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One of the most overlooked pieces of survival “equipment” also happens to be the greatest potential asset, with the greatest variety of uses. Man’s best friend.

Currently, trained dogs work side by side with members of every branch of the military, law enforcement, firefighters, and first responders of every ilk. They help find missing children, those suffering from dementia, and Alzheimer’s. Dogs can detect cancer cells, warn of an impending seizure, or inform you that your blood sugar is low. They are even employed by the Department of Agriculture to detect illegally imported fruits, produce, and invasive species. Not to mention the numerous recreational uses, where a trained canine provides a tremendous advantage.

These skill sets barely scratch the surface of what a properly trained dog can accomplish.

I hope you will join me for this eye-opening and informative journey.

I look forward to helping you become more prepared, safer, and provide you with an invaluable skill set.

Military dog in Afghanistan being prepared for a helicopter hoist

Military dog in Afghanistan being prepared for a helicopter hoist by Spc. Aubree Rundle | Public Domain

Selecting for Purpose

The benefits of a properly trained canine, in a survival situation, cannot be overstated. Their abilities range from unbelievable to life-saving and life-sustaining.

So, let’s get started.

At this point, many of you will say, “Great, let’s go get a dog and get started” or “I’ve got an awesome dog already, what now?”

While a dog you currently own may work perfectly for everything you want to accomplish, chances are, he/she will fall short in being the best possible all around dog for your survival and sustainability needs.

Please hold your criticism, I know how the dog owners of the world feel about their “babies”, just hear me out.

It is precisely these feelings (your feelings), that may make your current pet unsuitable for the mission ahead. Primarily, you likely chose your current dog based solely on aesthetics, not on their suitability to perform a specific task. In addition, whether you realize it or not, you have “trained” your dog to a certain environment and schedule. You have also, most likely, formed an emotional bond with your current dog. More on this later.

Instead, let’s take a step back and start at the beginning.

The very first step, in choosing the right dog for the job, is not to find a dog at all. First, you must decide what jobs you have in mind, determine if a dog is the right “man” for the job, and then understand what characteristics and traits are important in a canine if he is to be successful in the “job”.

For example, we will start simple. Let’s say you live in an area with colder climates or heavier winters. A dog’s average temperature is 102.5, a good four degrees warmer than our 98.6. In a smaller enclosed area or a sleeping bag, you have a good source of heat. Trust me when I say you will definitely notice.

Characteristics you would look for here are fairly simple and straightforward. A dog large enough to spare some heat (smaller dogs like the Chihuahua will not be much help), small enough to fit in the areas you will utilize him/her (a Mastiff may not be ideal if you are limited on space), and one that does not have a problem with you being in close proximity (very close in the case of a sleeping bag) for extended periods of time.

If you know anything about survival, you should know how important our 98.6° is. The less effort it takes to maintain, the fewer calories we have to consume, the better we sleep, the healthier we stay, etcetera.

Now, if you follow that example, you begin to understand what I mean about choosing what “jobs” you have in mind before running out to get a dog.

Sources for dogs include rescues, shelters, breeders, and training kennels, to name a few.
My best advice, decide on the jobs you have in mind and select your dog on her traits and personality. I would immediately be suspect of ANYONE that tried to tell you only a certain breed is suitable for the work you have in mind. While it is true that there are breeds selectively bred for certain jobs, the current market has all but destroyed most of these breeds, either mentally or physically. In my experience, dogs are individuals. When looking for a partner that could conceivably be with you for 15± years, it is well worth the work to find the individual that suits you best, all-around.

The most decorated dog of WWI was a Boston Terrier and in WWII it was a German Shepherd/Collie/Siberian Husky mix aka a mutt. So buying a “purebred” dog is not a necessity.

The number of “jobs” a dog is a perfect fit for is much more expansive than most would guess.
We will explore a number of them here.

Locating and leading you to necessities:

A dog can be trained to find just about anything. In a scenario where you are without food or clean drinking water, the ability to locate these things is a real lifesaver.

Where do you start?

For anything involving locating specific odors, the key characteristics you want to see in a dog are high prey and hunt drives. While you can train a dog without prey drive to locate specific odors, it is much easier with a prey drive dog. The more pronounced the prey drive the better. If you can find a healthy, active dog, with over the top prey drive, you have found a dog that will eventually work all day for you, locating whatever you have trained her to locate.

Prey Drive

This behavior is the desire to chase grasp and vanquish an item viewed by the dog as a prey item. In the wild, these items are normally food-related animals. Since this desire is diminished through training/experience, it is normally seen in the dog as an expression of the behavior in relation to non-prey items such as the ball, narcotics toys, protection equipment, etc.

