Original article: Volume 29, Issue 18 | May 3rd 2013 issue of Dog News
Newspaper stories about an executive protection dog that sold for $230,000 have piqued interest in a new breed of guard dog. Although other breeder/trainers selling similar tupe dogs ask substantially less for them, they still fetch hefty sums. For example, Wayne Curry sells protection dogs he breeds and trains at his Kraftwerk K9 Kennel in Rochester, WA for $40,000.
But, $40,000 is still a lot of money. What makes these dogs worth the price?
The new breed of versatile protection dogs are multi-purpose canines that have little in common with the stereotypical guard dogs posted behind wire fences at junkyard lots decades ago. They offer the temperamental stability of a family pet, while providing security at the same time. They readily transition between these two behavioral modes regardless of the environment or situation.
“I don’t like the term Guard dog because, to me, it described a dangerous dog. A guard dog is bred and trained to behave in one way, in one environment, and one situation. A protection dog can transition back and forth between family pet and protector in seconds no matter where it is or what is happening”, Curry Says.
In addition to being playful and loving canine companions, protection dogs have some advantages over other forms of personal protection. Despite their initial price, they are less expensive than the cost of paying a human body guard to provide 24-hour-a-day protection for a period of time equal to the dogs lifespan. The presence of a protection dog also doesn’t intrude on an individual or family’s privacy in the same way the presence of a human body guard would. For people not comfortable with having a gun in their house, obviously, there’s no risk of someone being accidentally shot with a protection dog either.
“While an alarm system provides home security in terms of alerting owners and authorities to a break in, it can’t be taken along when an individual or family leave the residence. It also can’t play with the children, when they’re outside and protect them if need be as well,” he says.
Obedience doesn’t equal protection
Curry has been training dogs for 37 years and got involved with it after getting his first German Shepherd dog (GSD) when he was 8-years-old. It wasn’t until years later that he unfortunately learned an obedience trained dog doesn’t equal security when it comes to fending off thieves.
“early one morning, I arrived home from work to find the dog I owned at the time chewing on a bone in the front yard and the back door of my house kicked in. Everything of value in my home was stolen. Although the police were called to investigate the crime, nothing was recovered.
The experience left Curry determined to prevent it from happening again. He knew that, if a dog could be obedience trained, then it could be protection trained. But he wasn’t sure how to do it. His search for the knowledge to accomplish this task led him to a local Schutzhund club. Schutzhund competition tests a dog’s temperamental reliability, level of obedience, ability to track and to perform protection work.
In 1986, Curry began competing in Schutzhund trials with a Rottweiler. Since then, he and his dogs have earned just about every award in the sport, i.e. Highest Scoring American Dog/Handler at the World Championship, Winner of the American Kennel Club Working Dog Sport Championship, High In Trial Owner, Bred, Trained and Handled Award at the German Shepherd Dog Club of American-Working Dog Association Schutzhund Invitational, etc. He and his dog, Rudy (Oruger the Boom vom Kraftwerk SchH3), also have done numerous protection dog demonstrations, i.e., at the 2011 Chris Evert/Raymond James Pro-Celebrity Tennis Classic.
The Ultimate Canine
Curry’s next quest was to find the “Ultimate” canine. This led him back to GSDs. which he eventually chose to breed and train exclusively as competition dogs and protection dogs.
“I chose GSDs because of their innate courage. That’s something a dog has to be born with. It’s not something you can train into it. For example, some of the breeds competing in Schutzhund are bred specifically to do that. Because their behavior is largely environmentally induced, they may behave erratically if you take them to a place they’ve never seen before. When that happens, it’s because they can’t handle the change in the environment. I wanted a breed that would have the confidence to perform consistently wherever I took it. Top level GSDs often fly thousands of miles to a competition, as my dogs have done many times. After they get off the plane, they behave as if they went for a ride around the block, “ he says.
Tangent to the above, Curry also sought a breed that tended to be “stress-free”
“my goal is to produce a versatile , master level trained dog. One you can count on anywhere you take it because it never gets stressed. Stress is what causes dogs to make a mistake.”
Schutzhund competition tests how much stress a dog can handle – so do everyday situations.
“Stress comes in many forms such as when my sun has a birthday party and there are 25 other children in the house. I wanted a breed that can handle that kind of stress – one that doesn’t have to be closed into a back bedroom because of a party“
Curry also wanted a dog that could rapidly transition from protector to family pet. Again, he chose GSDs over other breeds like the Belgian Malinois.
“Although a top working dog, the Belgian Malinois doesn’t readily switch from protection mode to friendly canine companion in my experience. The dogs I train for competition or sell as protection dogs must be able to live inside my house with my wife and I and our two children. They must be house dog first.“
Some trainers think a dgo should be kenneled when it’s not working.
“I don’t believe that. In competition, judges look for harmony between the handler and the dog. It’s impossible to achieve that harmony if the dog doesn’t live inside with the handler. Likewise, a protection dog is only going to protect a family it’s bonded to. That bond can only develop when the dog lives inside with the family.”
