Responsible Protection Dog Ownership

by Timothy C. Minyard © 1990, used with permission.

Tactical Solutions Consulting

Welcome to the 90's. The world is getting more and more security conscious and the courts are clogged with lawsuits because of fouled up security efforts. What is the role of a protection dog in these troubled times?

A protection trained dog is an asset in today's world. Not only is a dog a worthy warning device, it does discourage bad guys. Having the dog protection trained creates a measure of owner control in a naturally protective dog. Most people have a somewhat social life, and a dog that is trained can handle this. Protection training is not aggression training, it is simply taking the protective instinct and teaching the dog to wait for the command from the handler/family member of "OK, this is a problem, protect me" -"WATCHUM!".

A Protection Dog is:

A protection dog is simply a dog that is trained to not utilize discretion, and to protect on command only, as a handgun is. A protection dog serves as a companion with self defense training, and is taught to lessen liability by biting only one spot, generally the arm, and holding until the handler calls the dog "out". An untrained dog will bit many areas and create much more damage and greater liability. The training serves as a foundation of control and trust between the dog and handler. A properly trained protection dog does not go off half cocked, and only turns on when told to do so. Only people who are willing to make a long term commitment should consider owning a protection dog! This is a relationship similiar to marriage. It is a "work in progress". If you are not willing to:
  1. work long term
  2. protect yourself
  3. represent your breed and art responsibly
  4. hurt a bad guy
  5. go to court
then a protection trained dog is not for you, nor is a firearm. You must make this decision and commitment before you go down this road.

You must also be willing to keep this "ace" to yourself. You do not show off a protection dog any more than you randomly wave your gun around in public. Neighbors don't like protection dogs because they are "vicious", and ignorance makes for good lynchings. Keep it to yourself and keep it subtle, all will be better for it.

A protection trained dog is not:

A protection dog is not a "toy" to be shown and displayed as a source of authority. Keep it to yourself and use it only for emergencies. People tend to develop attitudes and as soon as a local jogger or child gets bitten by an unidentified poocher, it will suddenly start to look "just like your dog"!

A protection dog is not an asset without the knowledge required to maintain the training. A protection dog must be maintained or the asset of protection becomes a liability for your home owner's insurance.

A protection trained dog is not a cure all for personal security. This does not give you cause to go to "crack infested" areas and peddle tupperware, or increase your mountain bike workout. The fact that you have a protection trained dog is no different than a handgun. I tell all my students that this (gun or dog) is an excuse to STAY out of trouble. Common sense rules here friends, without that all the guns, knives, ninjas and protection dogs in the world can't help you!

What are the best breeds for protection work?

My attitude is a little different than most. Most trainers will say Rotti or GSD. I personally prefer the GSD, as I have always had them. I think the dogs that make good protection dogs are of a size and an attitude sufficient for causing doubt in the suspect's mind that they should commit this crime! A 3 lb mutt and a 250 lb burgler--Uh uh, won't cut it. No fear in the criminal.

A 55 lb female lab and the same Burglar, now the idiot's thinking maybe I can, maybe I can't!

The same burglar and a 95 male Shepherd( mine is 105# and solid black!), now the bad guy is saying "SOB, I'm screwed, I should have just stopped at the small mutt's house today, baby!"

What I'm saying is: "the visual deterent is just as valuable as physical." The 55 lb female lab can pack a nasty bite, but the size isn't there, the bad guy might think he could take on the lab. The 95 GSD, well, the bad guy (most anyway) would rather skip being this dog's evening snack, you know what I'm sayin!?

GSD, Rotti, Akita, Dobes, are typical dogs for protection work. The reason is - size and visual deterant. I have trained a "wiener dog" (Dachshund), but the owner was a Federal Officer, and it was sort of a joke. All in all, however, working breeds with herding tendencies are best suited for protection. Dogs that are in the working breed group or are the traditional "livestock protectors", these are the better protection dogs.

The Making of Your Dog-Human self defense team:

Time: It takes no less than 300 hrs training time for you and your dog to become proficient as a TEAM. In the state of Washington K9 officers must complete a 360 hr course to be certified for patrol work. The time consumption comes from control work, bite work and technique/handling. The more time you put in the better. Honestly 300 hours translates into an investment of about a year for most people. My clients go through two group classes a month after they have completed the private training. You must also maintin training proficiency. Just like carrying a firearm, you must practice regularly. The training/trainer you choose MUST offer follow up training at a resonable cost, so as to encourage maintainence of you and your K9 as a team.

As an example my initial classes are about 8-10 hours, and the group classes are 2 hours every other Saturday. Protection training is as much obedience as bite work, so the clients who work their K9 companion at least 20-30 minutes a day in addition to group class will benefit quicker. At this formulated rate it takes about 1 year to reach a 300 hour goal. It took me 6 years to get a black belt. This is a good amount of time, but it goes fast becuase its fun to work and grow with your K9 friend, and before you know it 2 years will have shot by.

