Thoughts on Dogs at Survival Retreats, by D.K., DVM

Tuesday, Mar 26, 2013

Should you shelter-in-place or move to a retreat?  Lots of pros and cons about this, and most of it depends upon strength in numbers.  Obviously, the more remote and inaccessible your castle is, the harder it will be for intruders to discover or invade.  But I’m 65, and I don’t own any remote property.  My house sits on a very defendable cul-de-sac, essentially surrounded on three sides by water – my “moat.”  I could pull stakes and move to a national park or wildlife preserve, but it would be a simple campsite with tent and no walls, and I would need several families to go with me for security.
 
When our civilization collapses, which seems inevitable with our current insane government, I plan to do all the right things to ensure my home and area are secure.  There will be perimeter alarms and felled trees for roadblocks, trip wires and night vision.  But one thing that people overlook may be the very best alarm system ever known to man.  A dog.  But, better yet, two dogs.

I’ve been a veterinarian for over 30 years, and I’ve owned, seen and worked with a lot of dogs, including military working dogs and police dogs.  Recently I accompanied an incredible Labrador retriever, “Buster,” in search of World War II Missing In Action (MIA) Marines and soldiers.  Buster can sniff out bones that have been buried up to 100 years ago, detecting the miniscule amounts of aromatic organic compounds still leaching up through the soil from what’s left of the body.  Incredible, but just an example of “superhuman” abilities of dogs’ senses that include hearing, sight, and, perhaps, a sixth sense or even seventh and eighth senses.
 
We’ve just adopted two 5-month-old female German shepherd littermates into our household.  Or, as they would see it, our “pack.”  Although people try to treat pets as human members of their families, the dog will always consider the family a pack, with an alpha male leader, and alpha female head of the female members of the pack, and a definite peck-order of all. 
 
Detect fear, evil, danger, “something wrong”
 
The stories about military working dogs (MWD) and other extraordinary dog-related events are endless.  Dogs have been used by military units since Roman times and before.  Soldiers and Marines who served in canine units during World War I and II, Vietnam, and more recent conflicts tell about being alerted of the enemy long before approaching an ambush.  Some tell about doubting the dog, that the handler couldn’t see or detect anything wrong, but the dog was always right.   The handlers learned that no matter what, you always trust the dog’s judgment.  If not an ambush, then it was a trip wire, mine, dead enemy soldier, or something wrong. Nothing yet has been invented that can do a better job.
 
Regarding a sixth sense, I’ve heard stories about cat owners who have a group of people over to their homes, and if there is one person in the group who doesn’t like cats, the cat will find that person and focus on them!  Unexplainable.  Then I’ve heard mothers say their child brought home some friends from school and the dog growled at one of the kids when introduced.  I’d trust the dog, that there’s something to be cautious of about that one child.  Always trust the dog.
 
On Alert 24/7
 
In a home or retreat, it would be ideal to have a “dog door” so that the dog(s) can come and go as they feel the need.  We have a fenced yard and our dogs can go in and out of our heated garage, where they stay when we aren’t home.  I prefer that they be with us always, but I do have to go to work.  This brings up another issue:  separation anxiety.
 
Dogs are pack animals, and now you and your human family are the pack.  With just one dog, when you leave them alone to go to work, some dogs become stressed.  “Where are you?  Are you coming back?  Why did you leave me?  I’ve got to find you!  I’ve got to find you NOW!”  You come home to the door frame chewed up, with scratches all over the door (the one you left by).  Or there is other destruction due to frustration and anxiety; general freaking out.
 
I don’t think animals other than man have a concept of time.  They truly live for the moment, and don’t understand, “I’ll be back in an hour.”  Alpha (the pack leader) must be kept track of in case he/she needs me.  “Where’s Alpha?”  “I’ve got to find him/her!”  There have been medications to help with separation anxiety, but who wants to have their pet on meds all the time?  I usually advise obedience school and another dog for companionship (part of the pack is still here), or at least a cat friend.  Dogs aren’t fooled by leaving the television on, even if you run “Lassie” on it.  Sometimes this is more of a puppy thing than with an adult dog, but all dogs (and cats) seem to have a “fuller life,” and are more content with another dog to relate to.  I say, “Cats speak French and dogs speak German, so the same species is always better.”
 
Since dogs don’t understand time, they are “on guard” 24 hours a day, seven days a week.  They probably don’t know what day it is, either.  They learn the sound of your car coming down the street and are at the door to greet you.  Common sounds, scents, and sights are recorded as “normal,” and everything else becomes suspect and in need of investigation.
 
Don’t need to be attack trained/naturally protective
 

Attack training would be a plus, but I’m a firm believer that all dogs need to go through at least level one obedience training.  That includes learning to, “Heal” (on and off leash), and unhesitatingly respond to the commands, “Sit,” “Stay,” “Come,” and “Down.”  Remember, these are COMMANDS, not requests.  If you have to repeat the command more than once, the dog needs more training (generally that means more assertiveness or “alpha-ness” from you).  In a bad situation, this may mean the dog’s life or yours if they do not respond immediately.  I’m always impressed by a dog with good manners.
 
