Thursday, November 19, 2015

Selecting The Homesteader's or Prepper's Dog

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 Before I get started on the conversation of selecting the right dog for the job, I want to cover my qualifications to even have this discussion. I was a professional dog trainer for over eight years. At one time I was an AKC (American Kennel Club) Canine Good Citizen Evaluator. I have either trained or helped train protection, tracking, herding, competition obedience, competition agility, and basic manners to both pure bred and mixed breed dogs. I have done private lessons, group classes, and even boarded training. When my German Shepherd was younger, he was in the top five shepherds in the nation in his division of obedience. For those of you know know AKC titles he holds the titles of UD, CDX, CD, NA, NAJ, OA, OAJ, AX, AXJ, well you get the picture. I have trained dogs and owners ranging from Chihuahua mixes to Great Danes and from pre teens to senior citizens. I am qualified.

The Dog's Personality and Living Conditions

I have helped many people select a dog for their family or their application. There are several things to consider. Where will the dog live? I am of the opinion that any dog can be an indoor dog and there are some breeds that really shouldn't be outdoor dogs. Some dogs have difficulty handling heat, others can't deal with cold, you will have to do research for your climate. You will have to consider the cost of feeding and vet costs for your animal. For this post I am going to focus on the dog's personality and the age of the dog when you get him/her.

The Dog's Age

There is something to be said for adopting an older dog. If you adopt an older dog you are going to have to deal with the successes and failures of the previous owners. You can benefit from not having to deal with potty training, chewing everything in site, and even socialization issues, but you can also have to deal with mistreatment, failed training, inappropriate aggression, and more.  I am not saying that you cannot train out those failures, but there is something to be said for starting with a clean slate. 

The Dog's Personality

This is just as important if you are going to start off with a puppy as it is when adopting an adult dog. We are going to focus on selecting a puppy. Here is my list of selection criteria.

1. Don't be in a hurry. There are always puppies available for purchase or adoption. Unless you are bound and determined to have a puppy from specific bloodlines, you don't have to get a puppy today.

2. Sex of the dog. Is there really any reason to have one sex of dog over the other? Well, that depends. Females can be a little better with children, can be but not always. Males are larger and look more impressive if you are looking for the  "wow" factor. I have found that there is little to no difference in the intelligence of one sex of dog over the other. I have owned both and actually still do.

3. The temperment of the dog. I have made this suggestion hundreds of times. Do not get the timid puppy, but don't get the most outgoing either. Why not the most timid? It has been my experience that more dog bites occur as a result of fear than aggression. A timid dog is more likely to bite you during your everyday life and run when you are in danger. Timid dogs can be more difficult to train, and you can run into socialization issues with other members of your family.  Why not the most outgoing puppy?  The more outgoing puppies tend to have a higher level of confidence and a stronger will. You may be thinking,"This is great, that is the one I want".There is a price that comes with this higher level of will. The more outgoing puppies can have dominance issues. There are several breeds of dogs that if there is not a clearly defined leader in the house they are more than happy to become that leader.  Pick a puppy that isn't fearful. Pick one that will pay attention to you, not the most aggressive or the most fearful.

What do you want the dog to be able to do?

Certain dogs are just better qualified to do some things than others. This is not being judgmental, it is just a fact. Dogs can do a variety of jobs ranging from hunting companion to personal protection.  A Dachshund or Jack Russell terrier will be much better qualified to do rodent control than a Labrador and Labrador will be better at retrieving really anything than either of the two.We are going to cover several of the common jobs that a dog could have around the home front and some of the breeds of dogs that would be best suited to that job. In everyone of these areas there will be mixed breeds that will be as good, and in some cases even better than pure bred dogs. Don't think I am being a breed snob. In some cases I will actually suggest a mix of certain breeds for the best of both worlds.

Personal Protection Dog

You are going to find out quickly that there are divisions within each section that should be considered. In the personal protection realm there are two primary divisions; bite dogs and alarm dogs. The type and personality of the dog will determine what they will be best at. Some will excel at one area or the other and some will be fairly good at both.

Bite Dog

Bite dog breeds should be medium sized or larger. While you are much more likely to be bitten by a Dachshund, Chihuahua, or Shih Tzu, (and these bites really hurt, trust me I know) they are not the dogs that are likely to be real beneficial in a true protection situation. The honor roll includes breeds like the German Shepherd dog, the Doberman, the Rottweiler, Belgian Malinois. Other dogs can make really fine bite dogs; Great Danes, Pit Bulls, Pit Bull mixes, and several others make fine bite dogs.

Here is my warning. Find a qualified instructor. Do not train a bite dog using YouTube. Yes, I know there are lots of videos on there teaching you how to do this, and some are actually quite good, but without having a trained set of eyes to watch what you are doing, you will mess up.

A well trained bite dog is completely trustworthy with an army of six- year olds all holding plastic bats and a nightmare to anyone who would try to harm you. An improperly trained bite dog can be really dangerous and you really don't want to have to try to explain to a friend or family member that someone has died or was maimed by your dog that you trained without the direction of a professional.

Alert Dog

The truth of the matter is most of the time you don't even need a bite dog. If someone is trying to break into your home, they usually want to get in and get out without being noticed. These people rely on stealth. The yippy little ankle biters can do a great job of letting you know someone is messing around outside. Once the element of surprise is gone most intruders will flee. Schnauzers are really good for this.

