversible damage to your dog’s development if he does not know what he is doing.  A good portion of these protection dog training “experts” are only in it for the money and decades behind the sport club individuals who are more likely in the business for the love of the work. 

Note:  You can start you puppies out with drag rags but be careful and discontinue all bite training when the puppy is teething.

INTRODUCING FIREARMS:

This can be tricky.  Do not try to “bully” your pooch by simply staking him out and  bombarding him with gunfire thinking he will eventually become immune to the noise. 

The natural instincts of any living creature is to run away and avoid stressful or dangerous situations.  Loud noises equal a threat so your dog will naturally avoid gunfire.  Remember, a dog’s hearing is more acute than a human’s.  Loud noises hurt their ears far more than they do yours and yet you use ear protection.  Never giving a second thought to your dog’s hearing is amateurish and stupid.  In other words, a bad idea.

Get a second individual to take a weapon a good distance away from the dog to discharge it.  Then over a matter of time slowly move closer.  Rewarding him with a snack for each positive reaction.  When your dog emotes signs that the gunfire is beginning to stress him out, end the session for the day.  We use food rather than a toy to determine if the dog is stressed because the dog will, often,  still play with the toy when stressed taking out his anxiety on the toy.  A dog, however, will more likely refuse to eat if stressed.  An excellent indicator of his mental condition at the time.

Familiarizing your pooch with loud noises, his baptism by fire, should not be rushed.  You probably go to the gun range on a regular basis to hone your own skills.  Park a distance away, then move closer each time, do not rush it.  Soon your pooch will be able to initiate  your commands, in spite of distracting gunfire.  This will be essential in a post-apocalyptic world.  You cannot expect your dog to fearlessly charge a gun-wielding intruder if he has never been exposed to the shocking reality of a discharging firearm.

INNUMERABLE REWARDS:

So you see, you are not going to be able to go out and buy a dog, stick him on a chain at your compound entrance, totally ignore him, and expect him to perform like a champ…it  ain’t gonna happen, Spunky!

Having a highly trained security dog can be a blessing when this house of cards comes tumbling down around us.  But an untrained animal devouring your time and your resources is a burden you do not need.  If you are incapable of training your animal there are qualified training centers where professional dog trainers can do the job for you.  But you must understand, hiring out does not come cheap.  And when you get your dog back from the facility you should not consider him trained, period.

I recommend that if you employ a professional to accompany you and your dog and participate in the training.  The professional’s advice can help you smooth out your pooch’s rough edges.  This will help you with sustainment activities and continue to build your knowledge base to trouble shoot any possible problems.  Your dog is not a finished product like a new car fresh off the showroom floor, all shiny and new.  Training and reinforcing the training your dog has already received is essential for the entire time that you expect your pooch to deliver imprinted responses to given situations.
                                                                                                                           
If the foregoing has not deterred you from moving forward with your dream of having a tough-as-nails first responder in a fur coat standing loyally by your side…have at it.  It can be the best or perhaps the worse decision of your life!  The outcome is up to you.
 
Our expert sums it up this way,  “If all you have is a big stupid animal eating up your food, drinking your water (and, make no mistake a big dog requires a lot of water), and contributing nothing to your family’s survival, you may as well have a cow.  They taste better when the time comes that you have to eat them.”

Very special thanks to an expert in the field, MSG Torrin J. Lomax (U.S. Special Forces, retired), dog trainer/handler extraordinaire!

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