Try to find a dog training club near you.  We have a local volunteer organization that offers basic and advanced courses at reasonable prices ($90 for 8 weeks/8 one-hour sessions).  Be involved in the training yourself, don’t give your dog to someone to train for you.  The dog will learn to obey the trainer very well, but who are you?  The trainer should be teaching you how to train the dog, not doing it for you.
 
Dogs are naturally protective of the pack, and will fight to the death to protect any and all pack members.  That doesn’t need to be taught.  Dogs seem to have the ability to detect evil/danger/threat, either through a sixth sense or from pheromones given off by the subject.  Pheromones are invisible clues that most animals live by.  A dog can walk out to the patio, sniff the air a couple times, and know that there are three dogs upwind; one a female (estrogen/progesterone), one a male (testosterone), and one “not right” (neutered).  Like the story of the male moth that can find the female moth on a tree miles upwind, they pick up on the ever-expanding “plume” of scent from the source.  By staying within that plume and moving toward increasing strength, the animal or insect can locate their quarry.
 
On patrol or translocating
 
When traveling, dogs tend to enjoy the trailblazing part; they like to run on ahead.  They are your “point” when patrolling or moving out.  Again, two dogs afford twice the sensory strength and can scan better than one.  Dogs can be trained to “alert” by lying down or freezing on point.  Down would be better, if you have to fire over them.  More training beyond the level one obedience will give you better control and more options.  In any situation, dogs are tremendous “force multipliers,” extending your eyes and ears well beyond human capacities.  Most sensible people also fear big dogs, and some ethnicities abhor them.  Because of this, dogs are sometimes shot first.  You don’t want this to happen, but it will put you on maximum alert and make you more than willing for payback.
 
 
Feeding

 
Long before there were pet foods in bags and boxes on the grocer’s shelves, pets ate what we ate, or the scraps.  In general, if there is a balanced meal for us, the dogs can eat the same foods.  Commercial dog foods contain enough fat to go rancid if not kept in oxygen-low or vacuum storage.  Preservatives help delay spoilage, but all foods eventually degrade.  Certainly the dog will hunt on its own and eat wild game, as well as vegetation.  Eating a whole rabbit provides meat protein, some fat, calcium from the bones, and vitamins from the liver and organs.  But they are also eating everything the rabbit ate in the previous 24 hours, providing other vitamins and some roughage.
 
There are numerous dog food recipes online today to make your own balanced diet, but realize that all the ingredients may not be available in a future situation.  Share your vitamins and what you are eating, and the group will probably survive.  I won’t mention eating your dog in a survival situation!
 
Vaccination

 
Keep your dog’s vaccinations current.  Nine-way “distemper” shots are good for a year or more.  Rabies vaccine is good for one year the first time given, then should be boosted every three years thereafter.  Some states don’t recognize a 3-year rabies shot, but that doesn’t mean it won’t last that long.  Lyme disease (Borrellia) vaccine is also available, as is kennel cough (tracheobronchitis - Bordetella).  The nine-way shot includes canine distemper, hepatitis/adenovirus-2, parvovirus, parainfluenza, coronavirus, and four types of Leptospirosis vaccine. 
 
Post-collapse it will be hard enough to find human vaccines, let alone veterinary ones, so keeping your dogs away from other stray dogs will be important, too.  Some of these diseases are more deadly for puppies under a year old than adult dogs, such as parvo and kennel cough.  Mature dogs that have had several annual vaccinations should be well protected for years beyond their due dates, but anything is possible.
 
Flea/tick/heartworm/intestinal worm control
 

Many of the preventive products for dogs have very long shelf lives, and some have no expiration date.  In general, medicines and preventive products are good for at least five years beyond their expiry dates.  Mosquitoes carry heart worms, so basically all dogs are susceptible to infection.  The infection takes about three years to debilitate and kill a dog, but it is easily prevented with monthly heartworm medicine that you can stock up on and rotate annually.  Many heartworm preventives also contain intestinal worm medicine to kill roundworms and hookworms as well every month. 
 
Flea control is necessary to keep your abode from getting polluted with fleas, and monthly liquid applicators do a great job of keeping these bugs down.  Be sure to get high quality (98+% control) flea products from your vet, rather than over-the-counter look-alikes that are about 50% effective.  Some flea products also control ticks, but there are some very effective tick collars available that do an even better job.
 
Not From Pet Stores
 
I’ve been battling the puppy mill-pet store connection for more than two decades.  I didn’t know what puppy mills were when I graduated from vet school, but learned about them when I worked for a humane organization.  Pet stores (and now enterprising individuals who set up a puppy sale web site) buy puppies directly from the puppy mill breeder, or through a “broker,” who cleans up the puppy, vaccinates, de-worms them, and creates a “pedigree” of sorts.  The broker generally has the puppy for two or three days, then they are shipped out to the pet store.  The pet store pays $25 to $50 for the puppy (some breeds are more), then adds a zero or two to the price and has them on sale the next day.  People who say they, “rescued the puppy from the pet store,” are simply perpetuating this industry and creating an open pet store cage for a replacement puppy to take their place.
 
