Note: This is an interview with Ty Brown, owner of Protege K9, a business that trains and sells protection dogs. Ty has trained and placed more than 100 protection dogs in the United States and other countries. He also runs CommuniCanine, a dog obedience and behavior modification business in Utah. Check out his blog Dog Behavior Online which offers dog training tips and resources.
How did you become a professional dog trainer? When did you start training protection dogs? What is your role in Protege K9?
I started training dogs when I was 14 years old. I have always been an animal lover and since the age of 12 I had been filling out job applications at pet stores and veterinarian offices, etc. Of course, no one would hire me at that age. When I was 14, I came across a dog trainer and begged him for a job. He didn’t pay me but allowed me to apprentice for him over the course of a few years.
From that experience I trained semi-professionally for years until I landed a job as the training manager for one of the largest protection dog companies in the country. I spent several years at this company criss-crossing the globe as I trained and delivered protection dogs to a VIP clientele.
As the owner of Protege K9 I oversee the selection of suitable dogs, oversee the training and oversee the delivery of the dogs to their new homes.
I understand that trained protection dogs are meant to protect families and individuals. They serve as watchdogs and can be trained to show aggression, protect and attack. What else are these dogs trained to do?
Essentially a well-trained protection dog is a dog that can go with you everywhere. He can accompany you to the soccer game, lie under your desk at work and welcome guests for a dinner party.
When called upon, however, he is capable of showing aggression and backing up that aggression with an attack if necessary. At Protege K9 we like to customize the training for each individual client. Dogs are trained to be able to tactically handle a potential car jacking, ward off a mugging and handle a home invasion amongst other potential threats. People think that dogs will “know what to do” if a dangerous situation arises. This just isn’t the case. What we have to do is evaluate potential threats and design specific protection exercises to combat those threats. That might mean running to a door and barking to stop an intruder from entering or grabbing the arm of a man who is attempting to enter a car. If we want a dog to protect against a particular threat we have to train for that.
What is the most common misunderstanding about trained protection dogs?
I was once in a casual setting talking about my own dog who is trained as a protection dog. Someone overheard and immediately jumped in saying, “Oh, don’t train dogs to do those things. That will make them dangerous.”
The opposite is usually the truth. Protection training generally makes dogs more safe. Nearly all dogs have certain protective instincts and what protection training does is teach them how to use those instincts and when it is okay. Extremely advanced obedience is a prerequisite and high levels of on and off leash control are a must.
A well-trained protection dog is not a danger to those around. He is a great companion that only uses force when it is appropriate and commanded.
Some people think their (untrained) dogs will attack or protect their owners when necessary. What is wrong with this belief?
This is a great question. It is a myth that once a dog feels bonded to his owners that he will protect them with his life. Many owners believe this to be true when they see their dog bark at strangers or growl as someone approaches. Sure, there are plenty of documented cases where a family dog protected his loved ones. Most of the time, however, the family dog may bark or growl but when push comes to shove he will do nothing to protect. There are numerous reasons why an untrained dog is very unlikely to provide actual protection:
1- Actual protection requires extreme strength of character. Most dogs don’t have it. That is not a knock against the family dog. Heck, most people don’t have what it takes to offer viable security and protection. I know I don’t.
2- An untrained dog wouldn’t know what to do. People assume that just because a dog has teeth and a loud bark he knows how to protect. Well, most people have hands and feet but how many people could effectively defend themselves from an attacker without self-defense training? Dogs aren’t born knowing how to defend. They need to be taught these skills.
3- Aggression against humans has been selectively bred out of most breeds. For generations dog breeders have bred specimens with bite inhibition tendencies and the ability to be handled easily by humans. Many dogs have no problem growling or barking at strangers but would be very hard pressed to actually back up their threat.
Most of the Protege K9 dogs are purebred rottweilers, German shepherds and Doberman pinschers. What other qualities do you look for in a potential protection dog? Why can’t you train certain shelter dogs to be protection dogs?
There are several qualities we look for:
1- Sociability. A real protection dog needs to be very social and friendly with friends and family. We like dogs with fun personalities who like to play with their families.
2- Strong drives. We look for dogs that have both high prey drive and strong defense drive. Defense drive is utilized to teach the dog the reality of a dangerous situation and prey drive is used to teach biting skills.
3- Deep bloodlines. Just because a dog’s ancestry is full of quality protection dogs and sport dogs doesn’t mean he or she will also be a great protection dog. It sure helps, though.
