Q: There have been burglaries in our neighborhood and we're thinking about getting a dog.
A: I do not recommend getting a dog just for security. If that's your aim, it's better to form a neighborhood watch group and invest in a security system, perimeter lighting and other anti-crime strategies. And I would never suggest protection training to the average pet owner.
Too often, I hear from owners who are having problems with the dogs they got for protection. People with a large, aggressive breed that's really "not for beginners" are sometimes unable to handle the challenges to authority that are a natural part of a dog's makeup, especially in breeds that were developed for guarding or fighting.
Such animals need owners who are familiar with training techniques, know how to be firm yet fair with discipline, and are able to recognize and correct displays of aggression before they become serious problems. Dominant dogs can become dangerous in the hands of tentative and fearful owners.
The most important thing is to make sure a dog fits into your life -- or don't get onel, no matter what the circumstances. What good will it do if you end up with a dangerous dog, or a neglected, destructive animal?
If you're ready to care for a dog, you have a lot to choose from. Not only can most medium and large dogs give a criminal pause, but small, yappy dogs can also be effective. Authorities say that if a criminal really wants to break in to your home, he will manage it, but most will head for an easier mark when faced with a secure home.
Still, some breeds are "scarier" than others, even though in many cases the fear isn't justified. A Doberman, German shepherd or boxer commands more respect than your average cocker spaniel.
For the average pet owner, an obedience-trained dog from one of the guarding breeds is all that's really needed, and as much as most could handle. After all, if an obedience-trained dog lapses, you've got a pest on your hands. If a protection-trained dog lapses, you've got a weapon out of control.
Ms. Spadafori is a newspaper reporter and an animal obedience trainer in Sacramento, Calif. Questions about pets may be sent to her c/o Saturday, The Sun, 501 N. Calvert St., Baltimore, Md. 21278.