Attack Dogs

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Attack Dogs

by Rodrigo Trigosso

Attack dogs are dogs trained to bite people on command. Although these dogs are usually associated with police work, they had different uses in the history of human-canine relationship. Hundreds of years ago, attack dogs were used to break the first line of enemy armies and to capture and kill fugitive slaves.

In theory, an attack dog must be able to bite and stop biting on command. Thus, an attack dog would be a useful helper for police forces without being a dangerous animal.

Unfortunately, some dogs are trained to attack but not to stop their attack on command. Besides, there are some vicious dogs that may bite their own owner or trainer. These are not real attack dogs but vicious and dangerous animals, often owned by irresponsible and disturbed people.

Well trained attack dogs must also be well socialized and have reliable obedience training. These dogs are not supposed to attack any person, unless their owners are facing a threat. Every dog trained to attack on command must be carefully chosen according to its physical and psychological features. In addition, it must go through long and demanding obedience training.

-- Attack dogs and guard dogs

Guard dogs are not the same as attack dogs. Although an attack dog may also be a guard dog, guard dogs can not always be attack dogs.

The main function of a guard dog should be to inform about the presence of a stranger. So, guard dogs are not supposed to attack the stranger. Therefore, several small breeds can be used as guard dogs, though they can not be effective as attack dogs.

-- Are attack dogs dangerous?

An attack dog will always be dangerous if it has been trained in the wrong way. In this case, the dog will just become a vicious dog which can attack even its owner.

However, a well trained attack dog may be safe. I say "may be" because safety depends on the dog's handler. An experienced handler who understands the dog will be able to control it and to predict its responses to different stimuli. Thus, such handler will avoid risky situations and the dog won't be dangerous.

On the other hand, a well trained attack dog is dangerous if the handler is inexperienced and/or does not know the dog's reaction to several stimuli. This would be like a small kid with a knife.

So, if you are considering training your dog to attack, you must train yourself in the first place. Getting enrolled in canine clubs to practice sports like Schutzhund, Mondio Ring or French Ring may be the best way to get involved in attack dog training. These sports have high and well defined standards so their practitioners are knowledgeable in training, dog behavior and canine aggression.

Usually, sport dogs are reliable and safe because their owners and handlers are experienced people who know very well how their dogs behave.

-- Are attack dogs necessary?

The utility of attack dogs is arguable. Since no dog can compete with modern weapons, attack dogs are useless except in some particular situations. On the other hand, no dog is 100% reliable under stressful circumstances, even if it is very well trained.

Because of their limited utility, I think attack dog training should not be recommended for canine companions. Attack dog training should be left for police dogs, army dogs and, of course, sport dogs.

Rodrigo Trigosso is a biologist and professional dog trainer. His website at provides objective and reliable information on dog training and behavior.

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