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protection dog training

How to Train a Dog for Personal Protection (5 Tips)

Dr. Mark is a veterinarian. He has been working with dogs for more than 40 years.

If you want a dog that’s going to protect you rather than simply be your pal, here are five critical training tips.

A Personal Protection Dog Is Trained to Guard You at All Times

Do you walk alone at night? Are you in need of a personal protection dog, the kind of animal that will attack someone who threatens you?

According to the US Army Field Manual FM-740, an attack dog cannot make friends with anyone but his or her primary handler. An attack dog is fed by a single handler, exercised by a single handler, and never touched or given affection by any other person.

Weigh Your Options Carefully

Is this really the kind of dog you want? This behavior, and the type of training that you need to perform, can be a real problem when dealing with pet dogs. Most dog owners do not want a dog that will only respond to them. They want a dog that the entire family can enjoy. Even a person who is alone most of the time cannot guarantee that she will be home every day.

Do you want to own a good personal protection dog and also have a great pet? Do the goals contradict one another? These training methods are not for everyone, nor are they suited for all dogs. A dog selected for personal protection needs to be well socialized, confident but not aggressive, and have an interest in his owner’s every move. In Schutzhund training (“schutzhund” is the German word for protection dog) some of the dogs are still good household members. This is unusual, though.

Most are not.

Some dogs will be fine as watch dogs but are not built for personal protection.

Mini Guard Dog

5 Tips for Training Your Dog to Protect You

If you are sure that you want a personal protection dog—and not a pet—what do you need to do? Here are five tips for training a dog to protect you.

1. Teach Your Dog Obedience Commands

The first thing you need to do is teach your dog basic obedience: Your dog must respond to all basic obedience commands. He should sit, lie down, and come to you 100% of the time when called. Your dog should heel without a leash. In addition, your dog should learn and respond to the “bark” and “leave it” commands.

Important note: If your dog does not follow these commands consistently, or if you are not able to teach her new commands, you need to stop trying to turn your pet into a personal protection dog.

2. Socialize Your Dog

You also need to socialize your dog so that she does not fear new and unusual situations. This is best done at the sensitive socialization period (up to about 16 weeks) but of course this is not possible for all dogs.

Socialization can take place every time you take your dog for a walk. If you see a strange object, especially if the dog is nervous, take her closer so that she can investigate. Your dog also needs to recognize what a normal pedestrian looks like and not feel threatened, or feel that he needs to threaten, any other person he happens to meet.

Important Note: Not every dog is able to distinguish who is safe—and so of course not every dog should be trained for personal protection.

3. Teach Your Dog to Bark on Command

Encourage your dog to bark at the approach of any stranger. (If you need more help with this, here are my tips for training your dog to bark on command.) A dog that barks at a stranger can be more effective than a dog that responds to an “attack” command but does not bark.

Some dogs are not good at learning this command. I have a Pit Bull that I trained to bark at the word “urubu” (vulture) since she gets excited and barks at them on the beach. Now, when I want her to bark, I just say the word urubu.

Take note of what your dog does naturally and sometimes he will respond.

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Barking comes naturally to many dogs, but you may need to teach your dog to stop barking when given a command. When he has barked once or twice, you can tell him to sit and then order him to stop. If he does not stop, order the dog “down.” It is very difficult for a dog to bark when he is on the ground.

Important Note: If your dog will not bark on command and does not even bark at strangers, he is not a good choice for a protection dog.

4. Teach Your Dog to Defend You

For the next step in the training process, you need to find someone the dog does not know. The “stranger” approaches during the walk, walks up and challenges your dog. He can be wearing a dog attack suit, an oven mitt, or even a quilted blanket on his arm, but he may not even need it. When you give the command and your dog barks at him, he needs to act afraid and run off. Your dog will become more confident.

Personally, I think this is a good place to stop. Your dog has already learned to bark and appear threatening to anyone that threatens you when out walking.

Think Long and Hard Before Training Your Dog to Attack

If you decide to go further, please realize that a dog that has been trained to attack is not a great pet to have around the house. There are many anecdotes about docile family attack dogs and there are also many anecdotes of attack dogs that have injured someone in their household (usually one of the children). There is also the possibility that your dog might bite someone who is just coming up to talk to you; you can be sued and might lose everything you have because your dog is a trained attack animal.

The next time a different “stranger” approaches your dog and makes threatening gestures he will probably start barking even before you give him a command; if you want to proceed you should loosen (but not release) your dog’s leash.

You can then allow him to go up and grab the stranger’s protected arm. (You may need to encourage him by telling him “get him” in an excited voice, but some dogs will go ahead and approach the stranger alone.) If your dog does not approach the stranger, that person should put his padded arm close to the dog, threaten the dog, and encourage him to bite.

