Goldy was one my most favorite Labrador Retrievers. Her real name was Champion Gold Brocade of Gem, an offspring of parents imported from the famous Sandyland Kennel of England. Like her lineage she was a great dog. I call her great because she started learning the ropes of obedience at the age of four. Before that she was trained to heel and stand for the show. Once I put her on an obedience schedule, within no time she picked up the commands of stay, fetch, search and speak.
Seeing her fervor I decided to teach her to guard as well. She had great attachment for her ball and the mattress. A guard dog has to apply lot of discretion, especially when reared as a pet dog. The guard dogs with security and police are always accompanied by a handler, but a dog may be guarding a house or anything with the handler/owner out of sight. Thus if he attacks a person whom he presumes to be an intruder can lead to lots of problems for the owner. That is why normally while training dogs I call it a day when we reach the command to speak.
In Goldy I found a big quality; she never attacked any person or chased anyone or even other dogs and cattle on the road. In case street dogs barked at her she ignored them as if they do not exist and continued to walk with me briskly. This was the quality which prompted me to teach her to guard.
Teaching Goldy was not that big problem, but finding a volunteer unknown to Goldy. The problem with Labradors is that they are unusually friendly, but touchwood, Goldy, once she had picked up to speak, she started giving tongue when someone approached the gate or rang the bell! A doggy friend agreed to volunteer to act as an ‘intruder’. Still as a precaution for first week I kept her tied to a post with her mattress and ball near her. She preferred to sit on the mattress and keep the ball between her front paws. Just to get in to a habit of being more possessive I used to try to take the ball from her, without uttering a word. She would clasp it tightly and even give a delayed growl.
That is what I wanted to check. It is this instinct of possession which makes the dog give tongue if an intruder enters the premises and also charge if situation demands. Then I asked the ‘intruder’ friend to enter the gate which was ‘inadvertently’ left ajar. Goldy was tied to a post with a ‘longish’ leash. I gave her the command to down and stay and vanished from the scene. At the appointed signal the ‘intruder’ stealthily entered the house. He was within five feet when she suddenly saw him. I could see through the blind behind which I was hiding that Goldy’s nostrils were working overtime, a sure sign of excitement building within her. Her paws tightened their grips round the ball. The ‘intruder’ moved towards her in a deliberate slow motion, staring in to her eyes. As I said in one of the initial blogs, staring in to the eyes of a dog amounts to a challenge, she gave a deep throated growl. Precisely at that moment I said from my hiding in a whisper Goldy speak. Within a split second she stood up, she bared her teeth, heckles raised and gave a loud bark. The ‘intruder’ acted as if he was scared and tried to walk away fast. Goldy barked repeatedly. I came out and praised her and quieted her.
I knew she had picked up the cue. But she had to learn to charge. Next day same drama was reenacted, but this time Goldy was left in sit stay position. The ‘intruder’ was advised to approach her at a fast pace. As a precaution I had padded his right arm with which he was supposed to snatch her ball. This time I added additional command to stay-that was Goldy, stay (pause) guard.
I was surprised to see Goldy charge the intruder when he was within her range. Instead of trying to bite the arm, she just flew at him and hit him on the chest. Imagine a 35 kg missile hit your chest suddenly! Poor guy fell down, fortunately the grass was soft and he didn’t get hurt.
Goldy had learnt her lesson. It was repeated a few times more with the same person and also with three other persons. Each time found the same pattern. Goldy would just fling herself at the intruder, make him fall and stand overhead, her fangs bared. This was enough to deter a person with evil design I thought!
A practical demonstration of the lesson learnt was enacted a few months later. There is a place called Tanakpur (now in Uttarakhand) on Indo-Nepal Border. I was camping there with other two colleagues. We were searching for vertebrate fossils in the dense Siwalik forests. The area was notorious for wild life and the ‘Chowkidar’ of the Forest Inspection House where we were camping told us that a leopard often made rounds of the Inspection House. It was early April and the nights were stuffy inside the room. I put my camp cot on the lawn, with a mosquito net, as the area was also notorious for Malaria.
It was a full moon night and the night was extremely pleasant. With Goldy tied to my bed, I snored off. I think it was around 2 AM, and there was a deafening roar. I was getting suffocated. It took me a few seconds to realise that the bed had turned upside down and the mosquito net had wrapped around me, almost stifling me. Goldy was barking furiously. I thought that the leopard had come and was damn scared for self and her as well.
With great difficulty I came out from the tangle of the cot and the mosquito net. The ‘chowkidar’ was standing on the verandah far away and Goldy was still growling at him.
After the things settled down the ‘chowkidar’ told me that while I was asleep, he tried to come near my bed. During the day time he entered our rooms and Goldy never bothered him. But before sleeping I had uttered Goldy, stay, guard. May be that or may be just protective instinct, when he approached rather too close Goldy charged at his chest. So powerful was her charge that the cot was overturned and I was buried underneath.
Like that there are several incidents when Goldy guarded our house, us and even our baggage at Railway stations.
Guarding comes naturally to all dogs. That is because of their pack instinct. Pack members routinely guard their lairs, especially when the leader is away. When he is around even then they are always on the alert to ward off any untoward happening. Their instinct becomes profound if they have their chunk of meat in the lair or there are new born babes.
That is why in domestic dogs it is useful to teach them to retrieve-as it gives a boost to their possessive instinct. Once the instinct is triggered there is no looking back. Personally I feel that a common dog lover should train his dog to fetch and to speak on command. Trying to teach guard can have disastrous results as well. As in the dark a dog may not be able to discern between an approaching friend and foe. And like Goldy if the dog charges and hits the person with full force on his chest, it can lead to serious consequences.
Therefore let your pooch guard your place of his own, without a formal training. But yes if he is obedience trained, he will certainly be a great asset all through his life.
Many working couples have mailed me to solve their problem of leaving their dog alone, while they go out to work. This is becoming quite a scourge now, because a dog left alone may take care of your house, but he could be a nuisance for the neighbors with his howls in your absence. He could be an enemy of your mahogany doors, scratched beyond recovery with his powerful nails!