Not all puppy mill puppies turn out to be “lemons,” but quite a few have problems from inbreeding and neglect.  Realize that puppy mills (intense breeding facilities, dogs kept in “rabbit hutch” confinement, no vet care, minimal overhead investment) are the only consistent source of puppies for pet stores.  No matter what the pet store owner or staff tell you, the puppies are coming from mills.  One pet store chain was proud to proclaim, “We do not buy from puppy mills.”  That was a legally true statement, because they bought from a broker, not directly from the puppy mill. 
 
Puppy mill dogs are more likely to have genetic problems due to inbreeding.  When a mother dog is no longer producing sizeable litters, a female puppy is often kept to replace her.  When she comes into heat, she’s bred back to (guess who?) her father dog.  The pedigree is fudged, and business continues.  Congenital defects include bad hips, trick knees (patellar luxation), eye problems, epilepsy, and other issues not immediately detectable.  Ear mites, Demodectic mange, intestinal parasites, eye infections, lack of socialization, and exposure to distemper and parvo viruses are also common.  If the puppy is exposed to a virus, then vaccinated the same day, it’s virtually a race to see which wins.  Incubation time for the virus and the time it takes for a puppy to develop immunity against it are about the same, so it’s a gamble.  Also, if you take into account that many of the mother dogs are unvaccinated or behind in their vaccination schedule (overhead, remember), then the puppy lacks adequate maternal immunities.
 
Today you can find hundreds of online web sites that sell puppies, but the situation is the same; they buy from brokers or directly from mills, and only have the puppies for a few days to weeks before they are sold.  It’s all smoke and mirrors on the web site.
 
Here are some red flags to help prevent a puppy mill purchase:
 
1.    The mother dog is not on the premises (don’t believe, “She’s at a show” or some other excuse).
2.    There are a bunch of different breeds for sale by the same person.
3.    They’ll “meet you halfway” to complete the transaction (that’s because they don’t want you to see their facility or lack of one - all a sham).
4.    If registered, it is not through the American Kennel Club (AKC).  There are many “registration” companies out there that provide phony “papers.”
5.    The comment that “She was rescued from a puppy mill.”  That usually means she was bought at an auction or directly from the mill owner.  The source is the same.
 
People are making six-figure incomes by selling puppy mill puppies.  That’s why they do it, not for love of dogs.  Some will offer a lower price for cash, because they don’t claim the cash to the Internal Revenue Service.  So you are picking up some of their tax burden as well.  You are generally better off adopting a dog from a humane shelter or dog pound than buying one from a pet store or web site. 

Choice of Breed
 
If you want a particular breed, check with local kennel clubs about reputable breeders in your area.  You may have to drive a few hours to visit a breeder, but it will be due diligence.  Don’t be in a hurry to get a puppy.  Sometimes the breeder won’t have any puppies available just then, but have a litter or two on the way and you can put a down payment on one or get first choice.  It will be worth the wait to get a sound dog from a reliable breeder.
 
Breed rescue organizations should not be overlooked.  We’ve adopted three Dobermans from a rescue source that places adult dogs from various situations.  One of ours came from a home where the young son developed extreme allergies to the dog.  He turned out to be the best one ever.  Google “rescue” and the breed you’re looking for, and you might find a great match in your area.
 
Recommended breeds (personal choices): German Shepherd/German shepherd crosses, Belgian Malinois, Akita, Border Collie, and Doberman
 
Now, I know some of you are going to say they had a Jack Russell that was incredible, or a Staffordshire terrier that could hear a leaf turn over in the yard, but there are reasons why the military and police forces choose certain breeds.  Size is intimidating, and with size comes strength.  Herding breeds are more conscious of their surroundings and are always scanning the horizon and listening for clues.  Some breeds seem to be easier to teach than others (Irish setters come to mind at the slower end of that scale).  There are always exceptions to the rule, such as an occasional Lab that makes the cut, or beagles for airport sniffing, but the best overall dog, in my opinion, would be a shepherd or shepherd cross.  The smartest/sharpest/most alert dog I ever owned was a 65-pound German shepherd cross (3/4 shepherd by appearance).  She was $20 at a farm home with a hand-lettered sign out front. 
 
No reason to reinvent the wheel here.  Pick a breed that’s now being used for security work.  I’ve had several shepherd crosses over the years, three Akitas, and four Doberman pinschers.  Also a collie and a couple dachshunds.  Never owned a malinois or border collie, but I’ve worked on quite a few, and I totally respect the malinois.  The border collies are just high-energy, super-alert dogs that are anxious to work and anxious to please you.  I take care of a family of champion Rhodesian Ridgebacks, which are sight hounds, and they are very alert, fast, and powerful, but they’re going to cost you more.  Remember, you should get two.


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