Important Note: If the dog cowers or shows fear of the stranger, he is not suitable as a personal protection dog.

5. Teach Your Dog to Back Off

This is really one of the most important parts of training a personal protection dog. He must be willing to protect you but he must always be willing to leave the person alone.

For example, if you choose to train your dog to attack (which again, I do not recommend), as soon as your dog puts his teeth on the “stranger” in the scenario above, he should be told “leave it” and given praise.

Important note: If your dog does not respond to the “leave it” command at this time, he can become vicious later and you will not be able to control him. If this happens, you must stop considering him for any personal protection training.

Personal protection dog training.

Training personal protection dog (Slovakia)

Breeds and Other Considerations

Some dog trainers do not recommend personal protection training for Rottweilers, Pit Bulls, Mastiffs, Dogo Argentinos, etc. These dog breeds will protect naturally, and additional training is not usually necessary.

On the other hand, it will do you absolutely no good to try to train a Basset Hound or a Chihuahua. So long as you can control the dog, I do not see a problem with training any of the other breeds.

Training Your Dog May Change His Personality

I do not believe you need to surrender thousands of dollars for a personal protection dog, but you do need to realize that training your pet is going to change his personality.

Your dog may fail to serve as a personal protection animal and still be an excellent animal. The statistics of the (SBK), a group that often tests dogs used for personal protection, indicate that the majority of dogs that are tested using the Dog Mentality Assessment Test do not pass. I have never had a Siberian Husky that would serve to protect me. My Pit Bull cross seemed to understand the requirements almost right away. Not one of them was a better dog than the others; they were all individuals and had different skills.

A Personal Protection Dog Can Be a Liability

Do not forget—a personal protection dog may also be a liability where you live. If he were to bite someone, and it became known that he was a protection dog, you would be more likely to be sued. You would be more likely to lose a lawsuit if your dog has been trained to defend you.

If you do not have total control of your dog, do not even consider this type of training!

More About Dog Training

  • How to Train a Dog to Guard Your House
    Do you need a dog to protect your property? Training a dog to guard the house is easy. This article will explain the process and discuss the benefits and some of the problems.
  • Dog Training Tips: Digging
    Dogs love to dig. This article will tell you the reasons dogs dig, and give you a few tips to decrease your dogs´digging.
  • Dog Training Tips: Barking
    The main cause of excessive barking in dogs is boredom. Boredom is caused by lack of a job, lack of a diversion, and most of all lack of exercise. Since you probably can´t throw your dog into the back of your truck and go to work, the next best thing
  • Dog Training Tips: Jumping Up
    Jumping is normal behavior and not something you should punish your dog for. If you don’t want a dog that jumps you can utilize these training techniques. Even if your dog is well trained she might make a mistake, though, so don’t punish her for it.

This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. It is not meant to substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, or formal and individualized advice from a veterinary medical professional. Animals exhibiting signs and symptoms of distress should be seen by a veterinarian immediately.

Questions & Answers

Question: Does a person hit their dog on the head to make him mind?

Answer: No, if you do not know how to train your dog without hitting him you need to hire an experienced trainer. Dogs respond to positive reinforcement. If you hit your dog he will probably eventually bite you.

Question: Why won’t my dog be aggressive to strangers?

Answer: Some dogs are meek, are not aggressive, and feel no distrust when around strangers. This is normal and not something you can change without abusing your dog and making her uncomfortable.

Question: How can I purchase a tough dog?

Answer: I am not sure what breed of dog you are interested in, but no matter what you choose dogs are individuals. You might choose a tough breed like a Cane Corso or Presa Canario and end up with a mild and shy dog.

The only way to be sure your dog is going to be a guard is to buy an adult from an experienced trainer.

Question: What dog breed is better for personal protection training? I’d like to train a dog not for my protection but for my son. Can I still train him or must be him?

Answer: Here is a list I wrote on the five best dog breeds for personal protection:

Some people buy dogs already trained, so it is possible to train your dog for your son. In my opinion, it is important that he participate as much as possible however because a lot of the personal protection abilities come about when a dog is bonded to his owner. If you are the only trainer, he is more likely to be bonded to you, not your son. (Some people that sell personal protection dogs say that this does not matter much.)

Question: My dog barks at strangers and acts like he would attack them, however sometimes he just turns into a big baby (mainly with women. He’s more aggressive to men) I haven’t really spent a lot of time training him but I was wondering what your opinion would be on him? He’ll sit, lay down, stay until something gets his attention. And off leash, he doesn’t listen.

Answer: One aspect of his being a “big baby” at times may be his age. A very young dog, usually less than a year, will act more submissive. As he gains confidence he is more likely to show protection abilities.

