A guard dog’s work is to protect against unexpected or unwanted visits from animals or people. While a watch dog may bark at an intruder, a guard dog will restrain or attack the intruder. Certain dog breeds have the innate instinct to become good guard dogs, like Dobermans and German Shepherds, but the instinct must be carefully drawn out so that when the dog springs to action, he can still be controlled if necessary. Guard dog training takes careful planning and execution; drive and bite must be taught, but obedience and commands must be enforced so that the dog remains a safe member of society, and knows when to guard, and when to relax.
At an age of ten to twelve weeks, guard training can begin with the introduction of prey. To begin, use a rag or sack, and make sure that the dog goes after the sack, not you the handler. To spark interest, make the sack come alive by moving or wiggling it in front of the dog at a distance just out of his reach. Once he is on the verge of pouncing, move the rag closer and let him snap it up. Allow him to play with the sack for a bit. You must now establish that the sack or “prey” is worth holding on to. To do this, attach the sack to a string, and repeat the previous exercise. Once the dog has his prey, permit him to carry it until he becomes bored and drops it. Once dropped, immediately begin moving and wiggling the sack again. Your dog will pick up the sack, and after a few losses, the dog will firmly hold his prey. When he does this, allow him to carry the sack away as his reward.
Because motivation and drive are so important in guard dogs, the behavior must be reinforced so that it can continue to develop in a young dog. To teach your dog the value of his prey, challenge him while he holds it in his mouth. Cautiously reach for a corner of the sack to show your dog that he is not the only one interested in having the prey. Give a good tug on the corner of the sack. If the dog growls, pulls away, or re-grips the sack, reward him by allowing him to carry the sack away.
It is important to teach a dog to grip his prey firmly on the initial bite because in a working situation, the prey may escape with just a slight relaxation of the dog’s jaw. To do this, use the same sack, but this time hold tension on the sack even after the dog has bit down on it. If he relaxes, you will be able to pull the sack out of his mouth. The goal is to teach the dog to increase the strength of his grip so that the prey is unable to get free. Next, try holding the sack just high enough so that the dog has to jump up to reach it. This teaches him to jump, bite, and grip tight, which are fundamentals of a guard dog’s career.
Striking, or pouncing to prevent the escape of prey, should be taught with a helper. Have the helper get the pup’s prey drive working by wiggling the sack in front of the dog’s face while you (the handler) hold him. Have the helper slowly move away, still wiggling the sack, until he is at a distance of about fifty feet. On a signal, the handler will release the pup, and as the dog closes in on the prey, the helper will pull the sack just up and away from the pup, making him pounce onto his prey. The helper will absorb the dog’s impact, put him on his feet, and allow him to carry his prey away. Instilling this behavior when a dog is young is not only easier because the dog is small and light, but introduces and reinforces the desired striking behavior very early in the dog’s life.
As you encourage your guard dog’s natural instincts to flourish, you should also spend time on basic obedience training. Remember, you are not creating a monster; you are creating a dog that will have the drive and ability to bite people and other animals, so you should always maintain control over his actions. Guard dog training can be a dangerous task; consult a professional trainer to ensure that while your dog is learning to protect, he is also learning proper obedience.