COLUMN SIX: Watch out for the watchdog

A Doberman Pinscher. SUPPLIED PHOTO

Special to the VOICE

A good guard dog is a heck of a thing. A blend of close companion and working animal, they’ve been a part of the human story since before we started writing things down.

Modern dogs are trained to do all kinds of things, like track down missing people, sniff out drugs and explosives, and bring down the bad guys in a police chase. But guarding people and property remains one of the most common uses for our canine companions around the world.

Every day, people of all stripes use guard dogs in a variety of ways.

I was once approached by a man from Hamilton, who pulled into my driveway in a sports car, and announced he was looking for a protection dog.

“Okay,” I said, “what do you need the dog for?”

He didn’t skip a beat.

“Oh, I’m a bag man,” he explained, as if that were the most normal thing in the world. “I pick up money from different businesses.”

I had an inkling those businesses weren’t entirely legitimate, but I had an idea.

“Wait right here,” I said.

I returned with a large Doberman. The animal was as calm as could be while I led him over to the bag man, who didn’t look overly impressed with such a docile animal.

As he began to object, I gave a signal. Immediately the dog was up and barking like hell, teeth snapping and saliva flying.

I’ve never seen anyone run so fast. The bag man jumped back, leapt to the other side of his car and scampered inside. He caught his breath before rolling the window down a crack.

“Thanks for your time, but I don’t want anything to do with that @&%#ing dog!” he said, starting his car.

He glanced warily over his shoulder as he pulled out of the driveway and I never saw the bag man again.

The Doberman’s story, however, doesn’t stop there, though its ending is a sad one.

I was approached by the owner of a small-town hotel and bar in Ontario. His establishment sat in the centre of town, and all the locals would go there to drink and unwind. In recent months, things had been getting a little rowdier, with more and more people getting into fights and altercations. The man wanted a dog that could keep him safe and make people think twice before starting any trouble.

I immediately thought of the Doberman.

“I might have just the thing,” I told him. “I’ve got a dog here that’s darn good.”

I brought the dog out and showed him off some.

The man was impressed and bought the dog. But two years later, he called me up for a receipt.

“What’s the matter?” I asked.

“Someone burned down the hotel with my dog still inside,” he told me.

He was fairly certain arsonist set the fire because of the dog. Some patron or other hadn’t been pleased by the way it kept them in line.

“I watched that dog break up a fight between five grown men, and then hold them against the wall until the police arrived,” he told me. “If anyone tried to move he would give them a nip and quickly have them back up against the wall.”

“Another time, a guy came into the bar, had a few beers and then suddenly went berserk,” he continued. “The guy was smashing beer bottles breaking anything he could get his hands on, including some large mirrors. I brought out that Doberman and told him that if he didn’t stop I’d release the dog. Well, He wouldn’t stop, so I let the dog go and it nailed this guy. Summer time, shorts and a t-shirt—the dog bit the guy’s arm and there was blood all over the place. I called the dog off. The guy immediately started up again. I let the dog go once more. It hit him again and the man went down. Once again, I called the dog back, and this guy got up and ran as fast as he could out of the bar. Never saw him after that.”

That Doberman was a beautiful, obedient dog. But the protection business is not for hobbyists, and if you’re going to be involved with it you need to understand all the implications. You also need to properly care for and maintain your dog, so you can mitigate the risks to you and the animal.

And for the most part, the good outweighs the bad. Many of the dogs I trained for home protection went on to save their owners’ lives, like the Doberman I trained to guard a man’s garage.

One night, while the man was bringing the dog inside, a stranger quietly snuck in behind him with a knife. Before the homeowner realized what was going on, the dog bolted past and bit the intruder on the arm. The dog held the man until the police came.

In another instance, I trained a Doberman for a woman who owned a store. Late one evening while she was working, a man came in through the back door wearing a balaclava. He threatened to hurt her if she didn’t give him all her money. Luckily for her, the dog heard the commotion from the other room and came to investigate. The Doberman bit the man on the leg and held onto him as he tried to flee through the back. Once again, the dog held on until the police arrived.

I don’t train protection animals anymore due to the obvious liability issues. Rightly or wrongly they are falling out of style. And while it was always upsetting to hear that one of my dogs had its life cut short, it was equally uplifting to hear that they’d saved someone’s life, or helped keep a community safe. Such animals remain a testament to the incredible things a handler and dog can accomplish.

Like I said, a good guard dog is a heck of a thing.

Excerpted from Detection Dog Training: it’s not a job, it’s a lifestyle, by Pelham resident Sid Murray, and Zach Junkin. The book is now available on Amazon.

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