The best thing you can do at this time is work on his obedience off leash. He should respond 100% of the time.

Lots of work to do, but well worth your time!

Question: I am looking to get a guard dog, one that I can leave home with valuables and will protect against home invasions, and a dog that can protect me on the streets since I live in the city. However, is there a way to train them to not only protect me, but my friends I introduce to him as well? Or will this only ruin the training and it needs to be focused only on me? I am thinking about a German Shepherd. Is this doable?

Answer: A personal protection dog should be bonded to the person who expects to be protected by that dog. It is not a good idea to loan him out to your friends and expect him to do okay.

(That is why police departments with K9 units always have one handler for a dog, and do not let other officers mess with the dog.)

Yes, you can ruin your dog’s training by treating him this way.

Here is a list of what I consider the five best dog breeds to train for personal protection. The German Shepherd is on there, but at the bottom of the list because of the numerous health problems that afflict that breed:

Question: Can you please give me guidance on how I can train my protection dog to bark and bite on my command?

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Answer: Here is an article on how to train your dog to bark on command

It is not a good idea to teach your dog to bite. He may do so if the need arises.

Question: My eleven-month-old male German Shepherd is afraid to protect himself. He gets scared of basically everything, and I want him to defend due to the neighborhood that I live in. What do I do?

Answer: Not all dogs are cut out for personal protection work. Some dogs are afraid of their shadows and always will be–if they have been hit or yelled at they have very low self-confidence and are unlikely to defend.

You can increase your dog’s confidence in himself by taking him to obedience classes. If he does okay, you can enroll him in more advanced classes so that he will learn to be a guard dog.

A dog not suited to be a personal protection dog can still be an excellent guard dog. All he needs to do in most cases is bark, and let the potential invader know that he is willing to defend his territory.

Question: Do you believe a dog, with proper care, training, and guidance, can ever be fully trusted?

Answer: Yes, I would trust my Pitbull in any situation. She does not like cats much, and will go after anything that runs away from her, but if I tell her to stop she does. She can be trusted around my sheep, my horses, my chickens, etc.

Question: I have a male GSD who is reactive to people at night on walks. In the day, he will walk along a busy street and sniff hands. In the same way as teaching a dog to bark on command so can use the silence command; would certain elements of protection training help. i.e., harness his defense drive by putting him in that state of mind and then teach him to come out of it on command?

Answer: It is certainly worth trying since he is reactive at night. If this were my dog, I would also have his eyes checked. A vet might find problems with the retina or lens that would lead to a loss of night vision.

Question: My 11-year-old male German Shepherd acts like he is trying to protect me even if there is no problem. What can I do to correct this behavior?

Answer: Since there is no “cure” you can treat him and the problem will diminish but will not go away. When a visitor is present, tell him to lie down next to you. If he is not obedience trained it is not too late–yes, I noticed his age. You can also have visitors give him treats to counter condition him to accept people, look on them as “goody givers” instead of threats.

Question: Why would my dog be looking at me motionlessly when I give a command?

Answer: Every command or just a few? If your dog does not respond at all, revert to the most basic of obedience training and work on sit, then down, then stay, etc. If your dog just freezes up when you give certain commands, she may not know what you expect of her, or is afraid to do something wrong and be punished.

Question: Is my Kangal a suitable guard dog?

Answer: All of the livestock guard dogs, the Kangal included, of course, are suitable guard dogs. I do not think they are the best just because of looks. A big mean looking dog like a Presa Canario or Cane Corso will be more likely to scare off thieves.

Livestock guard dogs also need to be exercised, a lot. A dog like the Neopolitan Mastiff is much more likely to stay around the house, and accompany you when called to do so.

If you want to try and see how your Kangal does as a personal protection dog, by all means, do so. Not all dogs, no matter what the breed, are suited for the job, so if the start and find out that he does not have a protection personality you will have to accept him as the individual he is.

Do not force him to be what he is not.

© 2012 Dr Mark


Dr Mark (author) from The Atlantic Rain Forest, Brazil on July 23, 2020:

Stanley, group classes are often the best for a dog like that. She gets used to a lot of excitement (other dogs around) and with time will pay more attention to you.

Stanley Samson on July 23, 2020:

My dog is still under training and does respond to commands but some times she’s stubborn and refuses to respond due to excitement how do I deal with that habit to end it

Dr Mark (author) from The Atlantic Rain Forest, Brazil on July 19, 2020:

Krystal, I realize that is a really tough decision but for most people I would say no, as it is better to go through obedience and not guard dog training. I do not know where you live, of course, and maybe a guard dog is what you need to be safe.

If you are worried, focus on teaching your dog to bark on command. Many theives are going to be intimidated by a CC barking, even if the dog is not trained to attack.