Foresight: You must think in terms of time. It is worth paying a few extra dollars for a puppy, and starting out right. Great obedience is the foundation to a great protection dog.

The dog you chose must be stable, calm and friendly. Contrary to most beliefs, a laid back K9 with a heart of gold is better as a K9 protector than a dog with a bad attitude. Stability, and the ability to not hold a grudge is imperative. A quality dog can be turned on (told verbally (or by other signal?) to be aggressive at a bad guy), sent, called off before the bite, and then be placed in the middle of a group of children without fear of a grudge or continuing "attitude". You MUST have confidence in your dog to be an effective team.

I prefer to see a dog picked as a puppy, however, I have put adult dogs in homes. If the breeder is reputable, you can spend between $350-$1,000 for a great dog. You can also go for the mixed pound puppy and find a great dog. Its up to you. A puppy at 7-8 weeks is THE opportunity to mold the dog you want. Good social experience, and exposure will make for a great dog (provided the breeder has done their job!). I start formal obedience around 5-6 months of age, and protection training around a year. This gives you a good 6 months to get the obedience foundation, and then when the dog reaches sexual maturity it's time for protection training. A dog with bad hips can be worked provided the trainer knows, and is willing to keep the bite work low. Generally a dog with bad hips has already been trained (and comes to me for further work). If (an owner comes to me with an untrained dog with bad hips I) would suggest getting a different dog to train.

In the question of males vs females? My experience is that it depends on the individual dog. Male or female is not a choice, but a preference. Both can be valuable. As to whether the dog should be altered or left sexually intact? An unaltered dog is not more aggressive in my world, but I alter all my dogs anyway. It has more to do with health than aggressiveness.

Finding the trainer:

The difference between a good trainer and a great one is simple. The great trainer loves his ART, and is a perfectionist. Willing to spend the extra time needed to get the dog and handler to team mode. Start by talking with your local breeder, vet & groomer. Also be on the lookout for that really well behaved dog at a public park, whose handler looks like a fluid extension of the dog. Ask this person "where did you get your training". Word of mouth is a powerful tool. If you hear from 4 vets, a couple of breeders and someone else that "Joe Schmoes School of Dog Training" is the best they have seen, and the trainer is totally tuned and devoted, then its a safe bet. A trainer should also offer private training first, then a group environment to keep your skill sharp.

If this seems to be the case, invite yourself to the trainer's group class and watch. Watch the clients, watch the interaction between the trainer/dogs/clients. It should be a fun yet focused environment. The clients should appear comfortable with the trainer, almost as if its a "dog owners" support group! If a trainer offers a high cost program in a group class only, go elsewhere. A trainer who tries to get money out of you before offering an opportunity to see his work is also bad news. You must meet with the trainer in an almost personal atmosphere, as you must feel comfy with the trainer. I am 6'3 almost 300 lbs, yet most know Im a teddybear, and they feel comfy around me. It is my job to teach and communicate, if the client doesn't like me, or is uncomfortable then communication will not happen.

A working relationship:

Protection work is as much handling as it is the K9. You must function as a team. the dog must trust you and your judgment, and you must be able to read your dog to be aware of any attitude. Sometimes a dog may key in on something that you have not. This may lead to an unwanted turn on, or more importantly a warning from your companion that something is up that you missed! It happens.

If a working relationship is established by the time you begin your protection training, the training attitude of the K9 will be stronger. You must plan ahead. Responsible K9 ownership has more to do with planning ahead and staying on track than most realize. Its not like purchasing a car.

You are a team, and must always be looking for ways to improve. If you ever end up in court, you MUST be able to show strong relationship and control skills in order to prove to your jury that the dog is in control and NOT vicious. Just the same as any self defense device or style, you must be willing to learn and understand how and why it works. Using a K9 for protection is a responsibility requiring knowledge and understanding. This cannot be achieved by frivilous abuse or a "see what my dog can do" attitude.

Some understanding of protection work can be gained by looking at some of the different personalities I have seen in dogs and owners in my classes.

My best dog( personally) is Nicoli( Nicki). He is a solid black German Shepherd Dog. He hits like a frieght train. He is the dog that most people avoid when doing bite work as I developed his bite at a young age and he has the bite of a Rotti( about 1000 lbs per sqaure inch!). He loves to track and do protection work. He started out as a project dog, a fear biter, now he is controlled and does very well. He is always monitored however, as I don't trust people to use common sense around him. He senses fear and assumes that there is something wrong with the person. Hes not very comforting to be around if your afraid of big dogs. Otherwise he is a very friendly, happy dog. He's great with kids.

