Sport vs. Personal Protection Dogs


By Josiah Neuman CMT, CDT
In Dogs We Trust, LLC. / Wir Vertrauen


There are many differences between a personal protection dog and a sport dog. The dog itself should be bred with similarities such as good drive (defense or prey), solid nerves, and stable character to enhance confidence, as well as the physical ability to do the job. The difference between these two animals can vary greatly and the criteria for either dog should match that of the owners needs. In this article I am going to discuss some aspects that you should consider if you are looking for a sport or personal protection K-9.

Top sport competitors usually live in a kennel – they are handled and trained from the very beginning of their life specifically for sport work. Similarly, a formula one race car is built from the ground up for precision and speed. It never will be modified or rebuilt to be the family grocery getter.

When we compare sport and personal protection dogs we can make more associations than the formula one race car; however each of these two dogs play a very different role in the environment in which they work.

Activity Level

One of the most overlooked aspects of either dog is the activity level. A sport dog needs to be very active, working on the field for long periods of time, engaged in activities that will give it proper outlet for this intense drive. High activity level dogs that live in the home without the proper amount of physical activity will quickly become destructive and difficult to live with. On the other hand, a dog that is bred specifically to protect its owner or family does not need to have the same activity level of the sport dog. It is perfectly acceptable for the dog to lie down and hang out with a calm, easy going demeanor. Genetics and breeding for particular qualities pre-determine the activity level of the offspring.



Often we hear and read about the drive of the working dog. You can find several good articles on the internet that defined prey, defense, and fight drive however in this article I am going to compare the difference in drive between the sport and personal protection dog.

Sport dogs need high levels of prey drive and this is a big part of what increases the activity level. Note: this drive will trigger the dog’s instinct to chase, catch, and kill (bite) which is necessary for bite sports (Schutzhund, Ring Sport, etc). Sport dogs generally do have varying degrees of defense drive, this helps bring intensity to the fight after the chase or pursuit is over and the dog is on the bite.

Personal protection dogs do not need high levels of prey drive. They are usually on leash, or at home, protecting the family or property. These dogs do not need to chase, catch and bite everything that is moving or exciting. Note: some prey drive can help in the early stages of training and also, to decrease the level of stress on the bite. Defense drive however is very important; these dogs should be less forward and more protective in the presence of strangers. A defense driven dogs remembers faces, places, and are more in tune with surroundings then that of the prey / activity driven dog.


Thresholds relate to the dog ability to deal with stress, adversity, and tolerance to pain. These thresholds develop at different stages and they are passed on through genetics. Some refer to thresholds as the dog’s nerves which is true, when you are talking about mental thresholds. Physical thresholds relate to touch sensitivity / pain tolerance.

Personal protection dogs and sport can both benefit from strong thresholds. Dealing with the pressure involved with competing or actually protecting the handler in a time of crisi requires the dog to deal with adversity, endure higher amounts of pain, and to overcome stressful, and challenging situations. Higher pain thresholds also make the dog more difficult to correct and/or it will be less responsive to a correction in working mode. For the novice handler, a stronger dog with less tolerance / reaction to correction can be difficult. These dogs are not “sensitive”.

Note: when a dog is pushed beyond its threshold it will elicit a change in behavior in response to stimulus also referred to as “fight or flight”. The recovery time from this mental state of mind is also very important.


Training is more than teaching your dog to sit, stay, or come on command. Training is also testing. I can’t stress the importance of testing your sport or personal protection dog and conditioning it for what it will encounter on the field or at home. Genetics are important but without training, dog and owner will not have the skill set or form of communication needed to react in the heat of the moment. Beware the breeders that tell you their dogs can naturally do the work. No different from the military, police, or any other skilled profession, people and dogs need the training to be succesful. Training, testing, and preparing are a necessity if you wish to compete or rely on your K-9 to protect.

The proper age to begin training, socializing, and preparing your dog should begin at 8 weeks of age. Introducing pressure and realistic protection scenarios should not begin until the dog has been conditioned properly, and is mature enough to handle the work.


Titles alone do not guarantee that you will find the right fit for your next competition dog, or family companion. If you are looking for a working dog I recommend you seek the advice of a professional trainer, K-9 handler, top level competitor, or a club. These people see and work lots of different dogs so they can give you un-biased feed back on breeders, importers, and further - to help you find a dog to meet your needs. Do your research - ask for references, study the progeny, assess current and past accomplishments, and meet the sire/dam of a potential litter. The apple doesn't fall far from the tree!

If you would like more information about the types of training we offer click here!