The story of how two homeless dogs found a caring home and a job, as guard dogs, and the unique approach to how these dog’s lives were saved.
When a dog is surrendered to a county animal shelter in the US, its chances of being adopted are only about 50 percent. However, when a surrendered dog shows signs of aggression, that percentage falls, and the chance of euthanization increases significantly.
Sheena and Tracker are both German Shepherds, rescued from a life of abuse and neglect. But because of their aggressive nature, neither could be adopted out as family pets. They did find a new life, however, it’s different compared to most other dogs.
An Interesting Alternative…. Guard Dogs?
When I first heard about what Greg Franklin did, I have to admit I was more than a little judgmental. Greg runs Superior K-9, a security business, and he rents or “leases” out dogs to protect company’s premises. He has several clients throughout the metro Atlanta area. Thinking that he exploits dogs for the sake of making money, I envisioned the stereotypical “junkyard” dog with mangy fur and an oversized collar attached to a short yet heavy chain. In fact, that was one of the first questions I had for him – were any of his dogs chained? “Absolutely not,” replied Greg. He quickly pointed out that chaining a dog would provide someone who was trying to break-in with an unfair advantage over the dog. “I’m concerned as much for the safety of the dog as I am for protecting my client’s property,” Greg stated.
Better than Euthanization
Regardless of Greg’s concern over the dog’s safety, you may still be thinking, “That’s wrong to take a potential pet and turn him into a guard dog. Dogs are meant to be family companions, to chase after balls and take on long walks”. At least that’s what I was thinking. But as Greg explained to me, all of his dogs were previously “destined for euthanization”. Greg does not purchase puppies and then train them to guard. All of his dogs come from (or were on their way to) county animal shelters and were considered too aggressive for re-homing.
Changing a behavior that is potentially dangerous
If a dog is aggressive or has a history of biting, it will take a tremendous amount of time, energy, and resources of skilled trainers and/or behaviorists to rehabilitate a dog to be a normal pet. Susan Giordano, Certified Pet Dog Trainer and owner of K9U, told WagBrag, that “Once a dog bites, it’s much more likely that he will bite again. After all, the bite ‘worked’ the first time, meaning it likely made the person go away. Each time a dog practices an unwanted behavior, that behavior is strengthened. Changing a behavior that is potentially so dangerous may take a very long time”. Additionally, the resources to help re-train the animal are often limited because there is already a large number (in the millions) of “adoptable” dogs needing homes. Many animal organizations and shelters focus their attention on trying to save those dogs with the highest likelihood of making good house pets. Aside from the training and rehabilitation, a huge liability exists with putting a known biter or aggressive dog into a home. Unfortunately, most dogs with a history of aggression are ‘put down’ – meaning they are euthanized.
They Are Not Bad Dogs
Greg describes his dogs as “not bad dogs; they’re just not comfortable in or suited for the typical family home”. Aggressive behavior can sometimes be caused by abuse, neglect, a lack of socialization or forceful training techniques.
“The aggression, or reaction from the dog, is to act in such a way as to make the person or thing that is making him uncomfortable go away,” notes Susan. “When dogs have been trained with harsh methods, the dog’s reaction is to bark and growl, and even bite to prevent the abuse or ‘training’. Most often, dogs don’t comply with our wishes because they don’t understand what is being asked of them, or they are not comfortable doing it. A person who asks a dog to lie down, for example, may be asking the dog to put himself in a vulnerable position when she is not comfortable doing so. Or, the dog may simply not understand what is being asked of her. When the dog does not comply, a trainer using forceful techniques may cause the dog pain until he finally submits and lies down.” Unless appropriate attention and guidance from a reputable trainer or behaviorist are provided, those dogs are likely to be relinquished over to county animal shelters, with little chance of making it out alive.
These are the types of dogs that Greg “rescues” and provides them with a new lease on life – a life with a purpose.
Is Life Really Better As A Guard Dog?
Not a bad deal for the dog that has run out of options – right? Well…maybe. But pulling a dog out of one bad situation and placing him into another is not ideal either. I wanted to see for myself the environment in which these dogs lived and worked.
