Dogs as Passive Alarm Systems

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Electricity is a wonderful thing and I really like it a lot. But I don’t like using more than I have to (I don’t want to pay for it) and I don’t like having vital systems depending on its constant presence. Electricity can and does go out due to bad weather, cars running into electrical poles, trouble at the sub-station, terrorists knocking out the grid (unlikely but it could happen).

My point here is that an alarm system is dependent on electricity. I suppose you could have your alarm system wired into your home generator but what if you don’t have a generator? What if you forget? Do you want to allocate scarce generator power to an alarm system instead of your refrigerator and lights? A small to medium size dog is far more useful in more situations than any alarm system.

Muffy's also effective against groundhogs and porcupines.

Muffy’s also effective against groundhogs and porcupines.

We have Muffy. She is a medium-sized German shepherd/terrier mix. Muffy has been a most valuable upgrade to our home security in a lot of ways. First of all, she is here. She barks to warn us if someone is coming into the house. She spends a lot of time roaming free in our fenced back yard. I have cowbells on each gate to make noise when someone enters. Muffy barks and races to the gate to see who is there.

I walk Muffy throughout my neighborhood, at various times of the day, meeting and greeting all my neighbors. This not only means that I get to know my neighbors as Muffy likes to say hello to everyone, it means they know me and they all know we have a dog.

Burglars hate dogs. Any dog. Even the tiniest yappy ankle-biter will bark — sometimes a lot! — when someone enters their territory. Word gets around. Many years ago, I had an acquaintance at church tell me that in her old neighborhood, they were the only people who never had their house broken into. They had a big Siberian Husky. Two weeks after the dog died, their house was robbed. Word got around.

You don’t have to have a hundred pound Rottweiler to improve your home security. In fact, unless you can handle, train, and work daily with an aggressive dog like that, you shouldn’t! Almost every dog, no matter what it’s size, will know its territory and bark and make a racket when someone enters the territory. That is what you want. A mobile, loyal, doesn’t need electricity alarm.

Having a dog ONLY works if the dog is with you. In your house. Especially at night. If you get a dog and keep it chained up in the far corner of your yard and only see it once every day or two to give it food and water, you should get an alarm. Don’t get a dog. This treatment is incredibly cruel and unfeeling towards the dog. Moreover, if your dog barks at a prowler, how will you even know? And why should the dog? Dogs show loyalty and love to the people who show loyalty and love to them. If you don’t want to care for another member of the family, and a dog IS a member of the family, then don’t do this. There are too many neglected, unwanted, abused dogs out there right now. Don’t add to the problem.

If you do get a dog, then learn not just how to feed your new family member but also basic doggy obedience. The vet, the humane society, the local kennel club, the pet supply store, and the groomer can all recommend someone who does dog training. The better trained you and your dog are, the happier everyone will be.

You don’t have to have a specific breed of dog to alert you. Almost every dog, purebred or mongrel, will be territorial enough to be a watch dog. By definition, a watch dog alerts you to a problem so you can deal with it. A Guard dog tries to handles the problem. If you can’t control the Guard dog, you lost control of both the dog AND the problem. Guard dogs and Attack dogs are usually certain specific breeds and absolutely require extensive dog handling experience and regular training to be safe around your family and effective in performing their duties. Unless you already know what you’re doing with aggressive dogs, don’t do this to yourself, your family, or the dog.

If you just want a dog, start with the local humane society. Every humane society has plenty of dogs that need good homes. Stop in regularly, get to know the staff, and meet the dogs currently in residence. Spend time with the dogs and see who seems to work well with you. Every family member should meet the dog prior to adoption. If the paperwork seems intrusive, it is because every dog at the SPCA was abandoned by someone. The staff wants a forever home for each dog and a good match means they don’t have to take the dog back, more traumatized than ever because worthless humans let the dog down. Again. Before you bring the dog home, have your house ready with dog food, leashes, beds, and a vet lined up.

If you want a specific breed, then you need to study up. A great book to start with is “Paws to Consider: Choosing the Right Dog for You and Your Family” by Brian Kilcommons and Sarah Wilson. After you read up on breeds, go to dog shows. Any veterinarian, pet supply store, and the local SPCA will know where to look for local ones. The reason is that it is very different reading about a dog breed and seeing the dog for real. The dog owners are generally quite happy to tell you all about their dog breed and why it is so wonderful.

