We are currently in the process of looking for a new family pet, with the German Shepherd Dog being top of the list. It has been suggested that we look at ready-trained ‘family protection dogs’ as a possible solution. However, I’m not sure this would be a wise thing to do, even though we have had dogs in the past. I would appreciate your expert’s views of the pros and cons of this subject.
Kirsten Dillon advises…
In my capacity as a pet dog behaviour counsellor, I would strongly advise against this. Firstly, a German Shepherd Dog bred to do protection work may have inherited traits, such as a high work drive (the desire to be permanently busy), hyper-vigilance (an inability to switch off), and/ or fear-related reactivity (described as suspicion or wariness towards strangers), as well as a heightened propensity to guard his property and people. Although such a dog may appear to be the ideal protector, the reality is so very different.
More often than not, a protection dog will be trained using more punitive methods than your regular pet dog. This has been proven to break down trust between dog and handler, and often has fallout because many of the dog’s natural fears and desires are suppressed, not changed. Even a force-free trained protection dog will be very difficult to take out and about, and you will find he will come with lots of restrictions as he may not be very sociable. Additionally, as a dog like this will not have been with you and your family since early puppyhood, you will never know whether he has been correctly socialised and introduced to the things he needs to be, and in the manner he needs to be.
A dog that has negative, or indeed, insufficient socialisation before the age of 16 weeks will always have issues, and these often result in aggressive and inappropriate responses to those things and situations they’ve never encountered or interacted with. If that happens to be certain types of people or other dogs, say, your life may well be made a misery, and you’ll have no choice but to avoid certain places and situations. Much of a dog’s desire to work for us, and live alongside us, stems from the bond we form with them, and this is achieved by living with them in our homes, and treating them with kindness, respect and care.
Get a German Shepherd Dog (GSD) by all means, but source one from a reputable breeder, and make it clear it is to be your family pet and nothing more. Meet both of the prospective puppy’s parents, make sure they are friendly towards you, and also ensure the breeder has had them carefully health-tested, as GSDs are prone to hip dysplasia, elbow dysplasia, eye problems, haemophilia (males), epilepsy and CDRM (a wasting disease that affects the hind limbs). Then seek out a really good puppy class where the trainer only uses positive and force-free methods.
Do this and you will have a wonderful, loving, loyal – and most importantly safe – family pet.