Safeguard adopts modern guard dog training techniques

Safeguard adopts modern guard dog training techniques
Published: 31 May 2018 (1091 Views)
Safeguard Security, which has led the way in pioneering the adoption of new security techniques in Zimbabwe, has revolutionised the way in which its guard dogs are trained.

Its dog section manager, Jessica van Staden, worked for the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (SPCA) before she joined Safeguard last year. She and the other members of her team have a deep regard and love for the dogs they look after and train.

"We genuinely love our dogs. We look after our dogs like family," she said.

Motivational training, which is the latest approach to dog training, is the technique she and her team uses.  It is a technique through which a dog learns to be engaged with its handler and is motivated more by what its handler instructs it to do than by other distractions.

Motivation has always been part of dog training, with dogs given rewards for following certain instructions. However, in the past there was also an element of physical compulsion in standard dog training.

The more modern approach to dog training, which is what Safeguard is following, is to rely completely on positive motivation and on building a relationship between a dog and its handler that results in the dog's engagement with its handler to the exclusion of other distractions or opposing motivations. It is designed to ensure the dog enjoys its training.

When a dog bites the padded sleeve worn on one arm by one of the trainers acting as an intruder, it is seen as a game by the dog, Ms Van Staden said.

The dogs in Safeguard's dog section include Boerboels, German Shepherds and Rottweilers, all breeds well suited to being trained as guard dogs.

"These are highly recommended breeds for guard dogs, as they are not only fierce looking but also easy to train to follow commands," Ms Van Staden said.

She said that to be a good guard dog, a dog needs to be confident. Only those that are confident are selected.

"Not every person can be a soldier. Not every dog can be a patrol dog," she pointed out.

The dog's training generally begins as a puppy. In its first few months of life it is generally looked after in a home environment, so it becomes responsive to the love and attention it receives in a family setting.

After a few months, it is taken to Safeguard's kennels where it is trained to respond to its handler's commands and in particular to subdue an intruder by biting its arm and hanging onto it until its trainer tells it to stop.

They are trained to do this, Ms Van Staden says, through games, albeit games in which they are expected to bite the padded sleeve worn by the trainer.

The dogs are taught to pursue an intruder who runs away, even if this means pursuing the intruder inside a building.

Ms Van Staden and members of her team talk about the dogs in much the same way as one might talk about a person, referring to their different personalities and the importance of their mental stability and adequate socialisation.

 "The dog kennels we use meet the internationally recommended size that ensures the dogs have enough space to move around for improved mental stability," Ms Van Staden said.

She said the dog training and dog handler training met international standards. Of prime importance was the welfare of the dogs and the professional handling and control of the dogs, so that they can effectively carry out their guard dog duties.

"Our trainer was formerly a trainer in South Africa and trained to a high standard. We also have an external trainer who reviews training standards from time to time to ensure that we maintain a high standard that is in line with current best practices.

"At Safeguard we use motivational training techniques. Our dogs are trained to understand verbal commands and physical gestures by their handlers. If instructed, they will go after and apprehend an intruder, bringing the intruder to the ground. They are loyal to their handers and will attack anyone who manhandles them," Ms Van Staden said.

The dogs have regular socialisation periods with each other. They are taken, as part of their training, to different places so that they experience different environments and are not distracted or put off by the noise or activities around them.

The premises guarded by Safeguard's guard dogs are varied. They include business premises, homes, farms and mines.

The dog section is also often hired for diplomatic and school functions, especially to watch over areas where cars are parked during events.

"We have dog sections in Harare, Bulawayo, Mutare and Gweru, which all maintain the same high standards to ensure our dogs are well taken care of," Ms Van Staden said.

She pointed out that one of the major advantages of having premises guarded by a security guard with a trained guard dog, was the highly developed senses of hearing and smell that dogs have.

"Even if a dog is sleeping, it will hear and react to the slightest sound," she said.

Dogs also had keen eyesight, she said, which meant they could notice an intruder even from a distance. They could therefore alert the guard to an intruder before the guard noticed him.

"At Safeguard we do not see our dogs as just animals used for protection but we see them as part of the Safeguard Security family," Ms Staden added.

- Agencies

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