Personal protection training for your GSD
If you are interested in protection training for your German Shepherd, here’s what you need to know before you start.
Know your GSD’s temperament
If you are purchasing a puppy, question the breeder carefully about protection titles in the pedigree, whether the breeder personally knows any of the dogs holding those titles, or has seen those dogs perform in person.
The best thing to do is contact a few breeders of German Shepherds who do protection work, and get an idea of what they usually have available.
Breeders can also keep you on a waiting list for a younger adult, if you are OK skipping the puppy stage and cost isn’t as much of an issue.
Thinking of protection training your German Shepherd?
If you already have a German Shepherd, and are interested in training your dog for protection work, you can still start your research by looking at your dog’s pedigree for information. Does your dog have many relatives with Schutzhund/IPO or other protection sport titles? If not, having your dog evaluated by a professional dog trainer who is experienced in protection work is a must.
Dog protection training involves bite training and agitation. Here are some points to keep in mind:
- Schutzhund, or any kind of protection training requires a dog with a generally friendly, outgoing and stable attitude to avoid teaching or triggering unwanted aggression;
- Protection training must be started carefully, to avoid teaching or triggering unwanted aggressive behavior;
- All protection training introduces more liability for the dog’s owner.
What’s involved in protection training GSDs
Before you begin
First, get your dog’s veterinarian’s OK, as well as a professional dog trainer’s opinion on your German Shepherd’s suitability for protection work. Second, sign up for obedience training classes. See our online basic manners course. Or, visit apdt.com to locate a professional dog trainer near you.
Make sure you have time in your schedule to add training to your dog care regimen. A fully trained personal protection German Shepherd Dog can cost upwards of $5,000. The high price tag is the result of hours that have gone into that dog’s training. Unless you are planning to purchase a fully trained adult German Shepherd, plan on putting in the hours needed to create a solid protection partner.
Taking care of your dog
While you should always strive to provide a healthy, comfortable life for your German Shepherd, this is even more important for a dog you expect to remain alert and athletic. A personal protection-trained German Shepherd needs to be free from disease, illness, or parasites. She shouldn’t have poor nutrition or grooming problems that might keep her from protecting you in an emergency.
Liability (a.k.a. understanding people’s expectations of your GSD)
The general public will expect your protection-trained German Shepherd to be friendly with everyone who wants to pet him. Your dog’s attitude must be friendly enough to handle even the strangest-looking stranger, unless you tell him otherwise.
You will need to make sure that your German Shepherd is appropriately confined. I once witnessed a protection-trained German Shepherd get loose in a neighborhood, and attack a woman in a wheelchair. This situation is not only unacceptable from a public safety standpoint, but could open you up to tremendous liability, if that was your dog.
Dog sports with a personal protection training element
Find qualified help
If you are protection training your German Shepherd, the first step is to find a training club with experienced people to help you. You not only need an experienced trainer — you will need good helpers as well.
What’s a helper? A helper (or decoy) is the guy in the “bite suit” (helpers are often, but not always, men) who is ready to “catch” your dog as your dog learns the proper technique for biting the “bad guy.”
Dave Kroyer gives you the rundown on what a good helper/decoy actually does, and why they’re so important.
Controlling your protection dog
“Drive” is a word protection dog trainers often use to describe a dog’s preferred activity level, and responsiveness to a handler’s cues. The simplest way to explain it is that your German Shepherd needs a lot of exercise and mental stimulation.
Playing fetch and tug are terrific activities for your GSD. (Read how to play tug the right way in Jean Donaldson’s book, “The Culture Clash.”) Also, using a flirt pole/toy combo is great way to exercise your German Shepherd. Any of these games can be used to help teach her self-control. Another helpful activity is clicker training. You can use a clicker to teach your GSD to climb agility obstacles will keep her mind and body in great shape.
Your German Shepherd should have basic obedience training before beginning any personal protection work.
Before hiring a protection dog trainer
Many personal protection dog trainers still use tools designed to hurt your dog, to get the dog to release the helper after a bite. This can include, but is not limited to, shock collars, “stim” collars, electronic collars (e-collars), prong collars, slip collars, and more. Sometimes trainers will tell you that it is impossible to train the dog to release following a bite, without hurting him.
The truth is that such trainers don’t yet know how to train the dog another way. Choose a trainer who is skilled using humane methods to teach a release. This requires work on your part.
Ask questions about how specifically the trainer will teach the dog to “out” after a bite. If the trainer uses any of the tools listed above, ask what happens to the dog if he refuses to let go after the first small shock or leash tug.
Read more about Training Police Dogs and Military Dogs Using Positive Methods, from Whole Dog Journal.
Resources to get a protection-trained German Shepherd
Der Schutzhund – The Protection Dog, Helmut Raiser
K9 Aggression Control: Teaching the “Out”, Stephen A. Mackenzie
K9 Schutzhund Training, Resi Gerritsen and Ruud Haak
Purely Positive Dog Training, Sheila Booth
Schutzhund Obedience – Training in Drive, Sheila Booth
Dog Sports Skills Series, 1-4, Denise Fenzi and Deb Jones