Dogs for safety, security, and survival
Man and dog have been best friends for years. For over 30,000 years according to archaeologists. Dogs have been domesticated longer than any other animal, and have evolved and been bred to attune to human behavior.
For centuries, humans have used dogs to help them hunt, for protection, and even in battle. Dogs were a part of humans’ survival plans for thousands of years. So there is no reason they cannot be a part of yours!
Over the past few decades, humans have begun harnessing dogs’ natural abilities, such as their sense of smell. For example, dogs have an ability to smell that is at least 10,000 times as powerful as a human. The percentage of the dog’s brain that is devoted to analyzing smells is actually 40 times larger than that of a human.
For this reason, dogs have also been trained to assist in areas such as narcotic and bomb detection. And dogs are now being trained to detect such things as cancer and low blood sugar in humans. Cancer, etc have a chemical reaction that dogs can detect!
Yes, for over several millennia, humans and dogs’ lives have been intertwined. And that isn’t stopping anytime soon. According to the US Humane society, over 83 million dogs are kept as pets in the US alone. And hopefully, you have plans in place for taking care of Fido in the event of a disaster.
Now if you are like me, not only do you have emergency plans in place for your dog, your dog might actually be a part of your disaster planning. For me, my dog provides a line of security and defense, both in every day situations, and should everything ever go to hell in a hand basket!
When it comes to using dog(s) as part of your survival plan, I would categorize their usefulness into 3 groups:
Dogs can be a huge boon when it comes to hunting, namely birds, small game, and in some cases boar. Hunting dogs are usually either “scent/tracking” dogs like hounds, or “gun dogs” like retrievers and setters. There are also “sight” dogs, like whippets.
If your plans for a SHTF incident include hunting, then having one or more good hunting dogs might be right up your alley. If you don’t have much experience with hunting dogs, this article is not long enough to teach you everything you need to know about “hunting” dogs. In fact, I would actually recommend seeking out an experienced dog trainer in person.
But in the meantime, I can lead you in the right direction. Here are some references to help get you started. Gun Dogs Online
Let me first start this section with a disclaimer. If you are hoping to read this section and learn how to train a dog for personal protection or “Bite work”, you are going to be in for a disappointment. Learning how to properly train a dog for protection takes time and practice, and cannot simply be learned by reading some stuff on the internet.
My experience and training with dogs comes as a police K9 officer using dogs for narcotic detection and field or “patrol” work. (Includes tracking and “bite” work.) I gained this knowledge with hands on experience with expert instructors, not by watching YouTube videos. If you want to learn how to do it, you have to experience it first hand.
Next, I want to dispel the myth that you have to have a certain type/breed/size of dog for a guard dog. Yes, “Cyrus” is a German Sheppard. And eventually I will get another German Sheppard. In my experience, German Sheppards are one of the most intelligent dog breeds out there. But that is just my personal preference. That does not mean those are the only breed of dog that will work.
Dogs are “pack” animals, and are generally protective of their “pack”. So you can harness this innate drive with some simple obedience training. Even small “Yippie” dogs can be trained to raise the alarm if someone or something means to do their “pack” harm.
In my 3 Aspects of Any Security Plan article, I talk about the means to detect a threat and a means to deter a threat. A little Chihuahua barking her little head off can deter a would-be burglar. Why? Because the burglar now has to worry about the owner detecting him by seeing why “Princess” won’t shut the hell up!
Dogs’ personality and temperament don’t fully develop until about 1 year to 18 months old. My department does not even test dogs for potential K9s until they are about 18 months old. So just because that puppy seems the most aggressive, it doesn’t mean he will be suitable.
When selecting a dog for safety and security, here are some things I would look for regardless of breed:
When looking for a suitable companion, I would look absolutely for a dog that is friendly, especially if you have children. Friendly dogs are usually more well-adjusted and will likely bond with their new owner. If the dog is aggressive right off the bat, that could be a sign of fear. Many times if fear is a part of the dog’s makeup, it cannot be fully trained out of the dog. You don’t want that.
