Sport Dogs vs. Personal Protection Dogs

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The terms “sport dog” and “personal protection dog” are often used interchangeably. However, there are some important differences between a dog that is bred and trained for sport and a dog that is bred and trained to provide protection.

If you are currently shopping for sport dogs or personal protection dogs for sale, you will want to know about these differences before making your purchase decision.

In this article, learn more about how to select the best canine for becoming a sport dog versus a personal protection (K-9) dog.

When Choosing a Sport Dog Versus a Protection Dog, Energy Level Matters

If you have spent much time around dogs, you have likely noticed that even puppies born in the same litter often have different energy levels. For instance, one or two of the puppies may be highly energetic – always on the go. But then other puppies may be snooze hounds who love nothing more than another good nap.

In this example, the on-the-go puppies may grow up to be prize sport dogs. They will thrive in conditions where they need to be active for long periods of time, such as hunting, racing, tracking, herding, search and rescue missions and similar “jobs.”

But where you might be surprised is how well suited the napping pups can be to serving in K-9 protective roles. A protection dog must stay alert, but also needs to conserve her energy for when it is needed most.  The dog appears to be mellow, chill, good-natured and laid-back….at least until a member of “her” family is threatened!

Different Types of Drive Indicate a Canine’s Ideal Role

Of course innate genetics and careful breeding can create conditions ripe for producing dogs with certain types of drive – say, high activity in a sport dog and calm alertness in a personal protection dog.

But there is a third, often overlooked, factor that can indicate a dog’s future potential, and this is drive.

Regardless of breed or even species, there are many common types of drive. There is the drive to mate, the drive to mother/father, the drive to hunt, the drive to sleep, the drive to lead and so forth. But in terms of selecting the right dog for sport versus personal protection, the most relevant drives boil down to these two: prey and defense.

In a nutshell, when you are choosing a sport dog, you want to choose a dog with a naturally high prey drive. This is because the prey drive is what, well, drives the other necessary instincts that make up a good sport dog: chasing, catching, fighting and killing. Many canine sports will require this skill set, so a dog that has a high prey drive will have a great chance of excelling at sport.

In contrast, when you are choosing a dog to serve as a personal protector for you and your family, you need a dog with a different skill set. Fundamentally, you want to select a dog with a high defense drive. The defense drive fuels a different set of instincts: to watch, to listen, to stay alert, to be continually mindful of surroundings, to memorize faces and paths and notice any situation or behavior that seems out of place.

Here, don’t think that the sport dog doesn’t have some degree of skill in defense, or that the personal protection dog doesn’t have innate prey instincts. These drives do overlap. But it is a matter of which drive is the dominant versus recessive drive.

The dog that naturally defaults to chase-catch-fight-kill will not make a good defense dog because she will be continually jumping the gun, seeing threats where there are none or even making up threats so she can act. Conversely, the dog that naturally defaults to watch-listen-stay-alert will not make a good sport dog because he will hold back rather than  jump prematurely.

Once you understand these differences in natural drive, you will be able to pick the right canine for the right role.

A Strong Threshold is an Essential Quality in Both Sport and K-9 Dogs

There are many types of thresholds. The thresholds most relevant for selecting sport dogs and personal protection dogs are pain, stress and adversity.

A “threshold” is that point at which a dog’s ability to deal with a certain set of circumstances becomes compromised. Dogs inherit some of their threshold set point and then this set point can be adjusted through training.

There are also pros and cons to having high versus low thresholds. For instance, a dog with higher thresholds can be less responsive to training methods that involve inflicting pain or inducing stress. But, once trained, these same high thresholds will serve both sport dogs and personal protection dogs well.

Where Genetics and Training Methods Intersect

Genetics will always form the foundation of a suitable sport or protection dog. But it is during training that innate drives and skill sets are tested, honed and perfected. Training and testing also needs to be done at the right age (ideally, 8 weeks) or behavior problems may interfere with results.

The truth is, even the most genetically gifted sport or protection dog won’t be able to fulfill his potential without comprehensive, rigorous training that involves both the canine and his handler.

Selecting Your Next Sport or Personal Protection Dog

As you are perusing sport dogs or personal protection dogs for sale, keep in mind that all the glorious-sounding titles in the world are only as valid as the title holders’ next litter of puppies.

What matters more than even pedigree is training and demonstrable aptitude. Before you buy, you want to see the dog in action so you can assess predominant drives, skill sets and thresholds. From here, you will have the information you need to confidently make your choice.

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