Saturday, June 18, 2011

Protection Dog

What barks when appropriate, has four legs, and cost $230,000?

Not my Elka.  Well, the first two are right, but she didn't cost more than our house.

Recently, the New York Times had an article, "For the executive with everything,a $230,000 dog to protect it".  Now, I don't intend to use the New York Times as the leaping-off point for many of my posts, but holy smokes.  I couldn't just let that one go.

It goes without saying that our dogs are valuable to us.  They provide us companionship, and indeed protection.  Some are trained and titled in protection, and that's a whole 'nother ball game.  Some seem willing to protect us, through instinct and (dare I speculate?) love.

Elka has never had to protect me.  She is very aware of the street in our neighborhood, however, and cars in driveways.  If she hears a car door, or people walking and talking, she will bark a single time, and then go to the door.  Depending on what she sees there (or thinks she sees), she'll growl and "sprout a mohawk" (as we say at home; "piloerect" is the proper term for the hair on the back and shoulders of a dog bristling).  Then I check on what she's looking at.  It's typically nothing; deer, a skatboarder, somebody parking down the street.  However, I always praise her, and then say "all done".  If she keeps going in a wound up way from that point, I say "enough", and we go about our business.  She alerts, I decide if it needs further attention.  I definitely want to know if there are people outside.  And I definitely want them to know, if they have ill intentions, that there's a big stinkin' dog in the house.

But did I teach Elka to bark when she heard something?  No, she's done that by choice and through instinct.  I am working on teaching her to bark on command, for similar purposes, and to work her brain. Learning new things is good for her and burns energy; a big, deep-chested Doberman bark is good to keep the house safe.  Not that I feel threatened on a regular basis, but you never know what people are going to do.

I used this picture before, to illustrate Elka as a dog scout.  Looking at it again, thinking of Schutzhund, it looks like Elka is alert and squared off, ready to look at whatever the source of the noise she heard was and assess its threat potential.  This is what the Doberman breed is for and has always been for; to be with her human and protect her human, should the need arise.  I do not correct Elka when she does things like this.  I look where she is looking, and then praise her attention and tell her "all done".  Instinct is great, but control is of the utmost importance.  

I discussed Schutzhund in the first installment of my dog sports, and I did speculate that it is probably not the sport for Elka.  She does not have a "sharp" temperament, and though I can't make a blanket statement about all Schutzhund trainers, I can say that I don't agree with a lot of the training methods that many use while pursuing the sport.  If Elka never wears a prong collar for all of her days, I'll be happy.  I know such a collar is not required by any regulations, but it is by some trainers.

But, if I feel my dog is willing to defend me should the occasion arise, why do people pursue Schutzhund?  And how could a dog be worth $230, 000, like the German Shepherd in the linked article above apparently is?  

Well, for one, Schutzhund is a competitive, engrossing sport.  People love to compete, dogs like to play, and to feel as though they are doing a job.  It's rewarding to go to competitions, and even practice, to win at competitions, and to have that close working relationship between dog and human.  To see dogs working, and working well, is breathtaking.

It's hard to put a price tag on something like "protection" or "security", though.  It's easy to gasp and scoff at paying $230, 000 for a dog, and I will say here that I will never pay that much money for a dog. I would rather obtain the dog as a puppy and raise said puppy, and do the training myself.  I don't want to buy an adult dog, trained by others (and still training with others, as the article seems to indicate), and expect that dog to be bonded to me and work flawlessly for me.  But, to the owners of Julia, the $230k German Shepherd, it was worth it.  Perhaps they weren't thinking of money spent, but what they had the potential to lose.  If you have a house as big as the one described, it's full of a lot of stuff that you care about.  It's likely also full of people you care about.  Is $230k a big or small price to pay, for the security of a loved one?  Of course, nothing in life is guaranteed, but is $230,000 too big or too small a price to stack the odds?  It's an interesting thing to think about, after you're done gasping and laughing at the initial shock.  Most adult, pre-trained protection dogs are still in the thousands, just not the hundreds of thousands.  But, peoples' untrained dogs come to their alert and defense every day.  It's up to the individual to decide.

But I've been happy with my choice.

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