I love shelter dogs but they usually just aren’t capable of protection training. Finding the right dog for this type of training is not an accident or coincidence. For generations dogs in Europe have been bred for very specific characteristics that allow them to be trained for this type of work. It takes a very special dog and that type of dog usually doesn’t occur by accident. European countries have incredibly high breeding standards. Before a dog is bred they are required to pass health, temperament, and training tests. This doesn’t ensure that each dog will be amazing but it does stack the odds. That is the reason why you will see that nearly every police dog, military canine, and protection dog in the world is directly from Europe or comes from parents that were European.
Shelter dogs just don’t have the same genetic make-up as dogs bred specifically for this work. That shouldn’t deter the potential dog owner from searching in a shelter for their next pet. If they need a protection canine, however, they need to look in other areas.
Has there been a situation where you invested time and money into a potential protection dog and it didn’t work out? How did you decide the dog wasn’t right for the program?
This does happen from time to time. There are times when it becomes evident that the dog does not have a stable enough temperament or strong enough character for the work. In cases like that the ideal is to find someone who is familiar with the breed and understands the challenges and to give them the dog at low or no cost.
In theory, if I were to come across a dog that was a danger or liability, we would have to consider euthanasia. Luckily this has never happened. We try to safeguard against these pitfalls by maintaining good relationships with European vendors. We trust that the dogs we purchase from them to put into our training program are stable and capable of the work.
Do the dogs receive ongoing training throughout their lives after they are purchased?
We encourage our clients to continue to come back for training. Obedience training is easily maintained by our clients on a daily basis by themselves. The protection training, however, needs the aid of trained professionals.
Just because someone has the money to purchase a trained protection dog does not mean he or she is a capable owner. Who should or should not own one of these dogs? What screening process do you use?
Anyone involved in illegal activities should not own one of these dogs. You may not be surprised to hear that drug dealers are of course interested in this type of canine.
We screen clients by finding out how many children they have, what type of lifestyle they lead, what their professions are, their available time commitment to a dog in the home, past dogs they have had and why they no longer have those dogs, their expectations of what the dog should do, etc. In all seriousness I have had people call and say they need a dog who is tough and mean, or a dog that will tear someone apart that comes through their door, etc. Those types of people who look to use the dog as a weapon rather than a deterrent don’t belong with one of our dogs.
Have any of your dogs ever saved someone’s life?
I once delivered a dog to a family in western Europe. On one occasion the dog stopped a break-in by attacking the intruder for long enough so that the husband could get his gun and keep it trained on the bad guy until the police arrived.
On another occasion the same dog halted a home invasion that could have led to the death of one or all the family members. Several men broke in with automatic weapons. The dog was sent to attack and did so. The dog was severely outnumbered and beaten as was one of the owners. His attack, though, gave just enough of a diversion so that a family member was able to escape the house and call the police.
Luckily this is rare. Several dogs I have trained have been called on to show aggression on command. This is usually enough to stop most would-be attackers. It is a rare case that a dog actually has to back up his bark with a bite.
Do you receive criticism about training dogs to show aggression and attack? How do you counter this criticism?
Absolutely we receive criticism. It is somewhat controversial what we do in teaching dogs how to use force.
I have been able to counter the criticism by showing people what a protection dog really is. My own rottweiler, Rocco (pictured), has been featured on radio programs and charity events where he has done protection routines for the public. It has given me great opportunities to share that these are actually very stable, friendly dogs.
I like to compare these dogs to our service men and women. When they are on the job they are capable of high levels of aggression to protect home and liberty. When they are off the job they are just as much family people as the rest of us. The same is true for well-trained protection dogs.
Breeds such as rottweilers and German shepherds often get a bad reputation for being aggressive. I imagine training them as “attack dogs” only adds to this stereotype. How are these judgments inaccurate?
If you study where these stereotypes come from you see that with very little exception these reputations derive from untrained animals. My hope is that our dogs and dogs like ours are ambassadors to the breeds. My hope is that people can see these dogs for what they are, benevolent protectors.
An untrained dog is a liability and perpetuates a stereotype. A trained dog breaks those stereotypes.
It is important to also understand correct terminology. An ‘attack dog’ is a poorly trained, poorly socialized dog that can’t be around people and is chained up in a yard. A protection dog is a family companion who employs an attack only as a last resort.