Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV

May 7, 2012

Pet Talk: Security dogs require strict supervision


CNHI

- — Since their domestication thousands of years ago, dogs have been used to protect the home and the workplace, giving owners a sense of security against intruders.

The most common dogs used for protection are larger breeds like Dobermans, German Shepherds, Rottweilers, Chows, and Pit Bulls.

“But pet owners should be careful when using a dog solely for protection,” says Dr. Alice Blue-McLendon, clinical assistant professor at the Texas A&M College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences.

"When dogs are trained to protect the home, they are using their natural territorial instinct and can attack anyone unfamiliar to them, which may include a friendly visitor," says Blue-McLendon.

Dogs used for protection can also be unreliable depending on their own unique personality.

Some dogs are naturally aggressive and may attack any animal or human that violates their territory. Guard dogs are often trained to be aggressive toward people and may view anyone outside the family as a potential threat.

This may present a constant danger since owners can never be completely sure that their pet will not someday view a family member or friend as a threat.

Aggressive behavior in a pet dog may become an added liability for its owner, especially if the animal has bitten before.

"Many cities have laws regulating aggressive dogs and some require a special type of permit for those that have bitten other animals or people. In most cases, owners of protection dogs should look into increasing their liability insurance," said Blue-McLendon.

However, if you do need a specially trained guard dog, try to maintain control of the animal. Dogs in the wild remain submissive to the dog they view as the leader, referred to as the "alpha dog," and will protect it and the surrounding territory.

“Owners and family members should all assume the role of ‘alpha dog’ by taking control of their pet while they are still young,” says Blue-McLendon. “Puppies often view humans as dominant because of their greater size and age. Owners can further reinforce this image by controlling access to toys and food.”

Rewarding animals for good behavior helps them to see the owner as the leader or alpha figure, which provides them with greater control of their pet and may prevent attacks.

"Most guard dog owners do not realize that the presence of a dog is usually security enough and that specialized training may be excessive," said Blue-McLendon.

"Dogs are sensitive to their surroundings and will usually alert their owners to a disturbance by barking, which may be enough to scare away potential intruders."

Other security animals include some surprising ones – peacocks, geese and parrots, which can also offer some protection by using vocalized, "alarm calls" to announce someone's approach.

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Pet Talk is a service of the College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences, Texas A&M University.