When it comes to puppies, take the friendly, constantly playing one over the aggressive one. I see people make this mistake time and again. Unless you are a trained expert, you will have more success with the friendly, well adjusted dog.
Just because a dog is friendly and playful does not mean it lacks protective instincts. Many great “friendly” dogs can be EXTREMELY protective of their owners and family. It’s a matter of finding the right temperament and a little training.
Once you have found a potential doggie candidate, see how he/she bonds with you and your family. Some dogs do not handle small children very well, and they may feel the need to “compete” with that child for “pack status”. Clearly this is a huge problem. So make sure the dog is well adjusted to all family members.
I’d look for a dog that has good drive. What does that mean? It means I want a dog that does not get bored easily. She will continue to play fetch for more than one or two throws. A dog that will continue to look for that toy even after you hide it. A dog that does not hesitate when she plays.
While you might hear such terms as “having good prey drive”, this may not be what you need. Law enforcement looks for dogs with high prey drive because we need them to chase down a fleeing suspect or to spend time looking for narcotics. But for you, your dog should be defensive, and not offensive in nature.
There is no need to send your pooch chasing after someone who is fleeing and no longer posing a threat to you. (Think liability concerns.) And just because a dog has high prey drive, that does not mean he would make a good guard dog. I have seen dogs who were great when chasing someone or on the offensive, but then cower or run away if they felt threatened. Hence they were NOT good defensive or guard dogs!
Finally, I’d try to find a dog that looks healthy. Since you are most likely not a vet, nor trained to detect many kinds of illnesses in dogs (which dogs instinctively try to hide or mask) you might miss subtle cues. But that’s quite alright. You are looking for obvious signs of illness or physical defects.
If this dog is going to be a part of your survival and security plan, you want a dog that can stand up to the physical hazards and potent rigors you might encounter in an emergency situation. He doesn’t need to be the “Arnold Schwarzenegger” of dogs. But he needs to look fit and in decent shape.
I’m guessing you have heard of “sled” dogs. Those dogs bred for traveling long distances in cold climates have incredible endurance. Alaskan Malamutes and Huskies can run for over a hundred miles, pulling a sled that can weigh almost 200 lbs, and can maintain speeds around 10 mph for hours on end!
Now unless you live in Alaska or northern Canada, or are training for the Iditarod, chances are you are not looking for dogs to pull your sled. But that does not mean you cannot train your current pooch to help carry a load should you find yourself in a disaster.
You can find dog “packs” online. (See pic to right.) But before you start strapping bags to poor ‘ol Max, there are some things you should keep in mind:
First, you must train your dog ahead of time to carry a loaded pack. In the middle of SHTF is not the time to try and get your dog adjusted to carrying a pack. Start off by allowing your dog to become used to the pack. You might place it beside his/her bed for a day or two so that they get used to it.
Start off slowly, placing it on them for a few minutes at a time. Be sure to give them ample praise and even a few treats while they wear it. You might also put it on them before doing something that the dog enjoys, like playing fetch or going for a walk. That way your dog will begin to associate the pack with doing something fun.
As the dog becomes more accustomed to it, you might begin leaving it on them for longer periods of time. Once you know that your dog will have no issues wearing it, you then might begin to put items in it that he/she would carry in an emergency. But start out light, and over the next few weeks, slowly increase the weight. Just like a human, a dog’s body will need time to acclimate to the weight.
Your dog will also need time to adjust to the new dimensions wearing a pack will add. He might try to get through doorways or openings that he no longer fits through with the pack. And she will need to adjust her balance and coordination was well. This may not be difficult on flat, level terrain. But if your area is hilly, rocky, or requires a lot of climbing and jumping, your dog will need plenty of time to adjust.
