The State of Breeding Protection Dog in the US

Author: John L Lockett|Print|Return

I train dogs for a living and over the last two years my protection training contracts have increased by about 25%. It used to be people would just get a show or pet line GSD or other guardian breed and trust it would be a personal protection dog. This is not the case anymore. Because of the internet people are doing their homework. Individual buyers are trying to get a dog that can truly protect them. Often, they pick dogs from so-called working lines, dogs that have a long array of LETTERS behind their name, that come from sport lines, from Sch, Ring and even PSA stock. Most of these clients are paying top dollar for their animals, and said dogs look great on paper. Yet when the training goes beyond the prey stage I'm finding that over 90% of them fall short. I'm also finding more and more that contemporary breeders are not producing dogs with balanced drives. These dogs are primarily prey based and have very little defense. Bringing out their fight drive is next to impossible.

I fully understand that we trainers and breeders have to prove our stock in third party sports. But it used to be that these sports were designed to test all the drives it took for a canine to be a true protection and/or working dog. This is no longer the case. Today’s sports are designed for point and show, not for the reproduction of better protection dogs.

Immediately I saw the need to write an article that would help prospective buyers of true protection canines from falling into the trap of buying dogs that have been bred purely for sport and point competition, and not true protection. To my mind, the first thing that needs to be addressed are drives, for they are “the inherent instincts” that are needed for a dog to be a true protector.

Fight drive is the main instinct needed in a protection dog. Fight Drive is the willingness to go forward into or stay in a combat, even though it may be putting itself in harm’s way. Fight drive is a combination of Prey & Defensive Drive.

Prey Drive is “the inherent instinct to hunt, chase and kill prey.” For example, when a lioness goes after a gazelle, she is completely in prey drive, and not fight drive, because she has no fear of the gazelle causing her harm.

Defense Drive is “the inherent instinct to defend oneself, one’s family and one’s home,” through either fight or flight. Drawing from the animal kingdom for an example again, when our lioness is protecting the carcass of her gazelle from two predatory hyenas, she is in defensive drive. Her nervous system is under a great deal of stress, because she realizes she could potentially be hurt, and she must choose to either run away and leave her kill, or to fight and hold onto what is hers. Dogs put into defense will do one of to things: Fight or Run.

Finally, Fight Drive is the bringing together of a low Prey drive threshold and a high Defense threshold, which makes the dog stay in the fight longer before flight kicks in. The lower the dog’s defense threshold, the faster flight kicks in. Many breeders are not trainers, so they buy their breeding stock off of sports titles alone, particularly when buying imports. This, in my opinion, is a bad move!

Why? Because most top sports (i.e. Schutzhund, French and Mondo Ring) test the dog for only three of five things needed in a dog for the canine to be a true protector: Trainability, Prey Drive and Endurance. All three are very important. However, with good training certain compensating drives can be built which in turn masks undesirable deficiencies. In the above-mentioned sports, the dog’s courage and willingness to fight under prolonged stress and extreme conditions are hardly ever truly tested.

Again Sports titles have their relevance in today’s society and may be fairly looked at as a third party assessment of one‘s pet, but not as a breed suitability test. Here’s why: In my 14 years competing in protection dog sports, I've only seen two organizations that test the dog in all five areas needed in a protection dog. The format of PSA and APPDA competitions present the dog with the decision to fight or run very quickly. But even these sports can be trained for, and this is why I would not use them for breed suitability tests ALONE. That being said I would take a close look at puppies whose sire and dam hold titles from these sports, as well as KNPV titles, before I'd look at puppies with untitled parents, particularly if I or someone I trusted could not test the parents. (Yes, the parents, and not the puppies themselves: both parents and older siblings will show you what inherent trates are more likely to develop in a prospective litter.)

I mentioned KNPV as one of the sports I'd buy puppies from, because the breeders that compete in KNPV breed their dogs for police and military work, and not just for the sport itself. These individuals breed the most balanced protection dogs on a consistent basis. If we in the US started breeding our dogs for a job, and not just for sport, we'd produce a much higher quality of canine for true personal protection, dogs such as the police and military use, dogs that can truly do the job.

Just food for thought.
John L Lockett