Of Dogs and Plans

Recently while watching this video I concluded that at home it may be somewhat wiser to have a big dog (or a big-sounding dog) than a firearm in certain circumstances.

In the video you can hear an angry young may screaming about how he is going to kill everyone in the house, that the cops had better shoot him, and that if they didn’t shoot him, he was going to stab them all.  Insert the word “M*****-F*****” between every other word above and you’ll have a pretty fair picture of the dialog.

The police officer wisely calls for a K9 unit.

Now, I love my dog.  I would never expect my dog (a smaller breed) to protect me against a knife-wielding rectal blister like the one in the video. I would simply have tried, like this officer did, de-escalation techniques until he charged me, and then, reluctantly, I would have shot him.  Of course, before we ever got to that point, I’d urge him to leave my home. Crazy people do crazy stuff, and you just never know when the wrong word or phrase is going to send them straight into psycho-land.  The cool-headed officer here instead called for a K9.

The K9 shows up and the handler tells the dog to bark.  Sure enough, that dog starts howling, barking, giving that “I can’t wait to rip out your liver” snarl, and within seconds Mr. Big Bad & Ugly went from “give me what I want or everyone dies” to “don’t let that dog bite me.”  We have a guy with a knife who isn’t scared of cop with a gun, but is scared to death of a dog.

What makes dogs such excellent protectors and terrific partners in law enforcement?  First, they’re pack animals and for thousands of years the law of the pack has prevailed.  The alpha male leads the pack, all the other males serve the alpha.  In the event of a threat, the males respond as a team and put down that threat or fight it to give the rest of the pack time to leave. It is not uncommon for either dogs or wolves to willingly give up their lives for the pack.

Domesticated dogs do not lose that ingrained law of the pack.  They see their humans as the alpha males (even where the alpha is a female) and they have as their prime directive the protection of the pack.  That means both the human adults and especially the human children.  In our house if I speak harshly to my wife, I get that guttural eat-your-liver growl from the terrier. She is my wife’s dog, and there isn’t anyone getting to my wife but through that dog.

Knock on my door and it sounds like a pack of wild dogs is coming through it ready to eat you alive. And, indeed, if you had evil intent your ankles would be shredded.  It is amazing to me that these small dogs (one that barks louder than most shepards) put themselves in front of me, and refuse to go behind me even when I order it. Training, it seems, cannot replace instinctive behavior which is “protect the pack.” Dogs sense fear, and they sense danger, and a dog does not know how to back down when the pack is threatened. I would also point out that dogs function on loyalty. They are tremendously loyal. For a good description of what makes a dog man’s best friend, see Eulogy for a Dog, here.

Because we have cameras and can see who is at the front door I can tell any potential intruder to run or I will let the dog go.  In about 90% of cases intruders will run from dogs, even small dogs, rather than get bitten. In some cases, it’s fear, in others it is simply the desire not to harm a small animal.  Yes, most thugs are animals and wouldn’t think twice, but some out there are really just after the money and “stuff.”  They aren’t looking for a fight, and don’t thrill when one comes their way.

But here’s what having a dog does for you if you get a real animal pounding on your door or kicking it down.  If they are not scared of a dog, they are unlikely to be scared of you.  That should define your mindset. Threatening them with a gun is likely a waste of time. If you give any warning, one should be your upper limit.

Most home invasions come about as burglaries gone bad, and are carried out by multiple parties during the hours of darkness.  In our house the plan at night is for all of us humans to be in the master bedroom and all of the dogs in there with us.  If the dogs raise an alarm, or the alarm goes off, we lock the bedroom door, call the cops, and tell the bad guys they can have anything they can steal so long as they don’t come in the bedroom.  If they do that, they’re going to die.  We have multiple 9mm handguns and a pair of AR-15s to handle the situation if, in spite of being warned, the idiots attempt to come through the door.

Our plan is based on a clear desire to show any reviewing official that the exchange of gunfire was a last resort.  That we engaged in violence only when violence was coming directly for us. Yes, under Alabama law we would be entitled to shoot first in our own home.  But the law and the application of the law are not always in harmony. Better to demonstrate your reluctance through procedures than to rely on the law, especially when friends and family of the burglars will later confide to the press that the felons were really just wonderful little altar boys looking for the stolen poor box from Our Lady of Pathetic Liars and just got the wrong address.

Having a plan, however, is no good if you do not practice the plan.  You absolutely have to practice what you’ll do, even if its run, hide, call for help, then fight.   And in that situation, where the attack comes before we have turned in for the night, my wife grabs the dogs, and I have my pistol on my body (pants on, gun on) and I move to the attack while she secures the dogs and herself in our safe room.  Once there she retrieves her pistol from the fast-action gun safe and either waits for me to give her the all clear, or shoots the first thing that comes through that door (hence that whole “all clear” part). And, yes, we have duress words.

“Duress words” are words that you say to indicate you’re okay, or you’re a hostage.  For example, a friend uses odd numbers.  “Baby, I’m 3 kinds of okay.”  Hearing the odd number, his wife knows not to come downstairs, but rather, stay upstairs with her children.  But if he says “We’re four kinds of clear down here” she knows he hasn’t been disarmed.

We have insurance, and we can get replacements for anything stolen.  We have cameras so we will have photos of the people doing the crime. Thus, even if they get something, they won’t get far.  We hope we never have to activate our plan, but having it, and practicing it, gives my wife and I a very sound feeling of security.

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