I have a wide veriety of personalities in class. (Incidently, I define my class as students and ME.) The dogs and handlers are all diferent. I know most students and dogs by name and what stuff they like to do. I have a rotti female that can't stand it if I don't come up and pet her when she arrives for Saturday morning play. I have another dog that can't wait for my praise after a good bite work session. She does her best to bite me and hangs on for a brisk ride! When done, if I dont praise her she developes an attitude and won't work anymore. I have a couple of other bite workers, and she teares into them during the bite work, but wants nothing to do with them when done........go figure. Another lady has a Rotti jr. about 7 months old. He has a great deal of difficulty working for his mom, but when I'm around he is flawless. I've seen a video of his behavior at home, but when he's with me he's an absolute angel! One lady's dog, a GSD female, does not care for me much. Everytime I am near the dog developes an attitude that she would rather I die than have to listen to me. If I talk to her she almost passes out, knowing she going to have to work. Now this dog is an excellent working dog, but she hates it.

One lady who was a wonderful client and had a great Rotti came home one night only to find a burglar in her home. The dog sensing this alerted the client to the presence of someone whom did not belong. She grabbed her phone and drew her sidearm, and called 911. The bad guy came out of the kitchen to find a 130lb rotti licking his chops. She turned on the dog but the man did not move, so the dog did not bite. She told the man that if he moved she would shoot him dead. At this time the man began to reach into his jacket, so she shot the bad guy in the foot, he fell to the floor, and when the police arrived the dog was in the corner chewing on a rawhide and the lady was sitting on top of the bad guy with a pistol pointed at his head! To this day I find this 4'11, 90 lb woman to be nuts. She is soft spoken, yet, when push came to shuoe, she was more dangerous that the 130lb Rotti! Go figure.......

Societal attitude and owner responsibility:

More often than not when people know that your dog is protection trained they assume that your dog is vicious.

This is one aspect of how the attitude of society towards large breed dogs is out of control. In my opinion it is just like the 1500's witch hunts! Prejudice is just that, ignorance and volume. When a staff terrier bites someone "Pit bulls are unreliable", when a GSD maims a child "GSD are vicious dogs", when a rotti bites a Jehova's Witness at your door "Rottis are the spawn from hell". These are not breed problems, these are shitty, ignorant owners who didn't have the sense God gave spinach, and then everyone assumes that its the breed.

Remember, the media is a powerful tool. The ignorance of its audience is only compounded by the media frenzy when a Rotti, GSD, or other large breed dog bites someone. You MUST represent your dog, breed, and training in a positive light. Always handle your K9 companion/protector as if the Media is watching. The first time you make an error your neighbors, the local news and every one with a "large breed dog attitude" will be on you like fleas on a dog!

I have seen great Rottweilers weighing 150 pounds playing with toddlers as if they were only a toy poodle, I have seen Staff Terriers playing frisbee, and GSD take down a bad guy and then forget about it as soon as the officer praised him for a job well done. Responsibility doesn't just lie with covering your butt, but protecting the breed you love as well. A well trained protection dog can not only show the stability of a well bred dog, but show the usefulness of having a dog in the home. Just like a responsible citizen carrying a handgun, if that citizen saves a crowd from a mad man in a McDonalds, everyone there is thankful, but when a psycho walks into a workplace and kills a couple of people, gun control is on every major news show for three freekin' weeks! Being responsible brings no good publicity to dog owners, but being irresponsible brings ten tons of bad publicity. It pays to be educated and responsible. There are people out there who wnat to take our dogs from us, and you can only help if you represent dog owners in a good light. Its not fair, but thats the way it is, so do the right thing!

I have had a couple of clients in my career experience lawsuits as a result of self defense actions. One case in particular, the dog was sound, and loveable, but had an attitude when the 6'3 suspect decided to break into the single woman's home and try to rob her (and God knows what else!). The dog not only successfuly stopped this suspect but created a new found respect for the man in the GSD breed. The man lost the use of his right forearm, and admitted in court hat the dog stopped fighting the moment he (suspect) stopped moving. This client and her dog had been with me for 3 years.

This case was dismissed the second that the owner showed the high degree of control that she had of her dog and that she handled the dog in a responsible way, and no one could be found to dispute that.

I can't elaborate to much on this case, but I can say that a video was presented to the jury, in which I played a bad guy in a totally new area than our normal sessions. Wearing a mask and a bite suit I jumped out from behind some bushes and stumbled around. The ladys GSD stopped and observed (off leash) and then looked at the handler. She said quietly "out" to remind the dog all was well, as I was just some drunk who was probably relieving himself in the bushes. The next day I was wearing normal street clothes in a different park, and walked pass the client and dog. I then turned and rushed the client who turned warned me, and sent the dog when I pulled a fake knife. I turned and ran, the dog was called out and I was never touched by the dog. The case was dismissed, because the dog demonstrated control, as well as aggression. The aggression was then turned off without difficulty. The defendant was then convicted that same week for attempted robbery.The video was taken from a park bench 30-40 yards away in each park.


