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How to Train Your Dog for When SHTF

Avatar for Jodie Weston Jodie Weston  |  Updated: July 3, 2019
How to Train Your Dog for When SHTF

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The family pet can be trained to do a lot of tasks which can make your SHTF survival odds skyrocket. But not every family pet is up to every task you may ask of him or her. Even if Fido is very protective of your children, he is very unlikely to put his life on the line for them. So, what can you expect your dog to do? And which commands should you spend time to teach your dog now, before SHTF?

The Necessity of Training

The truth is, you’ll get out of your dog what you put into him or her. If you don’t have your dog trained for protection work, they won’t be able to reliably protect you when SHTF. Your dog may not even recognize the danger you face. If they do, most dogs will avoid the danger. The same goes for other tasks that people commonly think their dog will naturally perform, from hunting for their own food, to searching for missing family members. In fact, even if you have a Husky and expect him or her to pull her weight when the time comes to bug-out, well, things will go much smoother if you’ve practiced.

Emotional Needs

There’s another thing every prepper has to be aware of when it comes to their dog. Consider my Dutch Shepherd, Midas. He is quite proud of his backyard, and scares out anything with four legs that steps foot inside. Usually, the squirrels, raccoons, and rabbits just run from him. But, one night he found a skunk and got sprayed directly in the face. For a few days after that he was nervous in the backyard. He tried to sit in my lap and wouldn’t leave my side. The point is, dogs are emotional creatures. The stress and even trauma of a SHTF situation will affect them even if they are a breed designed for bravery, and it may even leave them scarred for life.

We’ve all heard stories of heroic dogs who stepped up to save their family’s life. But we’ve also all heard the stories of the shelter dogs who have developed fears and aggression to certain people, animals, and even objects. Even if your dog does save your life during a SHTF situation, there’s no telling how they’ll react afterwards. Proper training can psychologically prepare them for this. If they haven’t been trained, you should do your best to keep them out of harm’s way.

Your Average Dog

This doesn’t mean your average household dog isn’t a valuable asset when SHTF. He or she may not be a great watch dog, but his or her presence may still scare off potential threats. There are commands any dog can learn that will improve their use as a deterrent. There are plenty of other commands that may be invaluable when SHTF, too. Of course, besides these commands you’ll also need an emergency preparedness plan for your dog.

The Best Basic Commands for Any Prepper’s Dog

  1. Teach Them to Carry Their own Bug-out-Bag

Most medium sized dogs and larger dogs can carry their own supplies, making bugging out that much faster for your family. But, like humans, dogs that aren’t very active will wear out quickly. You may be surprised at how much a few extra pounds will effect your dog’s speed and endurance. To find out, have your dog carry their bug-out-bag during their next exercise session, whether its a walk or a game of fetch.

If your dog tires out much faster than normal, you may need to develop his or her endurance. It’s pretty simple to do, just have them wear slowly increasing amounts of weight during their exercise. Or, incorporate them into your exercise plan. Hey, you may even get healthier while you train your pup.

Of course, there’s also the chance that your dog will try to shake off their bug-out-bag when you first put it on. That’s just one more reason to practice this skill. The more comfortable the dog is with the process of putting on their pack and heading out for some good exercise, the smoother your bug-out process will be.

  1. Quiet and Bark

These two commands are generally taught back-to-back, and both are very useful for the prepper’s dog. First, you have to teach bark, or speak. The basic idea is to choose a moment when your dog is already barking, give your bark command, wait for him or her to bark again, and reward. You can find more detailed instructions here.

The benefit to this command for preppers is that you can order your dog to bark when you want him or her to help you intimidate an intruder. Even for dogs who are good natural watch dogs, like the terriers, having this command may still be useful. There’s always the chance that your dog doesn’t recognize a threat, or that someone the dog is familiar with, like a neighbor, becomes a threat after SHTF.

After you’ve taught bark you can teach quiet. It sounds silly to teach quiet second, but it’s the best way to focus your dog’s attention on whether or not they are making noise. If you were to just treat the dog when they are being quiet it may not be clear to them that you’re treating them specifically for being quiet. Instead, give your quiet command after asking your dog to bark, once they are done barking. If you’re having trouble there are some great tips here.

The benefit of this command for preppers is to maintain stealth when you need it. If you’re bugging out and want to move silently, it will help immensely to have your dog’s barking under control. If you’re bugging in and don’t want to draw attention to your location your dog will have to be quiet as well.

  1. Don’t Take Food From Strangers

After SHTF people can become very desperate and very dangerous. If they intend to steal from you, but are dissuaded by your dog, they may try to befriend or even poison your pup with food. It’s not unheard of for some unstable people to try to poison a dog even outside of emergency circumstances. Or, someone may accidentally drop something dangerous or poisonous to dogs on your property.

Thankfully, you can teach your dog that the only place he or she can eat from is your hand or the food bowl. Training this behavior is a long process of watching your dog around food you’ve laid out, or asking friends to offer your dog food, and then discouraging the pup when they check it out. Ultimately, you want them to ignore any food they find laying around, or any food a person offers them, even people your dog is familiar with. A detailed description of how to teach this skill can be found here.

  1. Stay

There may come a time when you need to scout out or do a task in a potentially dangerous location and the dog just can’t come. The classic stay command will be very useful here.

It’s important to know that eventually your pup will start looking for you. If you usually ask them to stay for twenty minutes then, after that time has passed, some dogs will follow your scent. Others may just follow their curiosity and wander off. Then again, I know some dogs who will stay for hours and hours. Still, its good to practice stay with your dog for roughly as long as you foresee asking him or her to stay in a SHTF situation.

