The Rise of High-Priced Security Dogs

VIDEO: Matt Gutman checks out a training facility specializing in training guard dogs.
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The German shepherd seemed sincerely incensed.

Snapping and snarling, lunging at me.

And there I was, baiting him by swatting at him with a baton.

Miniature cameras were strapped to my head and chest, as two other cameras shot at a safe distance from what, I presumed, would be the inevitable carnage.

On one arm, a plastic arm-guard, on the other, a leather sleeve called a gauntlet. I looked like a poorly equipped gladiator.

And then, the attack.

The trainer lets the German shepherd, Izzo, go and the 110-pound, canine-missile launches itself at me.

I feel Izzo's jaws crushing my plastic arm guard as he jerks me around like a ragdoll.

The camera on my head tumbles to the ground. I yelp, and then try to growl back.

And then, he's called of. It's over.

Seconds later, Izzo is licking my face.

It's that ability to go from kill to cuddle in seconds that makes him among the world's most valuable dogs.

Like his cousins here at Harrison K-9 Security Services, a canine top-gun finishing school in Aiken, S.C., Izzo is the scion of canine royalty; the ultimate in luxury security.

Harrison Prather, the school's owner and a nearly 40-year veteran of the security business, says his dogs are trained and bred to be just that way.

His dogs possess that sublime combination of a lover and a fighter.

"They're fur people who want to be part of the family," he said. "People we sell our canines to, that's what they want."

And what Prather's clients want, they will pay for.

The perfect pedigree, championship ranking and certain beautiful face of 3-year-old Julia helped Prather recently sell the pooch for $230,000.

Like Julia, none of Prather's dogs come cheap.

Take, for example, just the four dogs I worked with (read: was attacked by) during my day at the school.

Remember Izzo? His value is nearly $100,000. Indo would sell for $50,000 and my favorite, Flecky, would sell for the bargain basement price of just $37,000.

So I asked Prather, "What kind of folks can afford a $50,000 or $200,000 dog?"

"A business man who travels a lot," he said, painting a portrait of his typical clientele.

"More than likely he has his own plane. He's got a family at home," he said. "He's worried about security and bodyguards are not an option. These dogs are part of the family."

Unlike dogs, Prather said, bodyguards are often surly, can be bought off and require time off.

Plus, these pooches can't be bribed.

"So if I take Flecky over here and I hand her a steak, can't I bribe her?" I tested Prather.

"No, she won't eat it," he confidently replied. "She won't eat from anyone that is not her owner. They're conditioned that way."

That's a bonus that draws high-profile folks such as movie stars to seek out Prather's services.

"Celebrities and professional athletes, too," Prather said of the A-listers joining businessman in ditching their sometimes surly bodyguards for a high-priced pooch. "That's our clientele."

What makes a dog more powerful than a man with a gun, I wondered?

Humans are conditioned to fear fangs, Prather explained, so criminals are invariably more afraid of teeth than gun-carrying humans.

"They know what a police officer can or can't do," he said of criminals. "But we have this innate fear of being eaten by animals, saber tooth tigers and that sort of thing. Criminals don't want nothing to do with it."

"Teeth are scarier," he concluded. "It's all in your mind."

Prather has been doing this for 36 years, to be exact, ever since he left the Army looking for a career that would allow him to ditch a coat and tie.

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