Curry is the first American breeder to have American bred dogs compete in Germany and win.
“One of my dogs was listed as First Place in the German National Working Championship Catalog in 2009.” he says.
Most of the people, who buy one of his dogs, don’t want to compete in Schutzhund however. Instead, they want a well-rounded canine they can take anywhere. A dog that plays with their children, while providing a level of security. Since protection dogs fetch a tidy sum, buyers also expect them to have a good health and a long life. Curry’s breeding program emphasizes all of these characteristics.
“the very first thing I breed for is good health. On the average, it takes two to three years to train a versatile protection dog. Likewise, most dogs are 4-years-old before they’re trained to the level where they can win a national event. If you’re going to put that kind of training time into a dog, you need to know that you’re going to have a long time with it. Otherwise, it’s not worth all that effort. The last dog I euthanized was after he went blind.”
Since Curry wants a courageous dog with the ability to rapidly transition from active to passive behavior on command as already indicated, he also breeds for a balanced temperament.
“Most dogs are either too active or too passive. A dog that’s too active is easily stimulated mentally and has difficulty remaining calm. A dog that’s too passive is somewhat lazy and slow to respond to stimulation. I want to produce a dog that is in the middle.”
Protection dogs must be calm; yet, instantly responsive to any threat.
Protection Dog Behavior Is Bred And Learned.
“Everything has a foundation. We begin training by shaping behavior between 8-12 weeks-of-age using food reinforcement system and by marking desired behavior with a clicker. We teach a puppy its name first, then , we move to ‘sit’, ‘down’,’stay’, walking beside us on a leash and going to heel position on command,” Curry says.
It’s important to make sure foundation commands are taught correctly. Thus, he never rewards a puppy until it performs a behavior exactly right.
“We don’t give a treat for just doing a ‘sit’, we wait until the puppy is sitting straight. Anytime a dog is under stress, it reverts back to its foundation training. So, it’s essential that the foundation training be done correctly.“
After foundation behaviors are trained, Curry transitions away from food rewards.
“While the dog still needs to get a paycheck, you don’t want to be giving it food every times it does something. So, we look for what else motivates it. Typically that’s some kind of toy. We give a rubber ball to a dog, to play with, after it does a desired behavior correctly. “
While Curry’s dogs nex learn commands specific to protection behavior, he says breeding is the most influential factor in shaping it.
“The dog’s inherent courage, hardness and fighting drive are most important. For Example. I sold an untrained female puppy to a family a few years ago. One night, an intruder tried to jimmy the lock on their front door. He deliberately did it at a time when the owners were home because he wanted to cause serious harm to them due to their profession. The dog responded instantly by gripping the intruder’s arm, which was already inside the house. After the intruder broke free of the dog and went over a fence, the dog ran to the back door where another guy was trying to jimmy the lock on it. When the police arrived, they were able to nab the guy at the back door. Despite the fact that the dog had not protection training, she effectively stopped two intruders intent on home invasion. She instinctively knew danger was present and that she needed to protect her human pack.”
In addition to an instinctive desire to protect, a protection dog must have a certain presence about it.
“If people want to break in, they’re going to test the dog. They’re going to do something to try and scare the dog so that they can see what it does. If they see it’s serious and has the courage not to back down, most of them will leave. Only rarely have any of the dogs I’ve sold been forced to actually grip someone’s arm, as was the case with the untrained female I mentioned. Most intruders are deterred once they see the dog won’t back down. Protection dogs don’t look for a fight, but they’re ready to stand their ground and defend their human pack if need be.”
In situations where a person doesn’t give off signals suggesting he’s dangerous but the owner still suspects he might be, the owner can verbally command the dog to “watch him” and then reinforce the command with a physical cue.
“The owner physically cues the dog by putting his hand on it’s collar and slightly pulling it back away from the suspect. At the same time, the owner directs the dog’s attention to the person with his/her other hand. In this way, the owner can actually aim the dog at the target person. Once the dog feels the pressure on it’s collar, it begins to bark at the person. The next step would be to tell the dog to ‘sit’ and ‘stay’ so it remains by the owner while it continues to bark. “
For high threat situations where intruders are armed, the maximum a dog should be trained to do it to take the gun out of the person’s hand and then stand next to him and not allow him to move, according to Curry. This is called “bark and hold.” He does not train his protection dogs to knock an intruder down.
“In nature, canines know they can bring all other four-legged creatures to the ground. But most dogs don’t know they have the power to take a person down. For this reason, few dogs bite people.
If you teach a dog that it has the power to bring a person down and control him, that’s what it’s always going to try to do – and that makes a dog dangerous unless it’s handled properly.”
This kind of training is appropriate for a Police K9 but not for a personal protection dog owned and handled by a private citizen. A law enforcement handler must complete at least 400 hours of handler training before he/she’s certified to handle a dog trained to perform protection work at this level.