I was able to meet a couple of Greg’s dogs. They protect the property at a company in Norcross, GA that sells trucking equipment. A tall and sturdy fence protects their fleet of vehicles. But after a theft several years ago, the company decided that more was needed to deter future break-ins, so they contacted Greg. Two dogs from Greg’s security now guard the trucking equipment premises – Sheena and Tracker.
Trapped In A Dark Garage
Sheena was a young dog who belonged to a married couple. One day the husband unexpectedly moved out, leaving behind his wife and his dog. The wife claimed that Sheena was aggressive. She was so fearful of being attacked that she trapped the dog in the garage. For 24 hours a day, Sheena was left in the dark and lonely garage. The wife would crack open the back door to the garage, throw in dog food, and quickly slam the door shut. After quite some time, the stench of urine and feces from the garage was unbearable. Rescue eventually came for Sheena, but by then she was extremely traumatized. She was skittish, unsocial and aggressive – a very unlikely candidate for adoption.
Puppy Mills and Backyard Breeders
Tracker’s first few years of life were spent in a puppy mill, otherwise known as a backyard breeder. These types of breeders are only interested in breeding dogs and selling puppies for profit, with little to no concern for the well-being of these animals. Living conditions in a puppy mill are extremely poor and it’s a very stressful environment for dogs. Tracker became very agitated and aggressive. He was said to be so vicious toward other dogs and people that the breeder could only handle him with a dog pole. The breeder grew tired of dealing with the dog, but luckily, rescue for Tracker soon followed. However, with a record of biting people, Tracker was “not adoptable”.
Meeting Sheena & Tracker
When I arrived on site, I approached the side gate and was greeted by Greg along with the barking of two large German Shepherd dogs, Sheena and Tracker. Their barks alone were enough to give any sane person second thoughts about breaking in. Tina, one of the office managers, came out to join us and to help keep the dogs relaxed. She is also the only person from the client company who interacts with the dogs in a hands-on manner each day. The dogs’ excitement grew when they saw her, and for a quick moment, you would have thought they were her pets. The dogs settled down after a while and both seemed at ease with their surroundings. But they were wary of my presence.
For the first few minutes, I just observed. Sheena’s eyes are very alert and she appeared confident. She was not at all skittish as Greg had described when he first met her. Tracker has kind of an old soul look about him. The top part of one of his ears is missing – evidence from one of his many fights while at the puppy mill. But he was anything but vicious with Sheena. Greg gives the animals respect and does not subscribe to a forceful training philosophy. He suggests reinforcing desired behaviors by giving out lots of praise. Although Tracker was unmanageable in the puppy mill, Greg has never once had to use a dog pole with him.
Throughout normal business hours of the day, they stay together in a spacious kennel with a thick shade cloth pulled across the top and a clean layer of straw for bedding. Each has their own dog house, both inside and outside of the run. In the evening, they have full access to the property. Their fenced in “yard” is much larger than any dog park that I have visited. Getting plenty of exercise is not an issue. Greg also pointed out, wherever one goes, the other goes too. He told a cute story of how he had scheduled a routine vet appointment for Shena but when Tracker realized she was in the truck and getting ready to leave without him, he quickly jumped in the back cab of the truck. Sheena wasn’t leaving without him.
A Change of Perspective
Learning about Greg’s organization, Superior K-9, was an eye-opening experience for me. I could see how this could be a good solution for some dogs who have aggressive tendencies. As long as this was for dogs who were being rescued from a life of neglect and abuse, and who were not deemed suitable for adoption, why would this not be a feasible solution?
Tracker and Sheena both seemed content and happy in their environment. In my opinion, they were definitely better off than any so-called family pet who lives out his days and life chained in the back yard. These dogs had consistent human interaction with Tina from the office, regular vet visits, protection from the weather and elements, fresh water and food every day, a large area which to roam and run – all very important for basic survival. More importantly, they are not being abused and are treated well. And guess what happens when Tracker and Sheena get too old to keep up with their protection responsibilities? Greg has a farm and they will retire there to live out their remaining years. But with Tracker being a few years older, it’s likely he will retire before Sheena. That has Greg scratching his head on what he will end up doing when that time comes. Since the dogs are so closely bonded, he may just retire them together, but it’s still too early for him to make that decision. For the time being, Tracker and Shena will stay together and forever be bonded by their similar past history of neglect and their new lease on life.