Guard Dog Training Basics
As a guard dog trainer, you will learn how to
prevent problems with the training of your guard dog and how to redirect,
focus and reward your dog
for correct behavior, rather than just react, yell and give ineffective
commands when you’re confronted with unacceptable behavior.
Hopefully, you will also learn some of the crucial principles of guard dog training, so you
can teach your dog what I call “foundation level” off-leash training,
and, very importantly, teach this type of training whenever possible
before you start on-leash work.
The First Basic Principle of Guard Dog Training
The first basic principles that all guard dog owners need to learn
and follow is to be consistent.
When dealing with the training of any animal, you must set a standard of
Acceptable behaviors. A behavior is either acceptable or it isn’t. It can’t
be acceptable on alternate Tuesdays when you’re in the mood. For
example, it can’t be OK to allow your dog to jump all over you
on the weekends when you’re in casual clothes, but not during the
week when you’re dressed for work. That’s an obvious one,
although you’d be amazed how many people I’ve met who do
Here’s one that’s less obvious. It can’t be OK for your dog to
chew fabric toys but not to chew “inappropriate” fabric items. In
other words, if you give your dog an old sock and say, “Here,
chew this,” don’t be surprised when she eats your shirt.
Consistency is a bit easier for singles or couples, and toughest
for families. The more people who interact with the dog, the
greater the likelihood of inconsistency. I strongly recommend that
families conduct a few meetings to discuss and agree upon what
will be universally unacceptable behavior on the part of the dog.
Everyone needs to clearly understand what the rules will be for a
training program to be most successful. That being said, we live
in the real world and I recognize how difficult consistency on the part of a six-year-old child will likely be. Parents of younger children
will need to practice a fair amount of prevention and understand
that the dog’s training process may be a little bit more
difficult and prolonged.
Listening to Guard Dog Obedience Commands
If you want your dog to learn to listen to obedience commands the first time they’re given,
you need to be prepared to properly teach your dog to obey them
the first time. This is most effectively accomplished if the initial
foundation-level obedience you teach around the house is done
Decades ago the idea that a guard dog needed to obey
commands the first time they were given would not have drawn
comment. Today, there are many guard dog trainers who are uncomfortable
with the idea that their dog should be trained to respond so predictably.
I’ve had owners object, based on the idea that they did
not want their dogs “to become robots.” It is important for these
guard dog owners to understand that, first of all, if training is primarily done
with compassion and reward this will not happen; and second of
all, you might not care if your dog listens on the first command
until the very first time she runs out into the street. Then, as cars
are barreling toward her, you will pray she listens on the first
command, because you may never get a second one.
Guard Dog Training Off-Leash Control
Most dog trainers need and want their guard dog to respond to obedience commands
when their dog is not sporting a leash. This is not to say that most
guard dog owners want their dogs to walk down a busy street off leash. In fact,
this can be very dangerous no matter how well trained your guard dog is, and may
also violate local and state leash laws. That being said, your dog doesn’t live on
a leash and, as such, has to listen to some commands off the leash.
Guard Dogs and Off-Leash Control
Off-leash guard dog control needs to be attained, at the very least, around the
house, in the yard and possibly in the neighborhood as most guard dogs are also considered a household pet and family member. The big question
is, when does obedience training for dogs start and how does a guard dog owner typically
go about getting off-leash control of this type?
The real answer is, obedience training starts from the very second
you, the dog trainer, start giving your guard dog obedience commands. Most owners
start giving their dog commands on the very first day.
But when should formal training start? The answer varies, because
generally your dog will need to have some inoculations before being
admitted to a class with other dog breeds. Speak to your veterinarian about
these inoculations, but please understand that diseases such as parvovirus and distemper
are nothing to ignore. They can be nasty, fatal and can strike
young guard dogs who are not inoculated against them. Typically most classes
won’t allow young puppies to be enrolled before 14 weeks of age. If
you get your dog at 10 weeks of age, this means a month before you
start any kind of formal dog obedience training. It is during this month that most owners
start to make mistakes that often make obedience training much
more difficult to teach down the road.
Guard Dogs and Formal Training
Conventional training wisdom goes something like this: When you
start formal training, you put the guard dog on a leash and some form of
training collar. For many years the training collar most commonly used
was a metal-link slip collar, usually called a choke chain. There are
numerous choke chain variations. Some links are bigger, some smaller,
some irregularly shaped, some are made of nylon, but all work on the
same noose-type principle. That is, when you pull one end of the collar,
it tightens around the dog’s neck. When you release that end, the
collar loosens again.
Prong collars, sometimes called pinch collars, were once also routinely
used. These devices work in a similar fashion to a choke chain,
but the prongs pinch the dog’s neck when the collar tightens. It sounds
worse than it is, but it is clearly not a device designed to be pleasurable
for your dog.
