Nitro sits obediently at White Rock Lake after a run.

Nitro sits obediently at White Rock Lake after a run.

When I’m running with my German Shepherd off leash, people will stop and ask me how long it took me to train him or who trained him for me. I will hear admiring whispers from couples pushing strollers. Many people are attracted to him because he is very beautiful and very obedient. I don’t get a chance to speak to most people who are admiring him. I’m just passing through the park or running on the trail by my home, minding my business.

But once in a while someone will say to me, knowing that I own one, “I’m thinking about getting a German Shepherd”. I worry when Nitro’s beauty and obedience are displayed that we are sending a message that isn’t telling the whole story.

Nitro is a vehement guard dog.

Guard dogs, whether instinctual or trained, don’t know what strangers you are comfortable with walking up behind you and which ones you aren’t comfortable with walking up behind you.

Case in point: A house-call veterinarian had come to visit Nitro in our home. He became comfortable with her during her visit. He relaxed around her and she was able to examine him. She left at the end of the visit; but seconds later, before I could lock the door, she came back through my unlocked front door unannounced to ask me a question about driving directions. He let her know her action was very much unappreciated by rushing the door and barking wildly just inches from her legs. Close enough that I could see his saliva spots on her pants. Most anyone would be confused by this behavior on the dog’s part. Why would he become upset with someone he was interacting so politely with moments before? That is the good and bad thing about a true guard dog.

Real guard dogs are like alarm systems. They are going to alert until someone with authority disarms them. And if they don’t get disarmed, things will get turned up. Imagine the same scenario above but this time instead of a veterinarian returning to ask a question about driving directions it’s a service person returning with ill intentions. You would want your guard dog to be activated in that scenario, yes? This is how they see the world. Everyone that is not part of the pack is going to receive a hostile greeting until the alarm is turned off.  If they don’t have a solid, long-term relationship with someone, they just aren’t going to accept them coming into protected territory.

A guard dog displays his skill

A guard dog displays his skill

Most people do not need a guard dog. A large dog is enough of a deterrent for a stranger that might do you harm. I can only think of a few people on the entire planet who might need a real guard dog. I would not want to be one of those people. I did not acquire my guard dog because I sought him out. I acquired him because he lost his home when his owner got more than she bargained for in choosing this type of working dog. Before you choose a guard dog, whether trained to guard or coming by it naturally, think long and hard about what it means for the way you will have to live your life.

Dog parks are probably not in your future. Dining on restaurant patios with your dog is probably not in your future. An open-door policy at your home is certainly not in your future.

If you already have a guard dog, learn to think of the positive side of it and be understanding and grateful to your dog. They are working for you and you will never make them see things differently. Manage them properly; keep others safe at all costs. And by all means, make sure they get the obedience training they need.