A DOG OWNER is walking his huge, solid black German Shepherd along a dirt road on a quiet evening. A strange man, his right hand in his pocket, suddenly appears behind them.
The stranger quickly and silently approaches the man and his German Shepherd. He closes the gap. The German Shepherd turns its head, stares at the oncoming stranger, but doesn’t bark.
It then walks behind its owner as if to shield him from the looming danger. Undeterred by the dog’s change in position, the stranger whips out a gun and grabs the victim’s shoulder.
In a flash, the German Shepherd lunges at the stranger, its powerful teeth ripping into the stranger’s right thigh. The dog owner lets go of the leash and steps aside.
The German Shepherd continues to tear ferociously at the stranger’s leg. Still on his feet, the man fires at the dog. He misses as the wildly flailing German Shepherd ruins his aim. The dog’s massive jaws crush the man’s leg. The man fires and misses again. The dog owner shouts a command in German. The German Shepherd immediately goes to heel and sits down. The robber sighs with relief.
The attack, which is really a protection dog training exercise, is over.
“That’s what a trained protection dog can do,” Eugene Reyes says as he beams proudly at the show put on by the German Shepherd his handlers have trained for the past six months.
A well-trained “personal protection dog,” he notes, is unafraid of the sound of gunfire. It won’t attack unless physical contact is made with its master, or unless told to do so, and won’t stop its attack unless commanded by its master and no one else.
Commands are normally in a foreign language such as French or German as an added protection for the dog owner. A protection dog is ready to die for its master.
Out on the training field, the dog “owner” and would be “robber,” actually two of Reyes’ experienced dog handlers, stow their gear. The “gun” is a starter’s pistol and the “robber” is dressed in a bulky, dark green, full body protective suit that resists dog bites. The imported suit’s right leg shows some damage from the German Shepherd’s attack.
This training ground is located in Quezon City, and is one of three such facilities owned by the “Eugene Reyes K-9 Protection Dog Training Club” founded by Reyes in 1994, the first in the country. ER K-9 is now the Philippines’ largest protection dog training school. Its clients are mostly Filipino businessmen and foreigners, and it once trained protection dogs for the Sultan of Brunei.
Reyes, a youngish looking businessman who has been around animals most of his life, explains there are two kinds of dogs: working line dogs such as personal protections dogs and show dogs that compete in dog shows. His interest lies in working line dogs.
Malinois and Shepherds
His favorites among working line dogs are the Belgian Shepherd Dog, more popularly known as the Belgian Malinois and the German Shepherd Dog, also called the Alsatian (Deutscher Schaeferhund in German). To the untrained eye, both breeds look almost similar in build. For Reyes, however, the Malinois is superior as a protection dog because of its agility and speed since it lighter, leaner and meaner than the Shepherd. Unknown to many, the Belgian Malinois and not the German Shepherd is the preferred protection and guard dog in the Philippines.
The more popular and larger German Shepherd is a very active and obedient dog. It is also highly intelligent and is considered the third most intelligent dog breed (the Border Collie and Poodle are number one and two). Shepherds are prized for their willingness to learn and an eagerness to have a purpose. They’re famous for their loyalty to their owners and bond well with people they know, traits often emphasized in Hollywood films that feature this breed. Remember Rin Tin Tin? Probably not.
“All dogs can be trained”
Choosing the protection dog for your particular need starts with choosing the right dog. While Reyes believes “. . . all dogs can be trained, even ‘askals’ (street dogs),” there are certain breeds eminently suited by temperament to the tough job of protecting humans.
“It’s easier to train a Belgian Malinois or a German Shepherd than a Doberman Pinscher as good protection dogs,” Reyes points out. He notes Dobermans in the Philippines aren’t as protective as either the Belgian Malinois or German Shepherd, and are mostly seen in local dog shows.
Malinois and Shepherds are more intelligent than Dobermans and show superior temperament, meaning these two breeds adapt better to different situations, locations and people than Dobermans which tend to be territorial, hence its fame as a perimeter or guard dog. Besides, Dobermans are specifically bred for guard duty.
Training Malinois and Shepherds to become protection dogs takes time, patience and money. Reyes prefers the motivational approach when training dogs, that is, rewarding dogs for doing a task. The quality of training is vital and dogs are patiently trained from 15-20 minutes twice a day over a period as long as a year by experienced dog handlers.
These two breeds are also favored as bomb-sniffing dogs by the Philippine National Police. These “sniffer dogs” can be trained to detect explosives when they’re as young as three months. The key is training the dogs to recognize the unique smell of the main ingredient in an explosive, which is often TNT.
“The club system”
Reyes also continues to emphasize a unique training system he introduced in the 1990s that involves training the dog with its owner. Reyes believes training the dog together with his master—which he calls “the club system”—is the most efficient way of training a dog. He suggests owners train with their dogs twice a week. Many obedience dog schools in the 1990s, however, required owners leave their dogs with them for up to six months.
An interesting aspect in training protection dogs is conditioning them not to be afraid of gunfire, blows from sticks, fists, feet and other hard objects. In training, dogs are often struck with bamboo sticks to remove their fear of strikes. The animals are also often exposed to the sound of gunfire. As Reyes points out, a dog that turns tail and runs away at the sound of gunfire is obviously not a protection dog.
“We gun test the dog to see its reaction. If it’s scared of gunfire, it’s always a no-no. We do this so the dog’s owner doesn’t waste his time and money trying to train a dog unsuitable for protection.”
How a dog is treated at home is every bit as important as the protection training it receives. “You should treat your dog like a dog but love it like a human,” is Reyes’ advice to dog owners. You should also treat your dog like another person in the family.
Dogs are man’s best friend—and can be man’s best protector if well trained. Eugene Reyes let the dogs out of an old training system into a new one that made dogs both man’s best friend and protector. I’ll howl to that.