To avoid perils of guns, many buy guard dogs

January 03, 1994|By Fahizah Alim | Fahizah Alim,McClatchy News Service

It's 3 a.m. And you're awakened by the eerie sense that something is amiss in your darkened house. Then you hear it: A frightening thud, a low growl and a loud yell.

Your family dog has nabbed an intruder.

Sounds like a great ad for buying a dog for security, doesn't it? Actually, it's not.

That's because, most likely, if you have a dog, you won't even have an intruder. Dogs are such great crime deterrents that few burglars will risk breaking into a residence where one lives.

Dog trainers and breeders say so. Police say so.

So, as fear for personal security becomes an American $l obsession, people are increasingly purchasing and training dogs provide more than companionship. Imagine huge gnashing teeth and flashing eyes attached to a 150-pound hairy beast. That's a formidable opponent.

People want protection. While a noisy watchdog is often enough to send a burglar next door, many people are buying massive hounds such as Rottweilers, German shepherds and Akitas. They want dogs that can scare someone away.

Big dogs. Ones that will bite.

"People want these dogs to prevent problems," says Allen Thompson, a professional dog trainer and canine consultant and owner of Silent Knight Canine Security. Mr. Thompson, who has trained dogs for 25 years, provides guard dogs for businesses in Sacramento, Calif.

"A person can take a gun from you, but if your dog is trained for personal protection, he can't do anything with that dog," says Mr. Thompson. "This is an excellent solution to a pressing problem."

"It's a great way to go," says Sacramento County sheriff's spokesman John McGinness.

"From my personal experience of 13 years on the force, I have never seen a house burglarized when there was a dog in the house," Mr. McGinness says. "And if you have a dog with some kind of formidable appearance, it helps deter criminal acts and thereby reduce any likelihood of actual encounter with the victim and the potential adversary."

Business picking up

Bill Penner has been breeding and training dogs in Sacramento for 17 years. He said business started picking up a couple of years ago, and he trains from 50 to 80 dogs a year.

"There's a lot of crime, and a lot of single women and women whose husbands are away from home a lot are getting them," he says. "Also, people with kids are getting dogs in lieu of guns. It's really a good option. If you can get to a gun, the children can get to it."

The dog business has gone high-class, too. Although this is definitely the top of the line, one magazine ad recently advertised a fully trained Schutzhund German shepherd guard dog for $6,500 to $8,500.

Best friends don't always come cheap.

Obedience training alone can range from $200 to $400. But dog trainers are reluctant to quote a cost for training a dog for personal protection or to be a guard dog. They say the price is determined by the time required to do it, and that can vary based on the temperament and age of the dog. But a good nTC estimate is that it can cost $1,000 or more to train for basic personal protection.

Mr. Penner says he is very careful about training a dog properly and screening it thoroughly before giving it to a family for protection.

He urges dog owners to pay special attention to how the dog is being trained and make a thorough inspection of the environment and the references of the dog trainer.

"Accidents do happen, but it is not likely," says Mr. Penner. "A good trainer is not going to put you with the type of dog that will do something to hurt you. I will screen a dog thoroughly. . ."

There is a distinction between training a dog for personal security and training one to be a guard dog.

"A guard dog is basically trained to keep any intruder out except the handler or the owner," says Mr. Thompson. "Guard dogs are trained to protect property and are trained to be very aggressive.

"You can limit the liability with such a dog by kenneling your dog in a dog run, the garage or the house in certain situations when strangers or gardeners come around," says Mr. Thompson.

"But a personal-security dog is a family dog geared and trained to protect the family," says Mr. Thompson. "You socialize this dog so that he understands the difference between a threat and a nonthreatening posture from a stranger."

Mr. Thompson says that when he trains a dog for personal security, he is looking for a dog that has been socialized with people.

"You've heard of dogs that terrorize neighborhoods? I've seen those dogs and heard them. People have to jump up on the cars to get away from them. An obedience-trained dog is much less likely to leave his yard and go and get into trouble. It has a sense of boundary of where it lives and where it should be."

Mr. Penner strongly believes that dogs trained for protection are better than guns.

"There is no way a guy is going to take a dog away from you and use it on you."

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