General Grounds Protection

You may wish to have a dog that will deter any unwanted or unwelcome animal from your grounds. This is fairly simple to accomplish. Any dog that is territorial will defend your property and will chase any animal off that is not supposed to be there. Issues can arise when your dog isn't properly introduced to the animals that you have and want to stay on your property. Most all dogs can be taught to live peacefully with your livestock. Chickens, ducks, goats, really anything can be incorporated into your dog's pack. The only caution I would like to give is to select a dog of appropriate size for the things you want it to keep away. More than a few dogs have been killed by coyotes or stray dogs.

Livestock Dog

A livestock dog is one that has a specific job having to do with farm animals. The two primary jobs that most have are livestock guard dog (LGD) or herding dog. There are some big differences. The LGD lives with the animals. It becomes their duty to protect whatever animals they have been given charge over from anything and everything that is not considered acceptable. Both of these types of dogs tend to do really well with children if properly introduced and socialized.

Livestock Guard Dog LGD

There is some training and very basic socialization that is required, but many of the LGD breeds have a natural tendency for the job.  I have seen some young dogs fall right into the job and I have seen others that just couldn't figure it out. Heavy supervision is required for a while after introducing a LGD. LGD's job is simple- Protect the other animals from any unauthorized presence. I have seen some of these breeds take on coyotes, other dogs, and even unfamiliar people.  Common breeds of LGD are the Great Pyrenees, Kuvasz, or Anatolian. These dogs live with the stock and become part of the herd. It really doesn't matter to them if their herd is sheep, goats, cows, or even ducks.

Herding Dog

The herding dog lives with the livestock owner. Their job is not only to protect the livestock but to help the owner move the livestock. While a lot of this behavior is instinctual it does take some training to focus and refine this skill. A well trained herding dog is a beauty to behold. This is one of those things that if the dog has a natural desire to do this work, using good quality training videos are fine. If at all possible I would find someone with an active working dog just in case you ran into problems or questions.

Training these dogs and behavior can be great fun and very rewarding.

Other Jobs for Dogs

Hunting Dogs

There are many breeds of dogs that are excellent hunting companions. Which breed you should consider will be determined by the type of hunting you wish to pursue. While growing up we hunted pointers also known as English Pointers. These are excellent bird hunting dogs and when trained will hold a point with such grace as to take your breath away. These dogs are not good squirrel or deer dogs. They just aren't made for that type of hunting. I have hunted deer over a small pack of beagles and this is a lot of fun as well.

Draft or Pack Dogs

 We don't see this much anymore, but the fact is that dogs have been used as light and medium weight draft or pack animals throughout history. There is still a valid use for this skill even today. There have been several times that I have gone hiking that my dog has been equipped with saddle bags to help carry some of the supplies. Even if the dog is only carrying the things it will need there will still be fewer things in your backpack. I have seen many dogs pulling small wagons with children in them and I have even known one lady that had her dog pull a wagon that was filled with compost and mulch when she was working in her rater large yard.


Yes, nearly all dogs are really good at this one. Most of the lap dogs were originally used as flea catchers. The small dogs with longer hair would sleep with and stay with their owners. Fleas would leave the owners to be on the dog. The dog would be bathed each day and all of the fleas would be removed and killed. I know for most of us today this seems very strange, but it was one of the original uses.

Choosing and Obtaining Your Dog

Now that we have talked about several of the possible jobs a dog can have around your home or homestead and have mentioned several breeds we need to move to the next step. If you are not familiar with a breed of dog but have a need for a dog with a certain set of talents it is time for some research. Breed books are written by people who love that breed. One of the results of having a person who loves their breed writing a book about it is that there is a tendency to either gloss over or skip completely the challenges that are normal. When you are researching a breed have your critical thinking cap on at all times. Writers will use key words that allows them to believe they are giving full information without the need to be critical of their breed.

High spirited = needs a lot of exercise or will become destructive
Energetic = same as above
Independent = really doesn't care about its owners
Aloof = going to do what it wants unless the owner is a strong leader
Focused = when something has its attention the world could explode and it wouldn't know it

Well you get the picture. All of these descriptives can be used to be completely honest without conveying the true intensity of the behavior.

Adopting a Dog

 I have already mentioned that adopting a dog could mean that you have to deal with training mistakes that were made by someone else, but adoption still makes a lot of sense. Even if you want a full blooded dog you can still adopt. A county animal shelter not too far from where I live regularly has full blooded dogs that have been dropped off by their former owners. There are a variety of reasons people will send a dog to the shelter. Some of these include training difficulties, having to move, loss of a job, not researching the breed a head of time, allergies, and many more. Check your local animal shelter first. Remember the criteria I stated above for selecting a dog. Unless you have experience and are really talented, do not get a timid dog.

Purchasing a Dog

There are times when purchasing a dog is the best option. You have decided on a breed and you cannot find the animal you want through the rescue organizations that are near you. Again, take your time and evaluate each animal in its own rights. Depending on breed, bloodlines, registration, and performance records of the parents, a full blooded dog can be purchased anywhere from $50.00 to over $10,000. No, I am not kidding. If you were to try to purchase a fully trained protection dog you are looking at over $10,000 as an average. So you see this can be a huge investment.

Do you care if the dog is registered or not? If you do there are some things you should know. In the United States there are really 3 reputable dog breed registries. AKC (American Kennel Club), UKC (United Kennel Club) and the Canadian Kennel Club. I didn't include the Canadian's initials because there is another kennel club that uses those. The CKC or Continental Kennel Club. There are pure bred dogs that are registered by the Continental Kennel Club, but there are tons that are registered that aren't pure bred. Unless you don't care about registration at all avoid the Continental Kennel Club.

There you have it. If you have any questions about this topic feel free to ask. If I don't know the answer I will find out for you.

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