What Do the Pros Look for in Security Dogs?


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I’m often asked “What makes a good security dog?” Usually, when people ask this question, they’re actually wondering about protection of home and property. I generally tell them not to sweat it – if your dog loves you, he’s going to look after you.

Actual security dogs, though (those that work with handlers for security companies) are a different thing. These dogs are highly trained professionals, and what security companies look for in security dogs is a bit different than what you’d look for in a pet.

Pets vs. Security Dogs

I can’t speak for everyone, but usually when I’ve had people pick out puppies from any of my litters, they’ll bond to the first one that comes over to them. They’ll disregard any little quirks, like nipping, barking or chewing, because they know that ultimately, the good is going to outweigh the bad. They’ll bond with the puppy, and love him for the rest of his life.

Choosing a security dog is a very different thing. When a handler that’s working for a security company is picking out a potential security dog, he or she is not going to bond immediately. Emotion simply isn’t a factor in the process. Furthermore, they’re not going to go to breeders like me – instead, they’re going to find a kennel that specializes in breeding security dogs.

There are very few such kennels in America. Two of the best are Vohne Liche Kennels (Denver, CO) and Shallow Creek Kennels (Sharpesville, PA). These kennels provide security dogs to professionals, and even to police and the military. Kenneth Licklider is a trainer at Von Liche, and he says that of all the tools available to the military when it comes to detecting explosives, dogs are at the top of the list. He points out that the best security dogs typically come from four breeds – Belgian Malinois, German Shepherds, Labrador Retrievers, and Dutch Shepherds.

Security dogs are usually adopted at two years of age – considerably older than the typical pet dog – and the selection process is very different. Licklider says that the selection process can be quite time-consuming. The handler knows what type of dog he or she wants, and has a really good handle on what the dog is going to be used for. The handler might test as many as 60 dogs at any one kennel before “short listing” one or two that might be suitable. The handler looks for specific characteristics, some of which might be very specific to the type of job the dog will be expected to do.

The handler will also look for any traits that might be problematic when it comes to training. Then, the dog will be rigorously tested to find out if he responds courageously and confidently, but without aggression. The dog will also be evaluated to see how he responds if someone approaches him with aggression – ideally, the dog will stay focused and calm, and not engage until the threat is up close. Then, the dog will make the decision to engage, or to retreat.

Once the handler has a good idea of how the dog is likely to respond, and has chosen a dog, training begins. This can take hours, during which the professional will evaluate the way that the dog responds. If the dog is deemed to be right for the purpose, then a contract for purchase will be entered into. Usually, good security dogs can cost more than $10,000. Then, the handler will begin even more intensive training, which could take up to two months.

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Play Drive

In choosing the right security dog, the handler will look at the dog’s play drive. How does the dog react to toys? When the handler throws out a tennis ball, does the dog chase it and bring it back, or chase it and keep it?

With dogs that are trained to find bombs, the desirable behavior is for the dog to find the tennis ball, and then wait for his handler to come and get it. Finding the tennis ball isn’t the reward – getting praise when the handler comes and gets the tennis ball is!

Every dog has a play drive, and a strong play drive is important in a security dog.

Scent Ability

Did you know that your nose has 6,000,000 olfactory receptors that help you to smell? That sounds pretty amazing, but it really doesn’t add up to much when you compare it with the olfactory receptors in a dog’s nose – 300,000,000! Dogs can break down scents into individual components in ways we can’t even begin to imagine.

Dogs are also able to “compartmentalize” scents. What this means is, for example, if a dog is working in a petroleum refinery, the dog can sniff around and say “Okay, all this is petroleum, and it’s a pretty strong smell – but there’s something else here! So, I’m going to just forget about the petroleum, and focus on what seems different.”

This ability to separate one type of scent from another is what makes dogs so good at sniffing out things like bombs or drugs, finding lost people, protecting certain territories, and so on. This ability is what leads wealthy, powerful people to use dogs to scan their private jets before they board, and to have organizations that conduct marathons to use dogs to sniff out bombs prior to the event.

Now, you might be remembering the Boston Marathon bombing, and wondering how the dogs screwed up. They didn’t! No bombs were found before the race – the bombs were planted during the race, after the dogs had already done their job. If the dogs had still been on duty during the race, the bombers would probably have been caught long before they were ever able to do their vicious work.

Bomb teams learned from this – you don’t just use the dogs before the event; you have them at work at all stages.

A Comprehensive Plan

If you’re thinking that a well-trained security dog is all that you need to keep you safe, think again. Although security dogs are a very valuable component in a security plan, they’re not the be-all and the end-all. A good security firm will use dogs, certainly, but dogs won’t be the sole source of protection. Generally, the security firm will decide when (and if) dogs are needed, and when they make that decision, they will choose dogs that have been trained to specific tasks.

In other words, a dog that has been trained to protect property will walk the perimeter of the property and ward away any unauthorized people who want to come in. A dog that’s been trained as a “bodyguard” will stay close to the person he is charged with protecting, and ward away (or attack) anyone who comes close. The security firm’s experts will know what’s needed, and will provide an appropriate dog, knowing that a good dog can provide a very high-level source of protection.

Related Content:

The Top Five Dogs for Personal Protection
9 Dog Breeds That Will Guard Your Home
5 Mixed Breeds Gaining in Popularity with Dog Experts

The Final Word

Dogs bring much into our lives. They are loyal, loving companions, and they can also protect us.

I still think that most dogs will protect us without any need for training. If you find yourself in a situation, though, where you are under serious threat, a security dog that is provided by, and trained by, a reputable security company can add an extra layer of protection. These dogs are highly trained, and will obey commands whether they’re “on duty” or off. They know how to deal with challenging situations and know how to react when things get dangerous. They won’t hesitate to look after you.

Security dogs have a strong play drive, a huge desire to succeed, and they respond very well to positive reinforcement. With a good handler, you can count on a security dog to keep you safe.