Rescue dogs do 70% of the searching during disaster missions – even in today’s tech-savvy world.
We call them “man’s best friend” for a reason. Yet training a dog for professional roles is a rigorous process that doesn’t always come naturally. And guard dog training presents a real challenge for the uninitiated.
Get it wrong and you could have a lawsuit on your hands.
This article dives into the fundamentals of guard dog training: Where to start, how to progress, and how to understand your dog’s needs.
Don’t go anywhere.
Table of Contents
Guard Dog Training: The Simple Version
In simple terms, guard dog training is an intense, specialized version of training that focuses on teaching dogs to protect their territory, their family, or their handler. It’s most commonly used for police and military dogs – but personal protection dogs are increasingly popular.
Depending on who you ask, the training process can be split into three to four stages:
- Basic obedience
- Advanced techniques
Training a dog in this manner is demanding.
It requires consistent, daily training sessions and a deep commitment to the process. The dog must learn to differentiate between normal situations and threatening ones – and respond accordingly.
Contrary to common myth, guard dog training isn’t about teaching a dog to be aggressive. Rather, it teaches them to remain alert and be protective, and adhere strictly to commands.
Choosing the Right Breed
Unlike man, not all breeds of dogs are created equal.
Some lend themselves to guard dog training more than others. Some species are naturally more intelligent, while others are passive and apathetic. Generally, guard dogs should have powerful and imposing statures, which makes most small breeds unsuitable for guard dog training.
So, are Great Danes good guard dogs?
The most common breeds selected as guard dogs are Dobermans, Rottweilers, and German Shepherds. This is thanks to a mix of natural intelligence and physical ability.
However, that doesn’t discount other breeds of guard dogs.
Characteristics of Suitable Breeds
Suitable breeds possess characteristics that make them ideal for training.
Specifically, such dogs are confident, alert, and protective. They are quick to learn, which means they can pick up new commands and skills quickly and are physically strong.
Yet a “suitable” breed should also be compatible with your lifestyle. That means you will need to think about the dog’s temperament as well as tertiary characteristics. For instance, if you’re allergic to most dog breeds, then you’ll probably want to opt for a non-allergic breed.
Moreover, you should interact with a potential guard dog before making a decision.
Spend some time playing with the (young) dog and observe its behavior. Try and get a feel for its temperament and nature to decide whether the dog is the right fit for your family.
Lastly, remember that the characteristics that make a good guard dog differ from those that make a good pet. Guard dogs necessarily require a level of independence and assertiveness, which won’t always translate to a loving, fluffy family pet.
Can Small Dogs Be Effective Guard Dogs?
With careful training and attention, even small guard dogs can protect your home. They do so not with physical size, but instead for tenacity and alertness.
They may not look like it, but the best small guard dogs include breeds like the Dachshund, Shih Tzu, and Miniature Pinscher, which are all known for their alertness.
Small yet mighty, these dogs are quick to sound the alarm when they sense danger, making them excellent watchdogs. Remember, even small dogs require adequate, careful training to teach them how to guard your home against intruders.
So don’t underestimate the power of a small dog with the right training!
The Role of the Handler in Guard Dog Training
As your guard dog’s handler, your role in their upbringing is paramount. You aren’t simply “along for the ride”.
You’re the center of your dog’s world and must act and carry yourself appropriately. You’re the pack leader, trainer, and caregiver all in one.
You’re the one your dog looks to for guidance during times of uncertainty. And you’re the one who doles out rewards and punishments. In short, it’s your job to set the pace, establish ground rules, and ensure your dog follows them.
The two key ingredients of successful training are consistency and patience.
You must be consistent in your commands and rewards. You should never leave your dog in the dark, uncertain as to your desires. This helps your dog understand what is expected and encourages them to follow your commands.
Patience isn’t easy.
Dogs are highly trainable animals, but the process takes time. No matter how frustrated you get, your dog won’t learn any faster. So, your training sessions must stay positive and encouraging, which will make your dog all the more likely to succeed.
Training 101: Basic Obedience Training
You have to learn to walk before you can run, as the old saying goes.
And before you can dive into the advanced techniques of guard dog training, you must build a strong foundation and master basic obedience. Skipping or shortening this step will only lessen results later on.
What is basic obedience training?
You already know the most basic commands: “Sit,” “come,” “stay,” and “leave it”. Teaching your guard dog to obey these commands to the letter does multiple things:
- It cements your authority
- It establishes reward structures
- It prepares your dog to learn more complex commands
- It forms a bond between you and your dog
All of these elements are crucial. As you train your dog to obey commands, you will foster a deep bond between the two of you – and your dog will know to respect your word.
This stage will also build your dog’s confidence and train its brain to accept more advanced techniques.