While he is acclimating, keep an eye on him. He will most likely need more water and more calories as he builds up his endurance. (Dogs in the Iditarod need over 10,000 calories a day!)
There are some things to keep in mind before you start this process:
- Make sure that their pack is easily adjustable, and that it fits well. Not too loose, but not too snug either. Also make sure the pack is durable. A dog obviously won’t understand the need to try to protect his “gear”. So long term durability is a must in a SHTF situation.
- Be sure to load the pack evenly. This will help the dog carry it and prevent it from sagging to one side.
- No dog should ever have more than 20% of his weight in the pack. If your dog weighs 40 lbs for example, don’t go over 8 lbs.
- The weight should be centered more on the dogs shoulders, where they are typically stronger. Don’t stack weight around the loins.
- Your dog should be fully grown. Added weight from a pack can hind a dog’s growth if she is still growing. Smaller dogs are generally full grown after a year, while larger dogs are usually grown at 18 months.
- Older dogs are more susceptible to stress on bones and joints, and to conditions such as arthritis. So adding weight to them might not be a wise decision. Be sure to consult your veterinarian to be sure.
- If your dog is also a “working” dog, do not store his food or treats in his pack. That scent could be a huge distraction for her and cause you problems.
If you noticed, in each of the three categories above I mentioned training, several times. For any dog to be a part of your disaster planning, he/she is going to have to have some sort of training. But don’t worry. If you are consistent with it, it is not too difficult.
I would begin with simple obedience training. Things like Sit, Stay, and Heel are necessities. Come and Quiet are two others I would work on over time. Below is a decent video on potty training your dog. This instructor has other videos to help teach you how to teach your dog.
Training your dog for simple obedience is not overly difficult. But it will take time and dedication on your part. But by spending even 15 to 20 minutes every day, you should begin to see results VERY quickly. When it comes to obedience training, there are some tips you need to keep in mind:
- Reward for good behavior, but do not punish for bad. Most dogs will want to please their owner once they have bonded. If your dog does not seem to get it, gently help your dog. For example, if he does not seem to understand “Sit”, help put him in the sit position, and then immediately reward him. Over time he will begin to understand.
- Use single word commands. Many dogs can learn up to 200 words. But they do not understand complex sentences. So keep the verbal commands clear and concise. Be pleasant, but firm in your verbal delivery.
- Dogs cannot generalize. So while they may know the meaning of the word “no”, that doesn’t mean they understand what they are doing wrong. If they jump up and down on you and you say “no”, they may jump harder, or to one side. Tell the dog what you want them to do instead. Tell them “Sit!” for example.
- Dogs are very adept at reading body language and facial cues. So you might also use hand gestures at the same time as verbal cues. But be sure to use the same gestures every time and at the same time. Over time, you may be able to use just hand gestures for some commands.
- Be consistent. You need to use the same commands/hand gestures every time. Don’t tell your dog “Off” when he is on your furniture, and then later use the command “Down”. This could confuse your dog. Also, be careful what you reinforce. If a dog barks because he wants to go outside, and you let him outside, you have now taught your dog to bark when he wants to go outside. Instead, give him a command like “Sit” before allowing him to go outside.
- Reward does not always have to be food, though I would use treats initially as a reward. Then as your dog learns the commands, I’d slowly replace the “treat” rewards with “praise” rewards. But always apply “praise” rewards liberally, even with treats.
- It’s ok to be “cheesy” and “over the top” with your praise for your dog. They LOVE cheesy! We are quick to let our dog know when we are unhappy with him, but many times we don’t praise nearly enough. Big mistake! Dogs need lots of positive love and attention, and it will help them to become well-adjusted.
- You don’t have to spend big money on dog treats. I have yet to find a dog that does not LOVE a small slice of a cheap hot dog! So take one or two cheap hot dogs and cut them up. They work perfect!
- Concentrate on one command at a time. Take your time as you don’t want to confuse you dog. Throwing too many new commands at once can overwhelm and confuse your dog.
