In this four-part article series I will share the story of my visit to Kraftwerk K9, the function and benefit these dogs offer individuals and families, how these German Shepherds are molded and trained for their role, and will conclude with the story of my family bringing one into our home.
After driving a few hours, I pulled into Kraftwerk K9 in Rochester, Washington. I met Wayne Curry, owner of Kraftwerk K9, and it was quickly apparent that he really loves and takes pride in what he does. Wayne is a friendly guy – the kind of person you could find yourself talking with for hours over a few beers. He’s passionate about his dogs and is deeply committed to the families who purchase them. His customers range from single women to A-list celebrities to business executives to regular families like mine, and these people that purchase his German Shepherds are from all around the world… even from Germany!
As I walked through the office I noticed a wall full of trophies, met the Kraftwerk team, and learned all about Schutzhund training. “Schutzhund” is German for “protection dog” and is a sport created for dogs to be tested for their ability to be a proper working dog. From looking at the sheer number of championship trophies, from recent ones to some dusty ones from decades past, it was clear that Wayne is the real deal. Noticing the trophies wasn’t hard, because there was a whole wall full of them, but what I didn’t notice was a quiet German Shepherd hanging out under a desk while they worked. Then it struck me – this calm, quiet, beautiful dog was probably no ordinary family pet. I asked Wayne, “is that a protection dog?” He smiled and said that it was and that I would get to see the other side of this dog later today. For now, it was just a really friendly dog who was glad to put its head in my lap and be petted.
We talked for a couple hours about how the dogs are bred and trained, which is an impressive process in and of itself. This process will be discussed at length later in this series. I also learned about his facility and his team. When it was time to go meet some dogs, we were joined by the other trainers – Marrianne, Kerry, and Kevin – who brought a few dogs out to a field.
The first dog to come out was an absolutely gorgeous shepherd who exuded confidence and was clearly looking forward to training. Wayne put his suit on and hid behind a blind of sorts. Kevin “turned-on” the dog and then sent it to find Wayne. The dog immediately located him and began barking. When Wayne became aggressive the dog bit the sleeve and would not release no matter what Wayne did to pull free. He pulled the dog over his back, tried to “scrape off” the dog on the wall, and even fell to the ground and put the dog in an MMA-style guard with his legs trying to pull the dog off. That dog was on, and was not going to let go for anything. A moment later Kevin gave the command to release and the dog instantly let go and went back to barking. Kevin called the dog back to him and the dog came right to his side. Wayne got up and started toward Kevin holding a weapon. Kevin sent the dog again and the dog hit Wayne like an NFL linebacker. Once again the fight was on and, once again, the dog was called off and immediately returned to the handler.
This starts with having the puppies play with something that resembles the bite-sleeve. Once this process has been repeated hundreds of times the training will migrate to an actual sleeve and the sleeve becomes the toy and the greatest reward comes when the dog takes the sleeve and carries it away. At this point the Schutzhund sport process begins which teaches the dog things like when to bite, when to release, and when to return to the handler.
Once the dog has thoroughly learned the initial sleeve work, the handlers then begin to teach the dog to focus on the threat instead of the sleeve. This is accomplished by using multiple sleeves and having a new sleeve on as soon as the dog takes the prior one. The dog will transition from focusing on the sleeve to focusing on where the action is which ultimately brings the dog to learn to focus on the threat(s).
One common question new families ask is how much they will need to continue the training to ensure the dog doesn’t forget. The short answer is that the dog will never forget but, of course, the more practice the dog gets the better the dog will perform. The better answer is to incorporate the whole family into the training. The Kraftwerk team ensures all their families receive the training they need to handle the dog correctly and they’re always just a phone call or email away to answer questions. Incorporating the family into working the dog not only strengthens the bond between them and the dog but it’s also just plain fun! The final (optional) training with the dog needs to be done with the family anyway.
One option families with young children particularly enjoy is teaching the dog to locate the children. With the play-drive already in the dog this is accomplished relatively easily and the benefit to the family one day could be immeasurable. To teach the dog to locate the kids, the kids first show the toy to the dog and then walk off and hide somewhere. When the dog finds them, they throw the toy to the dog and the play begins. This is repeated over and over, with an increasing level of difficulty, eventually resulting in the dog being able to track the child simply by asking it to. Obviously, in addition to being a game both the children and the dog love to play, this could be invaluable skill one day if it is needed.
It was amazing to learn the amount of effort and attention that goes into every Kraftwerk dog and I was impressed at the investment every member of the Kraftwerk team puts into them. The obedience and protection work seem almost effortless for these dogs which is a testament to the trainers’ talent. From the process that goes into developing the dogs to the effort they put into choosing a dog that best fits the family, it’s easy to see how passionate the Kraftwerk team is about their work and the customers they serve.
The Tactical Parent series is written for parents who take an active role in protecting their family. Recognizing the unique challenges associated with protecting more than just yourself, we aim to provide tactics and equipment to help you keep your loved ones safe while maintaining a busy family lifestyle. It was in this effort that I discovered the incredible family protection dogs bred and trained by Kraftwerk K9.