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Dogs "Protecting" Their Owners

Inside Edition recently posted a video on their YouTube channel. The idea was to test whether dogs would “defend” their owners during a home invasion. It was posted on April 26th and as of today, May 4th, it already has 7.6 million views. It’s certainly an interesting video and does a great job demonstrating how most dogs would respond in a high stress situation. I’m sure most of us would like to think we’re a team with our dogs. I defend you, you defend me, we keep everyone safe. Unfortunately, that isn’t how it usually happens.

If you haven’t watched the video yet, you need to! Take a look:

When I first came to work with Dr. Pike in September 2016, I thought I was well on my way understanding canine ethology. One of the first things I learned, however, is that dogs don’t protect their families. It was a bit of a mind blower. Protection dogs need to be specially trained to attack and release on cue; guardian dogs are taught to chase off anything that isn’t part of their normal social group. I know that sounds like protection but try and bear with me for a minute.

Let’s look at Schutzhund training first. These dogs are specifically selected for their stoic nature, their play/work drive, and their ability to work closely with a handler. In traditional Schutzhund, these dogs don’t bite work until they’re 2 years old. They focus on nose work, searching, and obedience skills first. When they do get to bite work, they shape the response just like we would any other behavior. Over time, handlers work to increase the arousal of their dogs so the bite is harder and more intense. This, however, is a cue-response behavior. It has nothing to do with “protecting,” they’re just performing a behavior that is rewardable and on cue.

Next, livestock guardians. They are raised very closely with their flock so that the dog considers them to be part of their social group. Guardian dogs tend to be described as “aloof” and “independent.” Basically, that means they aren’t friendly to anyone they don’t know. These dogs aren’t necessarily defending the flock, in a traditional protection sense, it’s more defending the territory from strangers or otherwise attacking the cause of a kerfuffle. These dogs are highly territorial and have a strong social bond with their animals.