When you take the leash off, the dog is far less inclined to listen.
In some instances, the dog doesn’t listen at all! I’ve seen dogs who
were absolutely, perfectly obedient on leash completely “forget” their
training when the leash came off.
Entire dog training methods have been developed to overcome this
problem. These include light lines, where a very light nylon cord or
even monofilament is put on the dog’s collar, so that when the leash is
taken off the handler can step on the monofilament or grab it (with
gloves), thus preventing the dog from escaping and teaching him that
you still have control.
Smaller leashes, or gradually cutting a six-foot leash to five feet,
four feet, two feet, etc., have also been used. This is because we’ve all
seen dogs who listen perfectly on a six-foot leash. You could even drop
the six-foot leash and walk 10, 20 or 40 feet away and the dog would
still listen. If a dog listens on a six-foot leash when you’re 40 feet
away, is the leash really necessary? Many people would say no and
remove the leash. The problem is, when you take the leash off, the dog
often runs away. To overcome this, instead of taking the leash off you
start to gradually cut it down. First five feet, then four, until finally the
dog is left wearing the metal clip portion of the leash. Many dogs
responded to this technique, although some started to run when the
leash got shorter than one or two feet. Many dog trainers still find the challenge
of getting dogs to listen off leash among the most difficult they
have to deal with.
Guard Dog Barking Training
Guard dogs who bark at the presence of intruders can be valuable assets but for guard dog
Owners who have close neighbors that barking dogs are such a problem in our society, inasmuch
as barking as an alarm must have been one of the main reasons we domesticated dogs in the first place. Usually, it isn’t the barking that is a problem—it’s just that the dog is a little too
enthusiastic. Most people want their guard dogs to let them know when someone
has stepped onto the property. Barking becomes a problem only if the dog doesn’t
settle down when you ask guard dog to. As a guard dog trainer, until you have this problem under control,
keep your dog on leash at all times when
you are supervising your dog. This way, you
have a gentle, effective means of preventing guard dog
from rushing to the door and barking uncontrollably.
Teach your dog to bark and be quiet on cue and to have an
Have your dog’s dinner kibble on hand. Ask your dog to speak
(request), instruct your visitors to knock on the door when they hear you
say this (stimulus), and let your dog know that barking was the right
response by saying “thank you.” At this point, your dog may look a bit
shocked. After all, they are probably used to being yelled at when they bark.
Now, to get guard dog to be quiet, say “shush” (request) and waggle a very
tasty treat in front of guard dog nose. Once they sniff the food, they will be quiet,
so give it to them as a reward
Repeat this process many times, and your dog will become increasingly
aware of how much fun it is to speak on request and how rewarding it is
to shush on request.
Guard Dogs Training: The Yard Barker
Barking dogs are one of the most common complaints of urban and suburban
neighbors. Obviously, a dog left outside will alert to all the visual and
Dogs are usually relegated to the yard because they’re not housetrained
or chew-toy trained. If that’s the case, housetrain and chew-toy train your
dog. Rescue guard dog from the backyard and bring guard dog into your home!
Giving your dog a few well-stuffed chew toys is the easiest and most
effective way to prevent barking.. A well-stuffed chew toy will keep your dog busy
for an hour or more. If you need to, put food bowl away and feed guard dog only from
guard dog chew toys. You’ll keep guard dog very busy!
Many people inadvertently train their dogs to bark for attention by
responding to barks and whines. This is especially true with young puppies
and very tiny dogs whose little whimpers and whines bring their owners
running. However, regardless of size, most dogs develop a formidable
bark that is likely to become more demanding in nature as they learn to
expect a response. What starts off as a soft little whimper can quickly turn
into an ear-piercing shout—the dog’s way of saying “I want attention!
And I want it now!”
You can prevent your dog from learning that barking and whining is
an effective way to get your attention simply by ignoring any vocalization.
Admittedly, doing so can be difficult at first, but most dogs figure out
quickly that vocalizing doesn’t work. They are also quick to figure out if it
does work, so be careful not to reinforce this behavior occasionally by
talking to or even looking at your dog when they bark for attention.
If your dog has already been reinforced for barking for attention, you
can teach your guard dog that it no longer works simply by starting fresh and ignoring
them when they bark. When you’re relaxed and in a good mood, tie your
dog to a secure spot in the house and get a good book to read. Sit next to
your dog and ignore them. If they whine or bark, ignore your guard dog or move a
short distance away.
Your dog will soon realize that barking means you leave and quiet means
you return. When they are quiet for a few moments, you can click or say
“yes” and reward your dog with a tiny treat. You can also praise your dog very calmly.