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How To Know That You’re Getting A Real Protection Dog

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We left off in our previous article with selecting and the beginning training games for a dog to locate specific odors.

In this article, we will look at another “job” a properly selected and trained canine is perfect for.

A Protection Dog

This is probably the first thought many of you have when you think of jobs a dog is good at. Many people however, are very limited in their understanding of how many ways this can be applied. Besides home defense and personal defense, dogs can be trained to protect a specific area, scout areas for safety, protect specific items, or simply act as an alarm.

Beyond this, something many never consider, they can be trained to help you AVOID others. There are definite benefits to staying undetected in many scenarios.

This is a tough job, and one “job” where using your current pet is highly inadvisable. If for no other reason than this, a protection dog is a tool to help YOU survive. At the end of the day, YOU have to be willing to let that dog die so that you may live. I have yet to find any handler; military, police, or otherwise, that doesn’t have some issue with this. It is better if you can start off as objectively as possible.

This is one area where I advise A LOT of caution. There are numerous “trainers” out there that will happily separate you from your hard earned money in exchange for a fancy looking dog that WILL NOT protect you if your assailant is too aggressive and/or not wearing a sleeve or puffy coat.

Army protection dog demonstration

Working Dog Training by U.S. Army | Public Domain

Trust me when I say this is an extremely difficult service to hire a trainer for. The guys that will sell you an expensive, if not pretty, pup that isn’t much more than a food recycler, tend to sound just as knowledgeable and have as great of reviews as the guys that really know what they are doing. Think about it, how often is their “product” put to the test? Of the hundreds of ”trainers” out there, I can count the number I would recommend on one hand.

When seeking a trainer for your protection dog, it is critical you do your research and make sure you’ve found the right one! It can be a very risky move to go with a protection trainer who doesn’t possess the right knowledge, resulting in a dog that is unstable or unreliable.

Unfortunately, a large majority of those claiming to provide personal protection dogs provide anything but.

Generally, the unsuspecting “customer” will receive either a mentally unstable dog, or a repurposed sport dog.

A mentally unstable dog will eventually get you sued and can be dangerous to you and your family.

A sport dog will eventually get you killed.

While they may look impressive, biting a sleeve or other bite equipment, many do not have the temperament and/or courage to actually engage an attacker in combat. To them, biting equipment is a fun game, nothing more. When faced with a true threat, they will run away the first opportunity they have.

Where to find a “professional”

This is definitely NOT an area of training for a do-it-yourselfer. The training needs to be precise, tailored to both your dog and your purpose, and is very dangerous if you do not know what you are doing.

When interviewing potential trainers, ask to sit in on protection training classes and/or training sessions. If possible, video the session(s) for later review. There is normally a lot going on, especially for laymen that really does not know what they are looking at, or for. Sitting down and reviewing the video later will help you catch a lot more.

So, what are you looking for?

One, if you only see the dog worked on equipment, i.e. bite sleeves, suits, etcetera, look at HOW the dog is worked.

If the decoy uses a lot of movements, moves mostly at angles to and away from the dog, does the same, or a very similar routine with every dog, then you are most likely looking at sport dogs, or at the very least high prey drive dogs.

For a real protection dog, that will actually do battle and FIGHT a man, I want to see a dog that fights just as strong, if not harder, when worked civilly (without equipment) as when worked on equipment. When the dog is worked on equipment, I want to see the trainer slip the equipment to the dog while the dog is still actively fighting. As soon as this happens, and the trainer re-engages the dog, the dog MUST leave the equipment immediately and go after the threat. If this does not happen, the dog is only operating out of prey drive and is only playing a game.

To truly do battle with a grown human takes an entirely different kind of grit, and is done with an entirely different mindset and motivation. I ALWAYS insist on working a dog “civilly” and watching the dog work with the distraction of bite equipment slipped to her.

Look at how the dog carries himself. Is he confident? Is he looking for a way out of the situation? Does he seem calm? The ideal dog will be cool, calm, and collected. He is mindful of his environment and potential threats, but not overly concerned. When a threat is presented, the dog responds like the “quiet professional”. He will handle his business and move on.

Canine Controlled training exercises

Controlled Training Exercises by Capt. Nick Strocchia | Public Domain

Many people make critical mistakes when characterizing “aggression” in dogs.Another consideration is the bite itself. This is a good thing to review any videos you have taken. The bite should be full and confident. When the dog doesn’t have a nice full bite, (look for how much space is left in-between the back of the dog’s mouth and whatever she is biting, the less space the more “full” the bite), there is a problem with the dog or the training. If you see a partial bite on one dog, but nice full bites on every other dog, the problem is likely with the particular dog. If all dogs have a less than full bite, or hesitancy when engaging, then the training methodology could be a problem.

Take a walk in a neighborhood with dogs, everyone has passed “the house” with the crazy “dangerous” dog, that loses his ever-lovin’ mind when someone dares walk down his street.
Tough dog right? That is what we are looking for when looking for a protection dog, correct?
Guess again! In nearly every case, this dog is actually showing a lack of confidence and trying to bluff you. In his mind, he is saying “Every time I “act a fool”, people leave me alone.”

As an experiment, watch these dogs on your walk. The further away you are, when the dog notices and starts reacting in an “aggressive” way towards you, the less confident the dog generally is. The dog is trying to keep you as far away as possible so that he does not have to deal with you.

