Talk guard dogs and crime prevention with Susan Giventer and she'll describe the day two would-be burglars stumbled upon her mastiffs Rif Raf and Jezebel, a pair of canines that together weigh 400 pounds.
The dogs were resting on the floor when the intruders entered.
"They lay there until (the men) started to come toward me," said the Fontana breeder, who swears her 'quiet giants' are more intimidating than dangerous. "Then the dogs stood up and one guy said 'Oh, my God, look at the size of that dog!' (The men) ran into each other and fell on the ground and then started running (again). . . . I haven't had any problems since."
With burglaries in Orange County rising, dog trainers say worried residents are increasingly turning to their pets for protection. One guard-dog importer says requests have increased nearly 75% in the past year. Some people are paying $5,000 for highly trained guard dogs, while others are enrolling household pets in pricey "protection training" courses.
Trainers have even begun comparing canines to artillery.
"You're training the dog to be a weapon, essentially," said Paul Goduti, owner of Canine Communications in Orange. "A controllable weapon."
"Some dogs are .45s and some dogs are .22s," said Harvey Allen, owner of Allen's Sandstone Dog Training in Orange. The big guns, Allen said, are dog breeds such as German shepherd, Rottweiler and Doberman pinscher.
The mastiff, said another instructor, is more like "a cannon."
Some trainers swear a well-disciplined guard dog is actually handier than a weapon.
"It's much more of an advantage," said Jacki Rue, owner of Advantage K-9 Academy in Orange. "Nobody can take my dog away and use it on me."
Some view the Rottweilers' stunning rise in popularity as an indicator of the trend toward relying on pets for security.
Ten years ago, the "Rottie" was the 35th most-registered dog in the United States, according to the American Kennel Club. But this year, the husky breed moved into second place, right behind the Labrador retriever.
Many of the customers who are peeling off big bucks for macho dogs are women, some of whom have already been victims of assaults.
One Orange County woman, who asked that her name be withheld, recently invested $4,500 in a trained 110-pound Rottweiler after being viciously beaten in her home. The dog--which even accompanies her to church--was worth every penny, she said.
"Duke is now my best friend. I had no idea what it's like to own a dog. The unconditional love this dog has given me, and the confidence. He goes everywhere with me."
Rue, who imports Rottweilers, German shepherds and Doberman pinschers from Germany, said she hopes to someday donate trained dogs to battered women's shelters. A women who returns home with such a dog at her side will be less likely to be beaten again, Rue said.
David Reaver, whose Riverside company, Alderhorst International, is one of the largest importers of trained guard dogs on the West Coast, said he has seen a sharp increase in requests for such dogs over the past two years.
For most of his 16 years in business, Reaver said he imported almost exclusively for police departments. But that has changed.
"In the last couple years, I've seen a tremendous increase (in requests) from the public sector for this type of dog for the home," he said. "We probably get five calls from private persons for every one call we get from police departments anymore."
Reaver said about 70% of his customers have already been targeted by thieves by the time they go guard-dog shopping.
"Nobody's ever been robbed or burglarized since they've gotten a dog from us," he said. Interviews with convicts show they are particularly intimidated by guard dogs, Reaver said.
"The dog is head and shoulders above an alarm or armed citizen," said Reaver.
Among the most intensely disciplined dogs are those trained in the German competition sport, Schutzhund, which means "protection" in German. A popular sport in that country, Schutzhund was developed to determine which dogs had the proper temperament for breeding, said Chris Williams, head trainer at Advantage K-9 Academy.
The dogs are judged on their "attitude" and how accurately they follow commands, Rue said. The most highly skilled cost $5,000. On a recent weekday morning, the academy put on a Schutzhund demonstration for animal care students at a regional occupational program in Orange.
On cue and without hesitation, the German shepherd named Baron sprang forward, clamping his teeth around Williams' arm, which was protected by a sturdy padded sleeve. At his owner's next command, Baron released the sleeve and returned to a sitting position.
"This is the ultimate in control," Rue said. "This dog wants to bite that sleeve in the worst way." Standing proudly next to her dog after the display, owner Alana Farmer praised her pet for having "a wonderful temperament."