Benefits: Trained VS. untrained; The trained and maintained protection dog is an asset when compared to the untrained K9. Most, if not all, dogs have a natural instinct to protect, but in today's environment teaching the dog to trust when and when not to protect is imperative. This is why quality training and responsible ownership is imperative.

So, having a dog trained and maintained takes a potential liability and turns it into an asset. Protection dogs provide a physical first line of defense, allowing you time to get away and phone 911, or to respond with lethal force if needed, or even to round up family members to get them into a safe controled area until law enforcement arrives. The security dog/K9 in the home requires some forethought. All entry gates must be posted "beware of dog"( no vicious rotti/dobe teeth baring picture signs please!), and a warning given if you have a chance."If you dont get away/out of my house/away from my car my dog WILL protect me". A warning effort will go over well in court. The signs show a willingness to warn bad guys. The vicious dog signs WILL be used against you, as the defendant's lawyer will say you knew you had a mean dog and refer to a picture of the sign.

So remember, responsibility in protection dog ownership involves much more than just handling technique. You must be willing to commit to the same amount of time and training as you would if you had a firearm in the home or on your person. Although a handgun is considered lethal, a dog will cost you just as much in court from a liability standpoint. You must be willing to look at all the responsibilitys. The training of the dog is never "completed", Just as a child or marital partner is never "completely" trained, neither is a dog. Its a perpetual "work in progress"!

Timothy C. Minyard

Class Act K9 & Tactical Solutions
325 S. Washington #186
Kent WA 98032
(206) 669-7654

About the Author:

I teach self defense tactics covering everything from home security to hand-to-hand tactics. I spend a lot of time teaching and training civilians to handle their K9 protection dogs not only properly but with high regard to personal responsibility. I specificaly offer advice on liability and court preparedness.

Personal experience: I started out with Ron Pace in a 500 hr minimum trainers course. After completion I assisted in working his clients from his kennel. I then started Class Act as a way of contributing to the community and to other dog handlers educations. I have in the neighborhood of 250 clients with dogs ranging from Akita to Wiemeraner.

I have been training for about 6 years. I teach private all breed obedience, protection, tracking and puppy stuff. I also teach weapons and tactics to civilians incorporating the use of a K9 companion in about 80% of my clients. I am a Bail enforcement officer, and have also been an Executive protection provider in the International District in Seattle Wa. As a bail officer I have had the opportunity to utilize many aspects of K9 partnership in the capture of suspects. I would trust a good dog over man anyday!

I have owned only about 6 dogs. I have a Solid Black GSD, a black and tan GSD, a terrier mix, a retriever, and of course I still have a Beagle named Elvis. the Beagle wasa gift from Fate. I found him roped to a flower cart at a local grocery store. He played me like a Stratovarius. Before I knew it he was in my home and in my heart. He is single handedly the most difficult dog I have ever owned. He does this little sitting up thing, melts my heart every time. Im a big man, but he and I are toe to toe most of the time. Elvis is a trainers training dog!

My initial classes are about 8-10 hours, and the group classes are 2 hours every other Saturday. Protection training is as much obedience as bite work, so the clients who work their K9 companion at least 20-30 minutes a day in addition to group class will benefit quicker. At this formulated rate it takes about 1 year to reach a 300 hour goal. It took me 6 years to get a black belt. This is a good amount of time, but it goes fast because its fun to work and grow with your K9 friend, and before you know it 2 years will have shot by.

Timothy's Dictionary of Protection Work Terms:

Attitude:. This is difficult to define but it is used in context in several different ways ...

Bite work: Teaching the dog to take attacker's arm (usually the first arm that is thrust towards dog/victim) and hold until suspect stops fighting.

Dobe: Doberman Pinscher

GSD: German Shepherd Dog.

K9 is not an inherant term for police dog, but a term I (and other trainers) use as a defining thought----"You train here and you will get more than obedience training". It is of course also short for "canine" a rather high brow term for "dog", that, given Americans sloppy tendencies to shorten everything, has magically turned into "K9". I use K9 as it is easily recognizable and useful to send the messege that I train Protection dogs, as well as offering simple obedience training.

Rotti: Rottweiler.

Turning off/"out": telling do to stop aggression and/or turn off.

Turning on/"watchum": Telling K9 to show aggression and/or protect.

Watchdog/ alert dog: is what I call a small breed dog. A dog that does not posses the visual ability to stop an intruder/attacker. An alert dog is a great thing if your not into big dogs. That is why I suggest complimenting this with a weapon in the home (with lots of instruction).

  • The Net.Pet Home Page
  • NetPet Magazine Table of Contents
  • Index to the NetPet Site
  • Support the NetPet Site!