Survival Dogs: Caring for Catastrophe Canines in Urban Areas
Mrs. Feathers and I live near a University which goes by the unofficial name of Rape Capital of the Pacific. Ok, so maybe it's just me who calls it that but with an estimated 1 in 5 women attending college in America experiencing sexual assaults in and around institutions who are constantly criticized for skewing the numbers to appear 'safer' for concerned parents, I'm a little concerned about friends and family of the fairer sex cruising around at night without an adequate supply of boner repellant.
Initially I bought her some pepper spray to keep in her bag but after witnessing the 10 or 15 agonizing seconds it takes her to dig around before she can actually present it in a relaxed situation it became very clear that some sort of early warning system was needed, preferably one with sharp teeth and a taste for tender sweaty rapist balls.
Choosing the Ultimate Survival Dog
Soon enough we were wiping up puppy pee stains and collecting tiny-tooth puncture marks from Survival Dog One (SD1), half Pit Bull and half Shar Pei, codename 'Balls'. It was actually pretty easy choosing SD1 at the Humane Society. We had a few requirements and kept an eye on their website, visiting dogs whenever it seemed one might fit the bill. The first requirement was the dog must be a mutt. I'm not dropping thousands of dollars on a purebred just to watch it become plagued with even more expensive diseases, plus there's something awesome about rescuing a dog from the gas chamber only to have it turn out better than someone's purebred that they wasted thousands of dollars on.
The second requirement was no skin irritations. This is a sign of a weak immune system and will probably require lots of treatments that won't be available in a SHTF scenario. The third and most important consideration is temperament. We picked up SD1 when she was a puppy, but in handling her you could tell right a way she had the kind of independent streak that comes from living on the streets and searching for food. She did pass the submission test, and after a little bit of struggling finally accepted my dominance over her. Okay, but not exactly ideal.
Mrs. Feathers was already smitten, and my warning about the dog's personality being challenging fell on deaf ears. What I noticed about SD1 right away was that she always had her attention on her surroundings even as we held her in our arms wrapped up in a cozy towel. This is not an owner-centric snuggle dog, but more of a hunter/explorer. Sure enough her history had revealed two previous adoptions and returns, all before the tender age of 3 months. Her training was a real chore but as far as survival dogs go she has some serious advantages over her cuddly counterparts.
Training and Education: Keeping the Good Habits While Discarding the Rest
The first thing you want to do with a puppy that shows a serious aloof streak and possibly murderous tendencies is to socialize and exercise the hell out of it, preferably at the same time. After immunization requirements are met, regular visits to a dog park or other places with a variety of animals and people to interact with are essential. There they can learn how to get rough with the big boys and still be gentle to the pocket dogs, as well as meet lots of humans who aren't going to scream when a fuzzy drooling face with lots of sharp teeth suddenly appears next to their kneecap.
Besides animal cruelty laws there's no reason you can't leave your dog constantly tied to a tree, beat it with a stick and feed it live rabbits. That's what is known as a Liability Dog and will most likely end up with Officer Friendly's bullet between it's ears, massive fines for the owner, and a neighborhood full of disfigured children who's parents want to kill you. Survival Dogs have to be trustworthy enough to accompany you anywhere, sometimes places where they aren't even allowed. That means lots of training, lots of socialization, and lots of mutual respect. You want to be constantly hearing people say stuff like “Wow, your dog really listens to you!” because an SD is a cut above the random-barking, leash-pulling, freak out machines that people have come to expect. Training and meeting the basic biological needs of a Liability Dog is easy, but that's why they suck.
Protector Or Menace: Staying Clear of the Red Zone
With SD1 we didn't have to encourage her protective instincts. Once she hit about 8 months of age she was already barking at strange noises and displayed a reasonable suspicion of unfamiliar people who came into her environment. If anything she was already leaning a little too heavily toward the Liability side of the scale, including her tendency to switch from curious fascination to actively hunting our flock of chickens . The next year was dedicated to bringing her back whenever she strayed into what Caesar Milan calls the 'red zone', a politically correct way of referring to a bloodthirsty murderous rampage involving the instinctive desire to feel the life slip away from their victim as they clamp down on it's soft throat, violently shaking now and again to improve their purchase.
Thankfully her brief red-zone moments were mostly directed at invasive forest creatures and other poorly trained dogs who tried to get a free ride on her non-functional reproductive parts. She never went red zone on a human, but one time while camping someone walked a little bit too close to my hammock and I heard her make the most frightening growl from the ground underneath me. We never found out who our mysterious midnight visitor was, but after that I had no more doubts about her capabilities as a protector.