An overly aggressive dog

The Watchdog by G M | Creative Commons 2.0

Once you have visited some trainers, videoed some training sessions, and perhaps selected a couple dogs you are considering, it is time to throw the trainer for a loop and show them you have some inside knowledge that makes you a savvy buyer.

Understand, that you should ALWAYS evaluate a dog in an unfamiliar environment. Dogs are highly environmental learners. There is an old hunting dog trainers “trick”, still very much in use today in many variations, where a weak dog will look really strong in a familiar environment. The trainer (hunting dog trainer in this case) always places the birds in the same location. When the trainer shows you the dog, he looks fantastic, almost psychic, as he runs and retrieves the birds with little effort at all. When you take the dog into the field, he looks at you like you have lost your marbles, runs around peeing on the bushes, or does something else completely useless.

A professional trainer should and will do what is necessary to demonstrate his/her dog(s) in a safe manner. It is not unreasonable or improper, however, to have the trainer demonstrate the dog’s abilities in a secure, UNFAMILIAR location. Maybe your home or other secure location of YOUR choosing?

As a professional, I have some of the toughest evaluations in the business. For protection dogs, it is no different. Depending on how you intend to utilize the dog, you want to look at a combination of the fight, prey, and defense drives best suited to the “job” at hand. Have a look at my protection evaluation article to gain a bit more insight.

See the companion article covering drives for more information on specific drives and how they manifest in dogs. While a bit more technical and less exciting to read, it is invaluable information if you are serious about selecting, training, and using your dog in real world “work”.

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.


  • Frank says:

    Wow, a very revealing article, yet this type of honesty is seldom seen. I do have one issue and that is that I am a kind of a victim from the other side of the fence.
    It’s all great when you are in law enforcement, the military or grew up learning from the best trainers and you can easily gain customers because of your credentials before the client even learns or sees anything in the way of training or observes dogs and trainers in action.
    I went to a local business looking to develop trainers, then attended an accredited school, and also learned a lot from an excellent trainer, but it’ always been hard to get clients because of articles written for magazines or even blogs and websites that warn the potential client to question the trainer about their training, how long they’ve been at it and how many dogs they trained.
    And all that is TOTALLY irrelevant when the average person has no concept of how a dog is trained or what a dog can do. They are in no more of a position to interrogate a dog trainer than they are to question the credentials of an astrophysicist or to judge the capabilities of a brain surgeon as he operates.
    I don’t mind explaining things, but it’s hard to “show” what you can do when people only base their decision on numbers and impressive sounding credentials and bullcrap or a painted van and they won’t even allow you to train their dog for a day. And not all of us have access to a group of demo dogs or people to play out scenarios and bite suits so they may act as agitators or decoys to fake the dog out.
    People need to understand that the trainers who are starting out and honest about it, should be given a shot. They might find themselves a good trainer and not have to worry about travelling out of state and paying through the nose just because someone feels they deserve a higher price for training, gear they sell you or dogs if they sell them as well.

  • Jason Crawford says:

    Hey Frank,

    Thanks for the comment. I’ll see if “Epischer” wants to respond personally, but for now I’ll respond. You bring up some very valid points about people not knowing what to look for. In fact, this is exactly why “Epischer” wants to get this information out there. He and I have discussed how many dog trainers are more salesperson than dog trainer and the risks inherent in purchasing a poorly trained dog.

    The tips he discussed here aren’t about the number of sales, but the quality of the dog.

    I hope you find that entrance into the market. It’s a tough one to break into, but if you do a great job, it can be a good market.

    Best Wishes!

  • Epischer Hundetrainer says:


    Thank you for your thoughts. You are right on the money.


    I agree “The Dog Business” can be incredibly difficult to break into. It is most certainly not my intention to make things harder for, or discourage, any HONEST trainer. That is one reason my articles focus on the dog and what to look for from the dog, not what the trainer tells you about their skills.
    Knowledge is power, the more information at the fingertips of the laymen, the more likely they are to choose a trainer based on skill versus charisma.
    This should actually help, not hinder you.

    I must politely disagree with you in regards to the number of dogs a trainer has trained being “TOTALLY irrelevant”. Experience is IMPERATIVE. The more dogs you train, the more you learn about what you DO NOT know. Every individual training experience teaches you something about dogs, dog training, problem solving, new ways to think out of the box, and new perspectives on the individuality of dogs themselves.

    Unfortunately, as with a number of professions, it can be difficult to gain experience without experience. It can be a rather irritating vicious circle.
    Maybe I can offer you some helpful advice.
    Find a trainer you respect, that trains in the discipline(s) you are interested in. Ask them for a job. Even if you can only volunteer a day or two a week, you can still gain an enormous amount of knowledge. Even when you do not realize it, you will be learning a lot about canine body language, different personalities, stimulus response, cognition, etcetera.

    If this is not an option for you, volunteer at a local shelter. You can again gain tremendous experience AND help save dogs from euthanasia by making them more adoptable. This is a win-win in my book.

    Best of Luck!

  • Burt Silver says:

    I like how you go into detail about a dogs bite and how the “beware dogs” are actually not an ideal candidate for a protection dog because of their lack of confidence. This is really great to know. My wife is looking into a protection dog because we live in an area where she doesn’t always feel safe. We’ll have to see what we can do.

  • Mr. Silver,

    I’m happy you enjoyed my article.
    I hope it helps in your search for a quality protection dog.

    If you need some advice or have a few specific questions, we would be happy to help.


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