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Survival and Dogs
Every few months someone asks a question (especially during preparedness classes) about pets – usually dogs. Questions like:

- How can I incorporate my pet into my preparedness/disaster plan?

- What is a good breed of dog to take with me in a survival situation?

- What kinds of things would a dog be good at in a survival (wilderness and/or post-disaster) situation?

About a year ago, I was approached by a cable show that wanted to possibly do a show about survival with a dog. I had to think about the possibilities – the advantages and disadvantages of having a dog with me in a survival situation – more seriously than I had done up to that point, in order to make a demo tape for them. Nothing came of it (thankfully – not really my cup of tea to go anywhere near that world of entertainment anyway), but the main reason I did a short demo tape of myself and a couple of my dogs was to force myself to take the subject a lot more seriously.

Very successful pool therapy for a former foster pup (who is now in an awesome “forever” home) with back and hind-leg nerve damage from distemper
animal physical therapy
This is a really valid subject, because so many of us have pets that we love and feel responsible for as much as (or at least close to) any other member of our family. Speaking for myself, we have several rescue dogs. Additionally, we foster a dog now and then when we are able - sometimes to help it recover from injury, abuse or sickness. We generally work with the foster dog, help it socialize with the other dogs in our home, learn some basic obedience and then find a "forever" home for the foster. This has really worked out well and is very rewarding. I love dogs, and I love working with them. They are amazing animals and respond so well to human thoughts, emotions and needs. They thrive when they belong to a "human pack." I have found that the best way to become a competent trainer is to understand how to communicate with them at that "level of the pack." This means learning to communicate in their language as much as possible, or at least understand their own language and respond accordingly. This kind of approach is what makes experts like Ceasar Milan (The Dog Whisperer) so successful.

In regards to survival with a dog or dogs, let’s consider the advantages and disadvantages.

Looking at some of the disadvantages first: Food and Water. This is an extra mouth or set of mouths to feed. Most dogs are not capable of hunting on their own. In fact, even a large pack of modern dogs that haven’t had time to adjust to the wild are going to have a very hard time getting their own food. Larger dogs don’t really have any chance whatsoever in chasing down smaller game by themselves. Perhaps a wolf hybrid could hunt for itself, but I would generally question the usefulness of a wolf hybrid as a defense animal (to be addressed below). Of course, at least one person reading this will probably think to themselves that one could eat one’s dog(s), so it’s like walking food. This is true, and there are cultures that rely on dogs, such as eskimos, that (rarely) have to resort to this terrible reality. Similarly, in our own culture (especially agricultural) there have been times in our past (my father experienced this, for instance) when people had to resort to eating their own work horses in times of severe famine like the Great Depression. Let’s assume for the sake of this blog entry, however, that eating our own, much-loved pet is not going to be any kind of option anytime soon. Instead, how can we create a team or pack with our dog(s) that is mutually beneficial for both species in a time of survival or social unrest?

One of my favorite breeds – Belgian Malinois: The dog in the lower right of this photo (Shep) is a Malinois mix
belgian malinois breed
Another disadvantage may be mobility and noise discipline. Climbing very steep terrain may not be possible with a dog in tow, although I have personally seen one of my own dogs (Shep in the photo above, in fact) climb up slopes I never would have believed possible for him – near vertical slopes that were difficult for me to climb. Water travel may also be difficult. Additionally, unless well-trained, a dog can cause problems while hunting or needing to remain quiet. These disadvantages are perhaps relatively minor – in that the terrain issue might not really be that common, and the noise problem is more of an issue of training which can be overcome.

Now on to some of the advantages: I would say that outside of “warmth” (as in body heat) the easiest and most natural role for a dog, in a dog/human team (whether it’s one human or one or more dogs with one or more humans) is the role of defense.

Defense is one of the core necessities of survival that is usually overlooked. Everyone wants to know about shelter, water, fire, food, but nobody thinks much about defense. However, lack of defense can be far more deadly than lack of any of the other 4 necessities, and for that reason is one of the core elements of any of the survival classes I teach. Generally, because of our global human overpopulation (too many people and not enough resources or enough intelligent understanding of resources), “defense” means defense against other humans more often than defense against apex predators in the wild. However, regardless of which type of animal (human or other) we are defending ourselves against, a dog is an incredibly useful ally and friend.

Belgian Malinois mix puppy (12 weeks old)
belgian malinois puppy
However, different breeds of dogs have different natural instincts in regards to defense, without special training. One of my favorite breeds because of their natural affinity toward defense, is the Belgian Malinois. The Malinois is one of several breeds in the Belgian Sheepdog family which includes similar-behaving breeds of Tervuren and Sheepdog. This is the Belgian Sheepdog I’m speaking of, not the standard sheepdog one normally thinks of (i.e. not like “Sandy” the dog from Li’l Orphan Annie). The Belgian sheepdog is usually jet black and looks almost like a wolf. The Malinois is much like the German Shepherd both in appearance (somewhat- there can be variations in the look between both breeds) and behavior. However, the Malinois is a little bit smaller, usually more in the 50-60 pound range. Because of this, they are a more ideal “survival dog” than the Shepherd. They are faster, more agile, need less food/water, and are, in my opinion, more intense and quiet. They are an incredibly intelligent breed that learns very quickly. While they might not be able to hunt any more effectively than any other domestic canine of their size and speed, they are still closer to being good hunters with their great speed and trainability. They could be trained to flush out game, for instance, from an area.

French Police training their Belgian Malinois Dogs

However most importantly, the Belgian Malinois is a dog that is not afraid to bite as well as bark. We’ve learned that as a family with our Malinois mix dogs over the years. They are very serious about protecting from threats, and they pick up on the concept of threat from their human pack. In other words, if you are being attacked or robbed and display or feel the adrenaline, fear, anger that goes along with a situation like that, they will pick up on your response and will not hesitate to protect you, whether you’ve trained them to do that or not, in my experience. They’re not the only breed that will do that, but the list of other breeds that naturally will do that is not very long. Also, they are ideal in so many other ways mentioned, all of which are icing on the cake above that instinct for defense, so that the Belgian Malinois truly represents what I consider to be one of the best breeds for a “survival-dog companion.”