The Breed that was Bred to Protect
At Blackriver K-9, it’s not just about training a dog. It’s about protecting a family. from CEO’s to Special Ops the Belgian Malinois is a complete security solution.
No one needs to tell Jonathon Powell how important it is to feel safe in your own home. Growing up, he seldom felt safe. An abusive father saw to that. With the family constantly on edge of being terrorized, Powell found solace in the most loyal, trusting thing a boy can: his dog. No matter how horrifying home life was, it was his German Shepard Sassy that pulled him through.
“No kid should ever have to go through that stress,” he said. “But it’s interesting that I wound up doing what I do. That played a major role in why I’m providing these great protectors to families.”
Through his company, Blackriver, Powell is in the protection business. Specifically, he deals in four-legged protectors.
These protectors come in the form of specially bred and trained dogs who play that same role as Sassy did so many years ago: a relentlessly loyal protector for families. But unlike Sassy, these dogs are expertly trained by Jonathan and his wife Sarah to act as the ultimate in living, breathing protection.
Also in contrast to Sassy, you won’t find any German Shephards at Blackriver. All of the dogs the company raises and trains are either Malinois or Dutch Shephards, breeds specifically selected for trainability and loyalty. “We’re very particular about the genetic quality of these dogs,” said Powell. “German Shephards are few and far between that pass our requirements—and they are very stringent requirements.”
Once the dog is selected, Blackriver puts it through rigorous training that represents the forefront of best practices and techniques.
“Each dog that goes out we either bred or picked out at six weeks old specifically for family protection,” said Powell. “During those 18 months we expose it to every environment possible. Children, the elderly, wheelchairs, gunfire, flying on an airplane, riding in a car, downtown environments… everything we can throw at that dog, because you never know.”
Even Jonathan and Sarah’s daughter Lillie Scott Powell joins in as Blackriver’s ear-puller-in-chief. “The biggest thing is exposure to that hectic family life.”
That dedication to family is one of the cornerstones of Blackriver’s approach. Because while the dog is joining the family for protection, the Powells never lose sight of the fact that this dog is becoming a part of a family. “When we bring this dog in, we’re spending 4–5 days with the family. You end up playing a bit of a psychiatrist as well—we really work with their emotions.”
And those families run the gamut, from CEOs to Special Ops. While you might picture a person who owns a trained dog as being heavily armed and fairly dangerous in their own right, Blackriver has provided dogs to all ends of the spectrum.
“Our dogs fit a wide range of people. It might be that guy who has a lot of guns, it might be that guy who doesn’t like guns and that’s precisely why he got the dog,” said Powell.
What’s more, Blackriver is able to provide these dogs at a much more affordable price point than most trainers. The average cost for one of their dogs, including training and in-house placement, averages around $20,000, well below market average.
“We want them to be somewhat affordable—not just for the über rich,” Powell said. “If more people took their families personal security into consideration there wouldn’t be this heavy dependence on government resources.”
As Powell puts it, finding the right dog for the right family, and giving them the safety and security they need, is where Blackriver’s heart is. And it’s a labor of love that began when Jonathan and Sarah were still dating. Currently a trainer for the Spartanburg Sheriff’s Office, Sarah was then training dogs in Colorado for search and rescue. It was Jonathan’s first exposure to the working breeds, and the immense loyalty and creativity they show in keeping their family safe.
Their first sale happened when a friend of Jonathan’s, himself a police dog trainer, offered to buy a Malinois the couple had trained. “He said we’d done a phenomenal job training this dog; it was great with the family but it also performed on the street.”
More police dogs followed, until the couple received their first civilian request. And thus, Blackriver was born, dedicated to giving families the very finest in canine protection. The Powells, now living in Spartanburg, are currently building a six-acre facility just outside of town that will be finished in a year.