Remember to keep your training sessions short and positive. Your dog can only absorb so much information in one go before needing a rest. You should use a combination of treats and praise to reinforce good behavior and withhold them when your dog isn’t performing as desired.
Yes, even if your dog shoots you a pair of classic “puppy eyes”.
A common technique employed by professionals is to combine training with an audio cue. Using a clicker helps anchor your dog’s expectations. Unlike your voice commands, the “click” always sounds the same, letting your dog know when they’re doing something right.
Most importantly, stay patient. Training takes time and dedication, but you will see results with consistency.
Training 102: Socializing for a Confident Guard Dog
Guard dogs are still pets, regardless of their duties.
And as pets, they come into contact with humans and other animals frequently. So, before you can move on to advanced training techniques, you will need to socialize your guard dog to familiarize them with foreign situations.
To do so, start by exposing your dog to different people, places, and experiences. As with all other forms of training, you should start small and with patience, and build from there. Some easy introductions to new situations might include:
- Taking your guard dog to dog parks
- Inviting friends over
- Introducing your dog to different sounds and smells
The goal is to make your dog feel comfortable in a variety of situations. They shouldn’t feel uncomfortable or intimidated by people and other dogs. They should respect – but not fear – vehicles and traffic.
As with basic obedience training, socialization should be a positive experience for both you and your guard dog. Keep exposure gradual, yet progressive. Keep your focus on your dog during new situations to observe its behavior.
Reward your dog for calm behavior, taking care not to over-praise them or give them too many treats. Once again, this process will take time, but as your dog learns, it will grow in confidence and experience.
And with time, your dog will be prepared for the next phase of its journey: Guard dog training.
Training 201: Desensitization and Unfamiliar Situations
A critical part of the training involves teaching your dog to handle unfamiliar situations. This means desensitizing them to different triggers and teaching them how to respond.
Start by identifying your dog’s triggers.
For many dogs, this will be loud noises and unfamiliar people. Then, you can begin to desensitize your dog by employing the same socialization techniques you’re already familiar with. Use positive reinforcement to reward your dog for calm behavior, and slowly up the pressure as your dog gets used to handling new situations.
As before, don’t rush your dog, and keep the pace slow. Your dog will grow more confident with time.
Training 202: Advanced Training Techniques
The “meat” of guard dog training, advanced techniques will only bear fruit if you approach them once your dog has mastered the basics.
There really is no other way: Rushed training leads to undesirable results. It’s as simple as that.
The goal of advanced training is to enhance your dog’s natural protective instincts while you maintain control. Your dog should be able to distinguish between normal and threatening situations and respond accordingly.
Broadly, you can split your dog’s training into several categories:
- Patrol and guard duty
- Handling threatening situations
If you have approached prior steps with care and attention, your dog will already know to be alert and maintain constant situational awareness. Now is the time to teach your dog to communicate that awareness with you.
You will need to train your dog to bark at the presence of intruders, and to quieten down on command. How do you do this?
It’s not as hard as it sounds. You must first teach your dog to bark on command (“speak”) – and to be quiet when you say so (“quiet”). Then, you must train your dog with mock scenarios to bark at intruders.
You can do this by giving your dog the “bark” command from outside a door or on the other side of a wall. Then, ask a friend or family member to do the same. Lastly, you should command your dog to bark when a stranger is at the door.
To teach your dog to be quiet, hold a treat in front of its nose while it is barking. When your dog stops to sniff or take the treat, introduce a new command like “quiet” or “hush”. Reinforce this behavior alongside “bark” and you will effectively teach your dog to bark and quieten down on command.
In no time, your dog will have learned to bark in the presence of strangers.
Guard Duty and Handling Threats
The next element on the docket is guard duty.
You will need to teach your dog to stay near the door, living room, or in the stairwell and keep watch. You can accomplish this by using the “stay” command and placing your dog’s bed where you want your dog to stand watch.
With time, your dog will learn to stand guard during the night. You can test your dog by sneaking out of the house and making noise, wrapping on the window, or ringing the doorbell during the nighttime.
Finally, you must teach your dog to handle threatening situations. While many people think of biting, you should bear in mind that you will be held legally responsible if your dog bites somebody it shouldn’t.
That’s why, in most cases, it’s advisable to work with a professional dog handler to train a guard dog to attack when under threat.
Achieve Success in Guard Dog Training
Successful guard dog training is a slow-burn affair.
It’s a long path that demands patience and consistency from both you and your dog. It’s about nurturing your dog’s natural instincts while ensuring you always remain in control as the pack leader.
Never forget that every dog is unique and requires a careful, tailored approach to new experiences. Remain flexible and compassionate, yet firm when your dog misbehaves.
In time, you’ll find a training method that works.
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