Historians can’t agree when the first dogs were domesticated. DNA science places the incorporation of wolves into gatherer-hunter tribes between 15,000 to 30,000 years ago. At some point, primitive man connected with roaming packs and adopted one or more into their tribe. From the Arctic to the Middle East, evidence suggests canines were the first animals humans domesticated. The exact date when dogs became man’s best friend may never be known but assumptions can be made why humans started viewing some animals as survival companions rather than food.
Dogs have physical and instinctual attributes far beyond those of man. They have predictable behavior and can be trained to accomplish work beyond simple “tricks.” In the present day, our four-legged friends fill valuable survival-related roles in our readiness planning. Beyond the emotional experience people describe in choosing their dog, there are logical reasons certain dog breeds will be the best choice for your situation.
“The fear of traveling alone prevents a lot of outdoorsmen from experiencing the outdoors but with a companion dog, the paralysis is alleviated or taken away altogether.”
Transportation and Packing
The concept for a sled dog was likely conceived when the strength of a wolf was noticed tugging at the end of a leash. In arctic areas, sled dogs have been used for generations. The transportation abilities of the Alaskan Malamute and Husky are highlighted in races like the Alaskan Iditarod that emphasizes the endurance of mushing dogs. Sled dogs are true powerhouses with the ability to run unexhausted far beyond that of a human under the weight of arctic clothing.
These dogs require thousands of calories per day and with their thick coats, they are extremely well-adapted to working in cold conditions. In the right conditions, sled dog travel can be a viable option for the survivor. The ability to travel great distances and through tight paths in cold weather capable of freezing snow machine engines may appeal to you. If so, a team of sled dogs could be the right choice for you.
Dogs need not work in a pack to carry equipment into the field. A number of dog-mounted bags are available for them to carry some equipment. Collapsible bowls, longer leads for use in camp, and dog toys can be carried in their pack rather than taking up space in yours. One word of warning: Don’t let your dog carry its own food or rewards if it is working dog. The scent can throw off its nose to the game/person being tracked or the task being accomplished.
Some lighter-weight emergency equipment can also be carried with them should you lose your pack. St. Bernards iconically carried a flask around their neck. If for some reason you are separated from your gear, your dog may have some emergency equipment that could stop bleeding, start a fire, or signal for help. Of course, whatever you give your dog to carry should not be too heavy for it to carry because it can be detrimental to its health.
Dogs make great companions when pursuing outdoor recreation. From hiking trails to the cockpits of kayaks and canoes, dogs are commonly seen by man’s side in all forms of outdoor recreation. As we travel through the backcountry, we leave a footprint of our activity. The footprint of our pets must be considered as well.
As we hike down a trail, we leave tracks in the ground we walk on. Our pets leave their pawprints too. Depending on the level of visibility you wish to maintain, your pet may provide an easier track to follow. Rather than being one of the many solo hikers on a trail, you are one of the hikers with a dog, and that makes you stand out. Just as our boot prints vary in size, so do our pet’s paw prints making you easier to follow or track down.
Just as humans abide by “Leave No Trace” ethics when outdoors, so must our pets. In camp, it is easy to let our pets roam around unsupervised. Depending on where you are, this could mean little chance of encountering anyone else or the potential of an encounter with another person’s pet when you aren’t watching. This could also mean a dog digging wildly to pursue a burrowing animal or rolling around in an area marked off-limits to travel. Make sure to keep your pet under control at all times.
It is easy to leave clean-up bags at home if you follow the rules for disposing of animal waste. Catholes work just as well for pet poo as they do for a human. A small shallow hole can be dug into the ground where the excrement is placed and covered over to decompose. No one likes walking by a trail with human or pet waste left out in the open. Clean up after your pet to ensure the trails are enjoyed by all.
Ask any bird hunter what it is like to hunt without a dog compared to with a well-trained dog. Birds will often remain motionless and will not flush even when literally walking on top of them. Hunting dogs fall into flushing or pointing categories with popular breeds including Brittany, Labrador Retriever, and Weimaraner.
Hunting birds with a dog maximizes the use of an open space and results in more birds stuffed in your field vest. At times, dogs will even retrieve birds that haven’t flushed and they are brought back alive. Some bird dogs can be taught to retrieve birds that fall into the water after being shot. Unless watercraft is available, retrieval over water is very difficult if not impossible for a human.
Birds are not the only game dogs can assist in the hunt with. Wild boar are often hunted with the help of dogs. Given the danger associated with pursuing wild boar, an animal known for its tendency to turn on the hunters, fearless dogs provide an edge in the field.
Popular hog hunting dogs include the Rhodesian Ridgeback, the Pit Bull and the American Bulldog. Be careful when selecting the pitbull and only adopt one from a reputable breeder as this breed is often suspect, given inbreeding practices by the wrong owners. Boar hunting dogs serve as either the tracking dogs or the dogs sent after the dangerous boars once they are cornered. They are given some protection from the tusks but their natural instinct protects them as they wrangle the boars and control the animal. Boar hunting with dogs is a team effort, requiring coordination but it is highly effective against smart prey.
Police and military K-9 units train certain breeds of dogs to work alongside soldiers and police in the field. Some of these working dogs are trained to sniff and some are trained to fight. Both the bite and bark of German Shepherds, Dutch Shepherds and Belgian Malinois are forceful and command respect. A common argument regarding “military style” firearms is that the civilian should have similar technology. For a similar logical reason, many of these dogs are popular in civilian homes. Like any tool capable of inflicting harm, a training regimen should be followed to reduce the chance of injury to the handler or anyone around him and his working dog.
One particular breed of dog highly specialized for protection of property is the Tibetan Mastiff. These dogs historically were nocturnal, roaming the villages and monasteries at night. They can be trained to understand specific confines of property lines and are highly capable of warding off large predators. Highly intelligent and powerful, these dogs are not without limitation. They are self-sufficient and can be trained to look after your property when you are not around.
