Protection Dog Training is a unique, elite form of training in its own right. Contrary to Schutzhund Dog Training it has not been "degraded" to a sport, conversely it has only been developed in recent decades to better meet the modern needs of family protection dogs in real-life situations.
There are of course many different grades of trained protection dogs, and each protection dog trainer will probably have developed his or her own array of grades or categories. You may come across three different grades, four, or even eight. There is no universal standard that would allow to classify each individual dog in a consistent way.
Therefore this article assumes that trained protection dogs have received comprehensive protection dog training over the full spectrum. In reality however, certain trained protection dogs may have received far less. This is understandable when you consider that comprehensive protection dog training will require 12 to 18 months and can cost anywhere between $5,000 and multiples of $10,000.
Protection Dog Training is very different to the Protection phase in Schutzhund Training. German Shepherd Schutzhund Training relies on dog commands, Obedience Training, a set environment, and a formal routine process.
Conversely, German Shepherd Protection Training relies on:
- an equal partnership between you and your dog, not master-servant relationship
- autonomy of your dog, not dependence on you giving direction or commands
- protection in real-life situations, not in an artificial environment
What does this mean?
Family protection dogs and other trained protection dogs require a different kind of understanding and attitude of the owner. These dogs need a lot of freedom to fulfil their role as Protection dog, not an obedience-focused owner.
On the flipside, trained protection dogs can deal with all real-life situations autonomously. For example, they are trained to understand different kinds of situations like attack on the owner or family, home invasion, abduction, or maybe even searching for a lost child. They have learned to think for themselves, to take the appropriate action, and to adapt to abrupt changes in the situation - like a home invasion turned into an attack on a family member, or an attack turned into an abduction attempt.
Family protection dogs and trained protection dogs in general are not stressed out or hesitant in an unknown situation or environment, because they have not been trained in a set environment and with a repetitive process, but instead in many different environments and ultimately with no formal process. As a result, family protection dogs will for example not be irritated by the fact that an intruder or attacker doesn't wear a protective sleeve that the dog can target for the bite. They have not been trained to bite into a sleeve, they have been trained to do full-mouth bites into any exposed body parts of the intruder or attacker.
Family protection dogs can differentiate between an attack with a stick, a knife, and a gun, and they will take the appropriate action autonomously. They will not cower upon gunshots, like for example most Schutzhund-trained dogs would do. In addition, family protection dogs are trained to handle multiple attackers at the same time too.
You could say, genuine trained protection dogs are trained in real-life street fights, while all other dogs are trained in formal sparring like in a training dojo. That is a world of a difference. Trained protection dogs will take on any attacker, and any number of attackers they can handle. They will apply the utmost force to counter an attack on the owner, family members, or house.
Is a Trained Protection Dog for me?
After reading this, you may think that family protection dogs are no longer family dogs, but instead you would suddenly have to deal with German Shepherd aggression or dog biting problems or whatever. However, this is far from the truth: Family protection dogs still make loving, caring, and playful family companions. They are fantastic with small children too. Nonetheless, they can switch immediately into alarm state when they sense danger.
Although German Shepherds are thought to be one of the most appropriate dog breeds to serve as trained protection dogs, actually only few German Shepherds have the right personality and intellect, as well as sufficient strength, courage, and endurance in order to become effective and reliable family protection dogs.
If you feel you need a genuine protection dog for your and/or your family's safety, you need to consider several factors in your decision, as a minimum:
- You will need to provide a life-long bonding with your protection dog
- You will need to treat the dog as an equal member of the family, and give the dog a lot of freedom
- You must be able to spend many hours each day with your dog to socialize and bond
- Your dog will require at least three hours of outdoor exercise each day, in varying environments
- You cannot lock away your protection dog when you feel like it
- You also must afford significant amounts of money, both one-off (easily $5,000 to multiples of $10,000 subject to age and level of training) and ongoing (subsistence and refresher training about every 12 to 18 months: easily $2000 each plus travel arrangements)
- When you go traveling, your protection dog should be with you, so you always need to make appropriate travel arrangements as well
You may then realize that a protection dog is right for you, or you may realize that other means of protection are more suitable in your situation. If you decide to get a protection dog, you will need to undertake intense research in order to separate the kennels that sell trained sport dogs from those that sell effective and reliable trained protection dogs (that will really counter real-life threats).
How to identify Protection Dog Training
How can you differentiate effective protection dog training from say "protection sport training"? In other words, how can you be sure that you buy a dog that will indeed protect you and your family, in all circumstances, rather than a dog that requires a set environment and a familiar handler to attack in a formal process, but that would fail to protect you in real-life situations?
Insist on observing several sessions of the German Shepherd Protection Training from a distance if you can (you can take binoculars with you). Conversely, watching the dog training videos of the provider is entirely UNhelpful (that's marketing)! When you observe live Protection Dog Training sessions from a distance, seek out clues like the following:
- Is the training team using protective sleeves for the dog to bite on?
- Is all training done on an open field?
- Is there always just one attacker at a time?
- Is the attacker using a set routine, like an accented swing of the arm holding a stick?
- Is it always the same type of attack, for example with a stick?
- Is the training always in daylight, and in the same "attack zone"?
- Does the dog have a chance to visually prepare for the formal attack-to-come?
- Is the dog never exposed to significant distractions, say like multiple gun-shots from different directions?
If any of these clues gets a YES, you are probably seeing "trained sport dogs", not trained protection dogs! Because of the high demand and lucrative margin, many dog trainers have decided to train and sell "protection dogs", but they have little to no understanding what it requires to raise effective family protection dogs or trained protection dogs in general.
However, it should be obvious that there are huge differences between situations like all the ones above, and real-life situations that do not follow a formal routine in a set environment! Only dogs trained to the latter will be able to protect you, your family, and your house in threatening real-life situations. While dogs trained along those lines above will simply fail and cower, or run away.