Prey drive is a critical component of canine selection

Hunting in Dartmoor by Donald Macauley | Creative Commons 2

This behavior is used as a foundation training program in the protection phase of most working dog programs, teaching them to grip and win in the low-stress environment of prey, prior to having the seriousness of fighting and self-defense instilled in the work. The dog, while strongly focused in this behavior, will display a tail stance of slightly higher than the back to level, his ears will be erect and attentive and his overall appearance will be of a happy but intense demeanor. The seriousness of prey behavior should not be underemphasized in a wild canid, this is life and death.

To test the dog’s prey drive, try this:

  • Grab two or three IDENTICAL toys. (I suggest something durable like a Gappay Ball or Kong) I do not generally use tennis balls, many high prey drive dogs have choked to death on them.
  • Play, with the dog you are testing, for two to three minutes in a medium-sized, enclosed area. Choose an area large enough to play in, but not so large that you waste a lot of time and energy chasing a dog around.
  • Observe and rate the dog’s tenacity and dedication to chasing down and capturing the toy.
  • Now that you, hopefully, have an extremely excited dog on your hands, put away all your toys, except one.
  • Make sure you have the dog’s attention.
  • Place the remaining toy in a location where the dog can see the toy, but where it is inaccessible to the dog.
  • Stand back and observe.

The ideal dog will chase and “capture” the toy vigorously, nothing will stand in her way, she will never give up. She will go over, under, on top of, and through anything. She will run around the room, trying to find a way to get to the toy, and will return to the toy often. You will see her “thinking”, trying to find a viable solution. When you are sure the dog is not going to abandon the toy, get her attention, lure her to get as close to the toy as possible, then knock the toy down to her so she can play with it.

If he has a high level of focus, he may sit and stare, or try to get as close as possible and fixate on the toy. If this happens, give him a minute and make sure he doesn’t try to leave the toy, then give him the toy.

Other considerations for this type of work have to do with the physical condition of the dog, the individual dog’s level of possession. (i.e. how willing is the dog to let you have an item once it is in his possession), and the dog’s hunt drive.

While there are always differences between specific individuals, you will find these basic rules helpful.

  • Larger breed dogs, (think Mastiff breeds), tend to need shorter training sessions and more “breaks” while “working”. You should also consider that the larger the dog, the more food she will need to maintain her body weight and level of activity.
  • The shorter the dog’s snout, the harder they have to work when intensely searching.
  • The smaller the dog, the smaller the prey item the dog can take down on his own. This is something to consider if you also plan on using the dog to catch and bring you food or help you hunt.
  • The smaller the dog, the less ground they can cover at a time.

Hunting Drive

This group of behaviors can be observed when a dog, while meandering through a field, locates a small rodent. It will use all of its senses to find the exact location of the rodent. It will listen and use its nose in numerous manners to find the rodent and it will look to see if it can catch a bit of movement. This type of behavior, when exhibited in the context of Dog training, is desirable. The greater the intensity of the behavior and the frequency it is displayed the better.

It is a simple matter to test a dog’s hunt drive:

  • Take the same toys you were using to evaluate the dog’s prey drive.
  • Go to an area with tall grass, wooded areas, and areas with heavier ground cover.
  • Play fetch briefly; two to four tosses
  • Now, hold on to the dog (sometimes a helper makes this easier). Make sure the dog sees you throw the toy (make sure it lands where the dog cannot find it by sight). Spin the dog in a circle or two, then release the dog to find the toy.

Watch how the dog hunts for the toy. The more thorough and persistent, the better. Additionally, knowing how your dog “hunts” naturally will be helpful during training.

If you start with the strongest dog possible, the quicker your training can progress, and the more reliable and consistent results you can achieve.
Stronger dogs are, generally, more forgiving of training mistakes.

Now that you have the best dog for the job, spend some time getting to know the dog then start training with some fun games. Your dog will have a great time and you will be laying a firm foundation for your training goals.

Hide and Seek!

Take the dogs toy, or a couple toys, and hide them in different locations. Show the dog a toy and “pretend” to throw it, hiding it under your arm. Let the dog hunt for and find his toy(s). This game has as many variations as locations you have access to. Make this game as fun as possible and try to play it in as many locations as possible so your dog is used to hunting in different places and is comfortable in all different environments.

Trainer’s tip: Do not give your dog a verbal “cue”(the command to perform an action) until AFTER the dog reliably performs an action 80-90% of the time. This will ensure the dog understands what you want from him/her.

We will cover further uses, as well as more details concerning selection and specific training tips in upcoming articles.

For more advanced information on dog training, hold on for my upcoming book, titled “Dog Training for the Prepper”

A word of caution: Anything with teeth can and will bite under the right(wrong) circumstances. With as much of a life-saving asset a properly trained and deployed dog can be, an improperly trained canine is a dangerous liability. The author assumes no liability for the use or misuse of any information contained within.

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