Every Dog Needs A Job
Mrs. Feathers is also happy that she can take SD1 to our nearby park and get some work done on her MacBook hooked up to a solar charger. That kind of equipment combined with an attractive woman leads to lots of unwanted attention, but SD1 knows what her job is in those kinds of situations and all it takes is a few loud barks to deter the unwanted advances of potential suitors and thieves. Getting to the point where you can trust your Survival Dog to make the appropriate choice in a given situation is a time-intensive commitment, and for being a first-time trainer Mrs. Feathers did a super duper job.
She literally spends 4 to 5 hours every day taking SD1 different places for training, exercise, and fun. Her job is flexible and allows her this kind of opportunity which is something a lot of people don't have. If 3 hours every day seems like too much time to devote to a Survival Dog project then consider a Pocket Watch Dog. They are smaller, require less maintenance, but still give you enough warning on home invaders and sketchy strangers with ulterior motives that well-trained dogs have a knack for intuiting. Of course when things go bad they make lousy projectile weapons, but hopefully by then your suspicions have been sufficiently aroused to have your hands on something decidedly more lethal.
Second Survival Dog: A Training Partner for Your Training Partner
Given the moderate pain-in-the-ass yet overall rewarding experience SD1 gave us during our 1.5 years together, it came as a bit of a surprise when Mrs. Feathers started inquiring about a possible SD2. She felt that since SD1's personality quirks had not entirely subsided, it might be good to have another easy-going dog who can serve as an example of how to chill out every once in a while and take a break from all the hyper-vigilant posturing. This is a big concern around 2 years of age when their personalities start to solidify and SD1 was showing tendencies of becoming jealous and possessive, especially towards Mrs. Feathers.
After a great deal of searching we found a 5-month old Pit Bull and Moose mix codenamed 'Baby'. The reason we codenamed him Baby was mostly just a reminder since it's easy to forget he's still a puppy due to his already-ginormous size. SD1 maxed out just under 50 pounds, and the Big Guy's paws are double the size of her's which means we can probably expect a very large animal to be knocking things over and putting invisible brown stains on the UPS guy's uniform in the not-too-distant future. SD2 is a much more mellow and people-oriented dog who instantly bonded with SD1 despite her occasional jealous outbursts. His training has gone much smoother and he thankfully doesn't share SD1's obsession with hunting chickens and mongoose. We can leave him outside with our birds alone, and they feel comfortable enough to come near him when he is in the yard.
Being Friendly, But Not Too Friendly
One concern I do have is that he is a little bit too sociable around people and pretty much walks up to anybody looking to make friends. Of course we won't encourage aggression, but hopefully there can be an exchange of better qualities where SD1 can show him that he's not supposed to trust everyone while he can show her how to be a little bit more easy-going. Some people may scoff at the idea of intentionally raising a dog to be suspicious of people's intentions. In our environment we have the added challenge of dealing with a mix of cultures, and while most people have figured out a way to live with the laws of our land (or at least carry on their traditional practices with discretion) there exist certain degenerate individuals who enjoy the taste of slow-roasted dog meat even if it comes from a neighborhood family pet. While they do occasionally get caught and publicly shamed in the newspaper, it makes my heart sink a little bit every time I pass by a lost dog poster that's been up for months.
Omigosh. I'm so sorry. That was way too dark for our fun and friendly survival site. Try to imagine cute cuddly puppies not being cooked and eaten in some run-down part of suburbia as teary-eyed children wander the streets calling out their never-to-be-forgotten names. Ok got that image out of your mind? Good. Let's move on to something else.
Advanced Training: Encouraging Natural Strengths
What SD2's size and personality really suits him for is search and rescue work. He's the kind of dog who would try to and have a decent chance at pulling your smoking lifeless body out of a burning or collapsed building. Although our experience is limited we will be doing our best to train him to find people and possibly assist them out of trouble. Being a Survival Dog is rewarding for the dog especially when their roles are defined. SD1's hunting instincts make her an exceptional pest controller, but also a chicken herder. She rounds them up and drives them into our direction when it's wing clipping time although sometimes there's more teeth involved than we prefer. It's a work in progress.
Doggie Prepping (to be continued)
We look forward to finding out what special skills SD2 develops as he gets older, but in the meantime at least we have one dog who gets along with everyone and will never leave our side no matter how many furry and feathered little creatures scurry about in the bushes nearby. Feeding a dog his size in an emergency situation is going to be a chore, but we did outfit them both with their own doggie bug-out bags to carry 72 hours of food and water (plus extra water filters and med kits) so at least in the short term they would be self-contained. Beyond that hopefully their evolving brother/sister bonding encourages SD1 to share what she kills with him, which will probably be a lot. In fact I'm glad she doesn't know what SHTF is because she would probably be asking ten times a day if it happened yet.
In the near future we'll address the supplies you need to take a survival dog on the road, some dangers to watch out for, as well as give you updates of how our pack is progressing. In the meantime keep your nose down, your ears up, and try to avoid chewing on anything that has to do with electricity.