The term “guard dog” often has negative connotations . . . snarling, vicious canines as portrayed by Hollywood—often Rottweilers or Dobermans—who are all too ready to attack and bite anyone unfortunate enough to come within striking distance. In reality, “trained” guard dogs, in my experience, often are of a completely different type. These dogs are remarkably well trained to “guard” on command; they are strongly bonded to their “person”, and are typically a delight to see and work with in the veterinary office. During my early years working as a veterinarian in Boston, I came across two memorable examples of this kind of combination guard dog/pet.
“Maximilian” was a handsome 5-year old Doberman who belonged to “Victor”–a 35-40 year old Italian fellow who owned a jewelry store downtown. Every day, Max accompanied Victor, and spent the day mingling with staff and clients. On two occasions, Max “went to work” and helped Victor through difficult situations. The first attempted robbery was kind of a “nut case” who drew a knife inside the store and demanded money from the cash register. Max had no trouble intervening; he just placed himself between the crook and cash register, bared his teeth, and let loose with a deep growl—the guy fled the store at a fast trot.
The second incident was scarier–when a potential thief actually pulled a gun and leveled it at Victor, demanding money and jewelry. A quick command summoned Max; he launched himself at the guy, grabbed his forearm and bit down until the gun was dropped . . . then cornered the cowering thief against the wall until the police arrived. Robbery attempts declined rapidly as Max’s reputation grew locally.
Marko was a “specimen” of a Rottweiler; big and thick, almost 150#, regally calm and confident. He belonged to my client “Emily”, and had been “Schutzhund” (means “protection dog” in German) trained by a handler, as a young dog prior to the time when Emily obtained him—she had then worked with him and the trainer to insure he would respond to commands from her also.
Schutzhund trained dogs are taught to respond to specific commands (in German, of course); I found out how effective this was the first time I met Marko and Emily on an evening emergency exam. Marko had come up acutely lame earlier in the day after exercise; and was still visibly favoring his rear leg when I examined him that night. I was able to obtain an X-ray of his knee by myself that night . . . Emily helped me position Marko on the exam table, then gave him a “stay” command, and was able to leave the radiology room. Marko didn’t budge while I took the X-ray; Emily returned and “released” him from the command, and we helped him off the table.
As it turned out, nothing “bony” was involved—just a soft tissue injury (“sprain”), and he responded fine to rest and anti-inflammatories over the next few days. I was impressed by Marko’s response to Emily’s “commands”; and we spent awhile talking about Schutzhund training which I knew little about.
I still recall my favorite “take home” story from our discussion that night.
A few months earlier, Emily took Marko out for his nightly stroll along some side streets in the Brighton area of Boston. As they headed down a sidewalk bordered by hedge, Marko diverted inside the hedge to relieve himself. Emily kept on walking, knowing that Marko would be right along once he finished. While the rottie was out of sight, a punk ran up alongside Emily, knocked her to the ground, grabbed her purse as she fell, and took off up the sidewalk. Emily gave the “get him” command in German—Marko leaped over the hedge at a sprint, ran the guy down in about 15 yards, latched on to the fellows rear end with a huge growl, and shook him until he dropped the purse.
At that point Emily gave her “release” command, and the poor guy hobbled off as fast as he was able—Marko just waited by the purse until Emily came and picked it up. What I liked best about this story was the immediate retribution aspect . . . the perfect and effective response to a crime. My bet is, that guy was permanently “retired” from purse-snatching after “meeting” Marko!