Good (Guard) Dog!
Every pooch needs a purpose. Train your canine companion to bark smart and be your home’s law and order.
A border collie without a job is like an NFL player with no football. With a flock to guard, this collie is in dog heaven.
My home security system is large and black – and she pants when it’s hot and sheds hair every spring. In return for regular feeding, periodic veterinary care and grooming, I get a beloved companion who barks loudly when any strange vehicle enters my driveway. My dog also chases opossums from my deck and rabbits from my garden. But mostly, my watchdog makes me feel safe.
I am not operating under an illusion: According to the U.S. Department of Justice, 16 percent of American households were victims of property crime in 2003. Especially in rural areas, the theft pattern goes like this: Thieves make a quick visit to a house or farm to check for security, then return later to take what they want. But a barking dog often turns off potential burglars at the scouting phase.
It’s no surprise that, of the 68 million pet canines in the United States, most are expected to perform some kind of guard duty. Watchdogs look, listen and bark to sound the alert that something unusual is happening in their territory. After that, humans take over.
Dogs have performed this duty for thousands of years. In Tibet, the little Lhasa apso, called the “bark lion sentinel dog,” was bred to work as an indoor watchdog. In Belgium, schipperkes earned the nickname “little captain of the boat” because of their work as ship watchdogs.
“Dogs have coevolved with humans for at least 12,000 years,” says veterinarian Andrew Luescher, director of the Animal Behavior Clinic at Purdue University, West Lafayette, Indiana. “Dogs are better than any other animal at reading human body language, and they are the only animals that can follow something when you point it out to them.”
Wayne Hunthausen, a veterinarian and co-author of the Handbook of Behavior Problems of the Dog and Cat, says most dogs – including mixed breeds – can be trained as good watchdogs. The exceptions are calm, less-reactive breeds such as bloodhounds or Newfoundland dogs.
“You want a dog that will pick up on unusual things and then discriminate as to what’s unusual,” Hunthausen says. “Dogs that have been bred for territorial reactivity – Scottish terriers, Airedales and standard poodles – make good watchdogs, but so do many others.”
If you decide to adopt an adult dog, ask the previous owners how the dog performed as a watchdog. With a puppy, find out as much as you can about its parents, and if possible, spend time with the parents before you decide to take the puppy home.
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