What a typical family dog can do

– bark

– quiet

– refuse food from strangers

– stay

– carry their bug-out-bag

What a typical family dog probably can’t do

– attack intruders

– reliably keep watch

– be an emotional rock

– hunt for themselves

– find missing family members

– other complex tasks which need training

How Useful Are Dogs for Preppers, Really?

Obviously, I love dogs. No other species is as close of a companion to us as dogs, and we share a unique evolutionary history with them. But, when it comes to prepping for a situation where your life, and the life of your children, are at risk, its important to be honest about exactly what benefits and detriments a dog brings to the table.

You need to feed a dog, protein no less, and take care of their health. You need to be prepared for them to get hurt or injured. Their exercise and emotional needs do not simply vanish when SHTF.

But, when SHTF, some of a dog’s usefulness might diminish. A dog that may dissuade theft right now may not be nearly so scary after rule of law has collapsed. If there’s no police, then making noise isn’t as much of a concern for a thief. Also, many burglars will, rightly, assume they can take a small or medium sized dog if their life depends on taking your supplies.

Your dog may simply be another family member to take care of when SHTF, and that’s okay. That being said, if you really want to maximize your dog’s prepping potential, you could look into training a specific task, or buying a dog with one of these ends in mind.

What Some Dogs Can Do with Practice or Training

You need to buy a specific breed of dog for most of these tasks, and train them for it. It is possible to pick up a few training manuals and teach your dog some of these tasks yourself, but generally you’re going to want the help of a professional or someone who has successfully trained their own dog at the task.

Also, let these breed suggestions point you in a direction. Buying a dog for any of these tasks is a big investment, and even if your dog is among the ideal breeds they may still not be good at it. Also, there are generally a dozen or so breeds capable of doing these tasks, each with slight advantages or disadvantages over the other. I’m only going to list a few, so you’re going to need to do more research than I can provide for you here.

  1. Search and Rescue

Dogs are the ideal animal to search out missing family members, or anyone, during a disaster. The basic requirements are intelligence, a good nose, and ability to work in various weather. A huge variety of dogs can and are put to this task, from Newfoundlanders to Weimaraners.

  1. Keep Watch

These dogs are meant to alert you to threats, and patrol perimeters. Usually, they should not be expected to deal with threats on their own, or to bite or fight anything. Ideal choices are doberman pinschers, or terriers like the Irish terrier.

  1. Guard Your Person or Home

Guard dogs, when properly trained, can attack intruders, and let go on command. If you don’t have the time or money to put into training a young dog for this task, a good option could be adopting retired military or police dogs. Otherwise, Dutch shepherds and Belgain malinois, and mixes between the two, are among the top choices.

  1. Guard Your Livestock

For those who are prepping for long-term collapse, guarding your livestock is an absolute must. But, a SHTF situation may call for a tougher dog than you might otherwise want. Already, some in the livestock industry think that American guardian dogs have been bred to combat coyotes too exclusively, so they struggle against wolves or bears. After SHTF guardians dogs will likely have to contend against more big predators, and maybe even humans. For this reason, some farmers prefer the larger and rarer breeds like Anatolian shepherds and Pyrennean mastiffs (not to be confused with the Great Pyrenees, which is usually a friendlier and excellent family dog)

  1. Haul Your Gear

Forget just hauling their own bug-out-bag, these dogs could carry everything your family needs, or even you. For those who are prepping for a long term SHTF scenario, the hauling dog can make most physical tasks much easier. Of course, if you’re doing a ton of hauling or transporting a horse might be an investment worth considering too. For dogs, the Rottweiler and the Husky are top choices.

  1. Hunt with You

One of the best ways to increase your hunting success is to bring along a hunting dog. If hunting is part of your prep, you definitely want to make sure you can get game when you need to eat. There are dozens of different hunting dogs, each optimized for a different prey, some intended as all-rounders. The Bloodhound is a top choice, but the other hounds, retrievers, and pointers are both worth looking into as well.

Final Word

It’s important to be honest about precisely what you can rely on your dog to do. And, with a few simple commands your family pet can be much more prepared for a SHTF situation. If you want to truly optimize your dog for a specific task you’ll need during a disaster, then I hope you’ve found a good place to start. Either way, may your furry friend be at your side through many adventures, whether shit has fit the fan or not!

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5 Responses to “How to Train Your Dog for When SHTF”

  1. I love dog! My dogs are part of my family and I wouldn’t ever thing of getting rid of them. They do require extra maintenance and food, water, exercise, will give my position away in a minute, etc, but they also provide a lot of things to a human that can’t be substantiated. The ability of a dog to help with one’s mental health can’t be overlooked. PTSD is going to be rampant is a world where everything has ended as we know it. Some little furry creature may be just enough to keep you sane!

  2. Stay is probably the most important command a dog can learn during any time, peaceful or crisis. Most dogs I see, when their owner says STAY, they keep coming.

  3. Many good points in your post. Thank you for a good read this morning. I can’t imagine my life without dogs in it. Of course it pays to be practical too.

  4. Another task most dogs can take care of is vermin control. Terrier mixes to herding, hunting & working breeds will usually be naturally adept at finding & dispatching rats, mice, etc.

    Most dogs will also alert to reptiles & snakes, alligators. I teach ‘LEAVE IT’ command to every dog we have. I want my dogs to alert me to the presence of such critters, but not charge in & end up wounded or dead.

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