I originally wanted a Newfoundland. They are great big dogs and extremely gentle around children. I liked everything that I read about them. The books did mention, in passing, that Newfies are big, shed and drool. Indeed, they do. You have to see the dog in action to appreciate that the dog is the size of a pony and looks like a black bear. Pictures don’t really convey that. Nor did I really understand what shedding and drooling meant until I saw that every single Newfie at the dog show left a trail of black hair (after they had been groomed to a fare thee well to be shown!) and each one was followed by an owner draped with towels to mop up the drool! They ate like horses and shat like elephants. There were demonstrations. We do not have a Newfoundland.

Don’t get a puppy mill dog. They tend to be the pedigreed breeds sold in pet shops. These dogs may have papers but that doesn’t mean that they have good, healthy genes. Many puppy mill dogs develop severe health and temperament problems. If you want a purebred, go with a breeder, local if you can, who cares enough about the dog to work with you. A reputable breeder will take the dog back if things don’t work out. They guarantee health and temperament (assuming you don’t abuse the dog). They can recommend local training and obedience schools. They let you see the parent dogs and inspect the kennel. Puppy mills don’t let you do any of this.

Another choice for a pure-bred dog is one of many breed specific rescue groups. There is one for practically every kind of dog there is. Like the humane society, rescue groups will want to do a pretty comprehensive investigation of you in order to assure a forever home for the dog. Rescue groups as a whole don’t care about your precious little feelings. They care a lot about a happy, permanent match for the dog. There will be fees of course, because like the SPCA, rescue groups spend plenty of money on dog food and vets.

Muffy has been a wonderful addition in our lives. She is always up for a long walk. Draw a one mile radius circle around your house and you, with your dog, can thoroughly explore your surroundings. My experience with Muffy is that, with a dog, I become effectively invisible, unless I choose differently by interacting with other pedestrians. I think that a man would also experience the same effect. That is, you become a harmless dog walker as opposed to a potential prowler casing the neighborhood for a future break-in. Knowing every street, alley, house, and business within walking distance to your house could be useful. You never know. It also means that if you see changes in your neighborhood for the worse, you might be able to do something about it.

Muffy has also proven her worth in the backyard. We do food gardening, both vegetable beds, fruit bushes, and future fruit trees and nut trees. Ground hogs and rabbits were becoming severe pests and eating everything in sight. Rabbits go under your fence and ground hogs can and will climb a four foot chain link fence to get to your beans. I have seen them do this and it is very peculiar to see. Rabbits and ground hogs are also pretty damn fast, so you will never catch one.

We no longer have a problem with rabbits or ground hogs. Muffy patrols faithfully, looking for varmints. She has killed or severely injured three ground hogs to date. The rabbits seem smarter and just stay out of the yard now. Muffy, of course, uses the yard to do her business. Her urine advertises to all sorts of critters that a predator lives here. Does this help keep raccoons, possums, and skunks out of the yard? It certainly doesn’t hurt.

A sign makes it easier to warn thieves when your pet's out of sight.

A sign makes it easier to warn thieves when your pet’s out of sight.

As part of letting everyone who sees your house know that you have a dog, put up a “Beware of Dog” sign on every gate. Get them down at the hardware store for a few bucks each. Make them last longer by laminating them with plastic or do-it-yourself with clear contact paper. Use good wire to hang them on your fence and they should last for years. Don’t use a cave canem sign (that is Latin for “beware of dog”) as thieves do not tend to have a Classical education. You want to be clear that you have a dog on patrol. The best dog sign I have seen had a silhouette of two Dobermans and the tag “We can reach the fence in 10 seconds. Can you?” Only put the signs up if you actually have a dog.

We installed a dog door in our Florida Room to make it easier for Muffy to get in and out. I suppose a really skinny teenage burglar could shimmy through it, but dog doors generally mean dogs. More than one prowler has gone through the big dog door and met the Rottweiler on the other side. If you do not have a dog and you do have a dog door, then close it off.

Who's a good dog? You're a good dog!

Who’s a good dog? You’re a good dog!

Your dog can also make it easier to hide a spare key on your property. You put it on a hook inside the dog house that your Great Dane sleeps in. He will let you reach your hand in, but not many other people will try this.

So if you like dogs and are willing to do the necessary work of keeping one, a small to medium size dog can be a terrific upgrade to your household security. Like any family member, dogs need to eat and they need regular medical care. Look into a dog for a host of reasons. Companionship, watchdog, garden patrol, deterrent, exercise machine, neighborhood exploration. Dogs do it all.

Next Week: Neighbors As Security Guards