One element of protection is avoidance and sometimes the best “guard dogs” are not the largest or strongest. Smaller dogs in the poodle (traditionally a water dog) and terrier (traditionally meant for hunting small pests) breeds work well as sentries alerting when an anomaly is present. For years, my family’s dog was a Maltese who was always listening and watching the front window for anyone walking to the door. Smaller dogs may be all your living space allows and your readiness plan should include the means to address a threat once your dog alerts you to one.
Darkness, in the middle of the night, can make a stay in the outdoors a lonely place. When your sense of vision is deprived, your sense of hearing is magnified making the smallest noises terrifying to the uninitiated. This is why fire provides a feeling of relief when spending a solo night out. Having a dog at your side changes this scenario. They can post guard duty while you sleep and even if they are slumbering; their trigger to wake up may be more sensitive than your own. Dogs become reliable companions, are often referred to as family and at times are believed to be “like a person.” The fear of traveling alone prevents a lot of outdoorsmen from experiencing the outdoors but with a companion dog, the paralysis is alleviated or taken away altogether. This opens up some of the best experiences in the outdoors taken on solo, away from large groups.
Dogs make great companions for little children as well. Since they are smaller in size, certain predatory animals may view children as less of a threat than a grown adult. This all changes with a dog as a companion as predators are less likely to attack if a meal will not be had without a fight. Make sure to pair your child with a dog they can handle on their own. As much as we would like to think a dog will heel when commanded, the instinct to chase regardless of how much you hold them back on the leash is strong and likely stronger than your child’s grip. Also, your dog’s disposition is important around children. A couple of my martial arts training partners have Rottweilers and small children under the same roof. While this dog may be seen by outsiders as inappropriate for around children, how the dog is raised will determine if it is a good fit.
Purebred or Mutt?
One of the most significant decisions in choosing a dog is whether to get one with no other DNA than the purest or one with a mix. Purebred dogs are favored for specialty roles where optimal performance is needed. This is accomplished through selective breeding and it comes at a cost. Purebred dogs are generally licensed through breeders paying dues and membership which is passed on to the adopting family. Also, depending on the breed, some dogs suffer health problems at the expense of appearance. The American Bulldog is an example of this as it’s breathing can be difficult and corrective surgery may be necessary. On the other end of the spectrum, mixed dogs may have desirable features of a few different breeds. They generally have better health as the mating process leaves out congenital health problems.
Some “mutts” are not mutts at all as they are considered designer dogs pairing the attributes of one with another. For the survivor who wants to have a dog in his/her readiness plan but can’t due to health concerns (mainly allergies), there are breeds that are hypoallergenic. In the past, it was difficult to determine your mutt’s breed but with present DNA technology, the exact lineage can be broken down with some genetic samples from your pet. Of course, some physical features are clear tells of what breed a dog is and depending on where you adopt your mutt from, composition won’t matter if an emotional bond overrides your decision-making.
All the logic behind how to adopt the perfect dog for your survival situation can be easily argued, but if you experience a connection with a particular dog, go for it. Just like our primitive ancestors, that same connection likely resulted in the first domesticated dogs coming into the tribe. What dog will you let into your tribe?
Hands down, the Lab is the world’s most popular dog. It’s webbed feet make it an excellent swimmer, as its original job was to retrieve fishing nets in England in the early 19th Century.
Pro: Excellent hunting dogs, they have high endurance and are strong swimmers. They are very trainable, intelligent, and possess excellent hearing and sense of smell.
Con: Labs can overheat easily in extreme heat, and can be loud and clumsy at times. Their lovable nature makes them questionable protection dogs. They lose focus easily when around prey in the field.
Originating in Rottweil, Germany, the Rott is a very old line (from the Roman era). They were used to herd livestock and pull carts to market. They are a very strong and intelligent breed.
Pro: The best dog for personal protection given their reputation and intimidating appearance. They are very intelligent and easily trainable. They have a very strong body and can carry/pull a great deal of weight. Excellent sense of hearing and smell.
Con: They do not have great endurance and can overheat easily. Rotts are not good hunters/retrievers, and their breed isn’t respected for being a “safe” dog around strangers/public.
Originating in Germany, the Shepherd line of dogs is only 120 years old and was developed to efficiently herd sheep in the fields. It is the foremost police and military dog and is extremely popular among those wanting a dog for protection or personal assistance and search-and-rescue.
Pro: High endurance, speed, agility, and strength. They have a very strong work ethic and pose quite a formidable presence when employed as protection. They possess the best hearing and sense of smell and are very intelligent.
Con: Thanks to their popularity and breeding, they can be plagued with hip dysplasia and other health problems.
The Jack Russell was developed for its ability to hunt foxes and the breed hasn’t changed much for the last 250 years. They have a high level of energy which requires a great deal of exercise. They are tenacious and persistent, which makes them a wonderful hunting/tracking dog.
Pro: The biggest compliment to this dog is its endurance level. They have exceptional hearing and smell, and their small size means they eat less and take up less space.
Con: They aren’t very intimidating, but they’re not very quiet due to a higher amount of barking. They are not cold weather dogs, and their drive makes them difficult to contain.
With a mutt, one can easily get the best of all of the dogs mentioned in this article or one could get all of the worst qualities. It is a crapshoot, as it is difficult to know until well after the dog and owner may have bonded. However, every dog can be trained, and with proper training from someone who knows what he/she is doing, mutts can be a great asset in a survival situation.
Pro: It could be the best dog you’ll ever own.
Con: It could be the worst.
Editor’s Note: A version of this article first appeared in the September/October 2015 print issue of American Survival Guide Magazine.