Q: My AB is shy, should I protection train him to build his confidence? What makes for a good protection dog?
A. Protection training is not the way to go if you are trying to overcome temperamental flaws. If this is your concern, you should concentrate on motivational obedience and socialization. Then, with time, you should move on to traditional obedience with appropriate corrections and further socialization. Candidates for protection training should have the very best nerves and temperament possible. In other words, they should be selected only from the ranks of dogs that have a very high aptitude for this sort of work and will probably meet with success after the training is complete.
What are the outward manifestations of a good protection dog? Experts on gameness caution us that dogs that appear to be game to a novice, dogs that lunge and strike out at anything on four legs in mouth foaming threat displays, generally are the opposite, so it is with protection dogs. Dogs that are man aggressive for no reason lack nerves and confidence, they will generally buckle under the pressure of protection work and will become more dangerous than they already are. The ideal temperament for sport and personal protection is a dog that is totally at ease with friendly strangers in a neutral setting, and is calm and trustworthy after properly being introduced to a friendly stranger on the dog’s home turf. A good protection dog is not afraid of people and will not harm anyone without good cause.
If a dog has this kind of stable temperament, for sport protection, the next most important trait is prey drive. Dogs will bite a decoy for a variety of motivational factors or drives. Though the drives are somewhat distinct and can be worked apart from each other, in reality they are not clearly separated in a dog’s mind, still it is useful to break them down and analyze them as if each drive is completely unique.
Sport dog candidates should display a high degree of prey aggression. When the term prey aggression or prey drive is used by protection trainers they are referring to something that is similar to the desire to chase down and bite an animal, but it is not this exact drive. It is also related to the desire to chase a ball or Frisbee, but again it is not this exact drive either. In the context of sport protection, prey drive is the desire to chase and bite equipment that is attached to a decoy, often partially separated for beginner dogs by a short leash. Testing prey aggression in a green dog involves chasing equipment, catching it, fighting the man through the equipment, “killing” the prey object as the decoy slips the equipment, and carrying the dead prey off as a trophy. Also, the ideal green dog should voluntarily bring the prey object back to even a strange decoy to fight some more, but here we are drifting into a different drive (the next most important), fight drive. This drive merges into defense drive later down the road when pressure is brought to bear.
Green sport dogs should be temperament tested for prey aggression to discover whether they should be protection trained or not. Typically a decoy will have the dog’s handler holding a leash with the dog on the other end in a protection harness. While the dog is thus restrained, the decoy will make prey attraction with a tug toy on a line and will see how eagerly the dog launches into the toy. He will fight very briefly with the young inexperienced dog, probably separating himself from the tug with a leash. If the young dog is exceptional the decoy can tug with him directly and not use a leash. The decoy will release the tug toy and the handler/dog team will run with the trophy. The ideal prey oriented sport dog will retain his grip on the tug toy during the carry and run back eagerly to the decoy to fight with him some more, but he will exhibit a desire to fight with the man through the equipment. If the early testing/training is done correctly the confident young dog understands that he is participating in a game, like a boxer that is fighting with gloves on, and does not insist on tearing the “gloves” off and going bare knuckle.
This ideal young sport dog might have been worked in such a manner that he would be snapping unafraid at the decoy directly and not the tug toy. He could easily be going at it bare knuckle. But this is not the goal in this phase of sport work and this is not the drive that a green dog should be tested on yet in a hardcore manner. The only thing even remotely close to civil testing at this stage in evaluating a green sport dog is his desire to come back to the decoy and fight some more after the carry. The decoy acts completely neutral and does not threaten the dog in any fashion. The ideal green dog brings the prey object back for more tug of war out of a sense of playfulness. The green dog’s hair is not standing up, his tail is not tucked, his growling is playful and his barking is joyous. His weight is on his front legs as he strains forward, toward the decoy. He might be wagging his tail. The testing may take place in more than one session and if the dog does well the testing blends smoothly into training.
Once in a while we will encounter a green dog that will launch into the tug toy or puppy sleeve with gusto and confident body language but after the slip he spits it out and snaps directly at the decoy. He might bite the equipment only because it is the closest thing to him and since he is being restrained by a harness and leash he can only get at the closest object. Remember, the premise that I’m working from is that any beginner dog that is being tested by a decoy has already passed a battery of temperament tests that proves he/she is stable and trustworthy in a social setting. The green dog that wants to bite the decoy and not the equipment may be deficient in prey drive. Most protection training is for sport, so let’s forget personal protection for the moment. For sport work, the prey oriented temperament is better than the dog that is mostly civil. But if you have a civil dog and he has rock like nerves and is 100% trustworthy in all social situations, then you can still make him into a good sport dog. But you will need a highly experienced decoy and you will have to be highly experienced yourself. A novice handler needs a dog that is prey oriented.
In any case, if you are considering protection training your Bulldog, you will need to find a protection/obedience trainer that is knowledgeable and reputable. To make this judgment call you must first become experienced to a degree yourself. You need to show up at sport clubs without your dog and watch the work. Ask questions and listen to experienced people when the work is finished, do all this with your dog at home. You should read books and watch videos about protection training. Once you have a modicum of experience you should shop around and find the best trainer that you can. If you find a good one you should stick with him/her and pretty much do what your professional trainer says. The quality of the individual trainer is more important than whether he is involved with Schutzhund, NAPD, Ring or personal protection/practical obedience. The specific discipline is secondary to finding someone who is honest, has Bulldog/Molosser experience, and that you and your dog can work with comfortably. You need the commitment to take the dog all the way through to a title or complete an entire personal protection/practical obedience course to the satisfaction of your professional trainer. You can’t flake out and stop the training halfway to your goal.
©2000, Dave Putnam