I’m rarely unarmed, so it might surprise you that, for personal protection, I consider a firearm as a backup—it’s actually the last thing I want to use. The protection of you and your loved ones should be a priority supported by a multilayered plan that starts with common sense and ends with deadly force. In that plan, a dog fits nicely somewhere between using your head and using your gun.

When most think of personal protection dogs, they envision a 120-pound Rottweiler with jaws of sharp teeth and a bad disposition.

That’s understandable. Images like this are right out of Hollywood. But the truth is, a dachshund or a Doberman can provide protection. The personal protection dog’s purpose is not to eat people but to keep you safe. The protection a dog provides can range from a bark at 2:00 in the morning to wrestling a gangbanger to the ground.

Personal Case Study

My family’s situation is a perfect example. We live in what most call “the country,” on 50 acres surrounded by woods. We have neighbors but cannot see a single house from our porch. Our driveway is long too, and on weekends it used to get a bit of traffic, including teenagers looking for Lover’s Lane as well as some less-desirables. For 10 years, our chocolate Lab met anyone who came up our driveway with a bark, leaving most who heard it thinking there was a bite right behind it. In truth, I don’t think our Lab would have bitten anyone unless they were actively attacking a member of our family. She was not a trained protection dog, just naturally protective. When she passed, we rounded up a German shepherd puppy. He’s now 100 pounds, and even though he looks like a junkyard dog, he’s still a pup. While not as vocal as our Lab, his presence is more intimidating for visitors here at Shadowland.

Defense Dogs Defined

Though not trained as a protection dog, shepherds are naturally protective of their turf and pack members, who in this case are my family. Our pup was obedience trained but by a man who raises and trains serious personal protection and police dogs for a living. Mike Kordusky with Mountaineer K9 Services (mountaineerk9services.com; 304-756-2561) is like the dog whisperer of the Appalachians, and he knows a thing or two about man’s best friend.

Before we get into the ins and outs of a true personal protection dog—one trained to bite bad guys—let me share what I learned while working as a police officer: bad guys don’t like dogs, any dogs. They bark and bring attention, they might bite, and they’re unpredictable. And in all but the most extreme cases, the dog’s size matters very little. I was dog-bitten twice as a cop: the first time was by an aging lapdog protecting his owner, who died of a heart attack while cutting wood; the second time was by an Australian sheepdog that was irritated with my being on his owner’s porch. Together, the two dogs weighed less than my family’s Lab. Any dog can deter a criminal (or cop, for that matter).

But, if you really want serious protection, nothing will beat a dog that’s been trained in the art. The mistake many make is in assuming that any dog can be trained and trusted for personal protection. Genetics matter with people, racehorses and dogs alike, and when it comes to dogs, you simply cannot make a silk purse from a sow’s ear. Obedience is a different thing: dogs are wired as pack animals and respond to the Alpha-leader concept. But when it comes to a true personal protection or police dog, it must have a super strong drive to hunt and play.

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