Dogs as Protectors on the Road
Every now and then, someone will ask me for advice regarding the potential role that dogs play in terms of preventing crime. Since many RVers spend a fair amount of time in unfamiliar areas, the question of personal safety is a legitimate one. However, you should also be aware that the issue of crime and RVing is highly controversial given that any discussion inevitably turns into a heated debate about the potential value and associated consequences of carrying a firearm. In fact, in many of the online forums, the topic of firearms is no longer allowed due to the intensity and rancor that inevitably emerges. Fortunately, I'm here to talk about RVing with dogs so I'll limit most of the discussion to the role that dogs play in protecting RVs and RVers.
To begin, it's important to recognize two fundamental facts about RVing and crime. The first is that RVing is statistically a very safe activity. Robberies at campgrounds are almost unheard of and violence against RVers is extremely rare. Thus, most RVers will tell you that crime prevention is more of a precautionary strategy than a necessary one. As a full-time RVer, I can personally attest to the almost enviable level of safety that exists in the parks and campgrounds all across North America. The one incident that comes to mind was the theft of a small step-stool in a county park in Arizona. The victim of the crime, an elderly gentleman from Minnesota, took comfort in the fact that the steps were poorly made and thus represented a genuine hazard for the thieves. It reminds me of a car that I once owned that was so unreliable—I used to fantasize about it being stolen.
The second fact regarding RVing and crime is that nearly all criminal acts are unplanned. In other words, unless you're famous (or infamous), highly controversial, or conspicuously wealthy, it's highly unlikely that you'll be the intentional target of a carefully premeditated crime. As they say, when a politician is robbed, it's an assassination attempt. For everyone else—it's just a robbery. At any rate, for RVers, the most likely form of crime that we're ever apt to experience is theft. However, since the vast majority of crimes are unplanned, most thieves typically look for conspicuous targets with very little in the way of personal risk. In other words, thieves look for a good return on their investment with little in the way of surprises.
Hence, if you park your shiny new motorhome in a bad section of town, turn out all the lights, and drive away, you've created a very appealing target for people that specialize in vehicular robberies. However, when a dog in inserted into this hypothetical scenario, everything changes. For starters, most dogs bark when they feel threatened. Thus when a thief starts to pry open the door or window of an RV, the dog will inevitably begin to bark. Suddenly, the criminals are now dealing with a whole different situation. With a barking dog, anything can happen. There may be someone inside the RV that is now alerted to the potential break-in. Likewise, there may be someone nearby that hears the dog barking and looks out their window to see what's going on. Any way you slice it— a barking dog is bad news for thieves. As a result, thieves invariably avoid vehicles and homes that have a dog. Put simply, it's a lot easier and less risky to rob a vehicle that doesn't have a dog. Thus, whenever we're boondocking in a Wal-Mart parking lot or some other unknown urban environment, we leave our dog in the RV whenever we go shopping or grab a meal. That way, if someone attempts to break in, they'll have to contend with an angry dog right from the start.
You may notice that I haven't brought up the issue of which type of dog is best suited for the role as a protector of property. The reason is simple. In most cases, it doesn't matter. The deep sound of a growling Great Dane may trigger more fear than the high-pitched bark of a Toy Poodle but it's the commotion and the unwanted attention that the dog brings to the scene that matters the most. Like a good alarm system—dogs offer the ultimate in protection because they tend to prevent the crime from occurring in the first place.
On the other hand, if you have enemies, a vivid imagination, or a tendency to RV in potentially dangerous places, the breed of the dog becomes increasingly more important. You may laugh at this statement but we knew a woman that used to boondock on the streets of big cities like Newark, New Jersey, Dallas, and St. Louis. To make matters worse, she traveled in a badly maintained RV with old tires and four children under the age of ten. Fortunately, she never ran into any problems but if it were me, I would've brought along a dog. And not just any dog. Why? Because when it comes to making a strong impression, the breed matters. So does size.
A friend whom I grew up with used to breed and train German shepherd dogs for police departments all over the globe. He typically spent two years working with each dog and by the time he was done, these dogs were highly trained and very expensive. The reason that he only worked with German shepherd dogs is not as obvious as you might think. It's true that this breed is smart, fast, strong, and highly trainable. But so are many other breeds. The primary reason that police departments use German shepherd dogs has to do with the public's perception of the breed. As it turns out, when it comes to garnering "respect", nothing can compete with a German shepherd dog. As one policeman in a K-9 unit put it—"The second I take him out of the car, everything changes". Besides, how many breeds are also known as "guard dogs" or "police dogs"?
Thus, if you're looking for the highest level of protection available from a dog, consider a German shepherd. As the fourth most popular breed in the U.S.—they also make terrific travel companions. That being said, there are plenty of other breeds that will provide a strong sense of security for everyone concerned. If fact, any large dog will intimidate and deter would-be criminals. After all, if you walked into someone's house and a large mixed-breed dog started growling and barking at you, you wouldn't think "Gee, it's just a mutt...nothing to worry about". Keep in mind though—having a big dog can be a lot of work. They eat more. They take up more room, and in some RV parks, certain breeds are banned including Rottweilers, Pit Bulls, and Doberman Pinschers.
As some of you know, we spent five years living in an RV with two large German shepherd dogs. We're now down to one. But in spite of the responsibility of traveling with a large breed dog, I wouldn't have it any other way. In truth, I enjoy RVing with dogs because I'm fond of having them around and they absolutely adore traveling. The fact that dogs offer a significant measure of protection is just frosting on the cake. So if you RV with a dog (or want to), you don't need to rush out and get a trained police dog. Any dog will offer an ample amount of protection against the vast majority of threats that exist today. Besides, they're great company and they force you to get out, meet other RVers, and take walks.