- When you feel the dog as a firm grasp on a command, then move on to the next. However, once a dog has learned a command that does NOT mean it no longer needs to be practiced. So go back and revisit older commands regularly.
- Once the dog has become bored, it is time to end the practice session. Or, after about 15 minutes, give the dog a break. Let him play freely for a while and then pick the training back up.
- Always end training on a positive note! Training should be a fun event for the dog. (Hence the need for positive reinforcement!)
- Play tug of war with your dog. Most dogs love this! You can buy “Dog toy rope” or use an old tube sock with a knot in the middle. Let your dog win most of the time, especially as pups. (I’d say let them win 9 out of 10 times.) This will help them gain confidence.
- Even older dogs can be taught. The old wives tale about old dogs and new tricks is most likely around because of older dogs’ reduced hearing and vision abilities. But with some patience, you can train older dogs.
- Be patient. Dogs, much like people, learn at different rates. And older dogs may have to “unlearn” some bad habits. So don’t expect miracles overnight. It may take a bit longer than what you expect.
- If you don’t see the results you want over time, you might consult a professional. The ASPCA website can help you understand your pet’s behavior, or put you in contact with trainers in your area.
A dependable, loving dog who has obedience training could be all you ever need. He or she may not bite on command, but they can help detect and deter potential threats, and they make excellent companions. Just be sure to show them the same loyalty and love they show you!
Buying a Personal Protection Dog
First off, keep in mind that these types of dogs can be VERY expensive. I have personally seen dogs imported from Europe that were around $5000 a piece. And that was WITHOUT any training! (They were damn good dogs however!) Considering how much time and energy goes into training a protection dog, the amount you could spend can easily reach 5 figures!
If you have the money and are insistent on getting a trained guard/protection dog, you need to be careful. There are many unscrupulous or less than qualified dealers out there selling dogs that are not adequately trained.
So do your homework when trying to find a reputable dealer. Check out their references. Find out how much “after care/training” do they offer for you. Maybe watch some of their training sessions. It’s your money so do your research!
Don’t think that buying a ready trained dog precludes you from training. It does not. Just because the dog was trained when you purchased him does not mean he do not need to have continual training. Navy SEALS don’t stop training once they receive their “Budweiser” trident crest. The same is true for your dog.
In addition, dogs that have been trained to guard need to have owners who can exhibit control over them. Dogs cannot differentiate between friend and foe like humans can. So when strangers come around, the owner must exhibit high control over their dog. This requires training not just for the dog, but also for you!
Your dog needs to have refresher training often. (We had K9 training for several hours every week plus individual training on our own almost daily.) Your dog needs to bond with you, and learn your verbal and facial cues. And you need to learn how to work with your dog!
Also keep in mind that dogs are not machines, no matter how much training they have. Just like humans, dogs can have “bad days” or days where they just aren’t “feeling it”. I once tracked what I thought was a burglar late at night. After a hundred yards or so, I noticed Cyrus was leading me to a park, and then to a picnic table under which a house cat was hiding!
For whatever reason, that night Cyrus felt like tracking something more interesting than a burglar. Sometimes, it happens. So you cannot expect perfection every time. But by training with your dog, you will learn their personality. (And yes, dogs have personalities.) Knowing their personality will help to attune you to your dog.
When Cyrus stares out the window, I can immediately tell if he is looking at an animal or a person simply because I know his subtle differences. I learned this through training with him. My dog has learned me, and I have learned my dog!
A dog, regardless of breed or size, can be a boon for you in a disaster scenario. They can help provide security and protection to you and your family. They can help carry supplies out of a disaster zone. They can help you acquire food. And they can also be a HUGE source of companionship, something that is often overlooked, but very important.
By finding a dog with the right temperament, and by taking the time to properly train and bond with your pooch, you will help ensure that he is not a detriment should things ever go south!
Stay safe out there!
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