If your dog is anything like ours, they bark the instant someone knocks on the door or rings the doorbell. She’s an excellent watchdog. However, the second we open the door, she hightails it to the other end of the house. (So much for all that bravado!) As a guard dog, she fails. If you have similar experiences, you might wonder what makes a good guard dog. Can any dog be a guard dog? Actually, no. For example, don’t expect your pug to scare away intruders. So what qualities should you look for in a guard dog? And what are the best guard dog breeds?
Some dogs are born with an instinct to protect what’s theirs. They’re alert, intelligent, loyal to their family, courageous, and territorial. Most importantly, they’re affectionate towards their family members. What they AREN’T is aggressive. Guard dogs are large breeds with a lot of strength. Add aggression, and there’s potential for harm – to you or your family.
“It’s all great when a dog is protective towards a threatening stranger but not so great when the dog is ‘protective’ toward a neighbor, a relative, or a guest you have in your house. All of a sudden, the dog is barking at people you want in your life.”~Jennifer Hack, Trainer and Behavior Specialist – Dynamic Dogs
When you set out to bring a guard dog into your life, obedience training is a MUST. You learn to administer commands correctly, and your dog learns to balance protection with defense. Remember, guard dog breeds are SMART. Obedience training hones that intelligence to determine a threat from merely strange.
Experience-Needed Guard Dog Breeds
All guard dog breeds are pros at their jobs. A lot of breeds have an innate talent for protection. However, not every dog is ideal for every owner. These breeds NEED an experienced owner.
- Akita: Akitas served as guards for royalty and nobility in feudal Japan. Naturally suspicious of strangers, they’re extremely loyal to their family members. The Akita is the tallest of the Japanese dogs, with a large and heavy body. Early socialization is a must, and watch them around smaller household pets.
- Bullmastiff: Bullmastiffs patrolled forests to deter poachers in 19th century England. Often tipping the scales at 110-130 pounds, they have a deep bark they rarely use. Instead, owners trained them to run down their target and pin them to the ground. (Pretty effective!) In addition to guard work, Bullmastiffs also compete in tracking, carting, and agility as they respond well to training.
- Rottweiler: Rotties herded cattle and accompanied soldiers into battle. Headstrong and intelligent, they require a calm, confident “alpha dog.” Anyone who’s met a well-socialized Rottie will confirm these sweethearts don’t do well when left alone. They need regular exercise and attention. Poor management and owners with bad intentions have earned the breed a negative reputation. Rotties are now on the list of banned breeds in many housing areas, and they’re even banned in certain cities.
Working Guard Dog Breeds
When you hear the words “guard dog,” these are the breeds people think of the most. These dogs work with the police and military (and on farms) to this day. These working dogs typically have high energy demands. If they don’t get sufficient exercise, behavioral problems develop.
- Belgian Malinois: The Malinois superficially resembles a German Shepherd, but they’re slighter – only around 80 pounds. More intense with higher energy needs, they HAVE to keep busy. Malinois CANNOT be left for long hours on their own – they become destructive.
- German Shepherd: German Shepherds initially worked herding cattle before switching to their current post as guards. Deceivingly imposing, most of their bulk comes from a fluffy coat you WILL spend a lot of time coping with (they SHED). Shepherds form intense attachments with their owners. This is one of the reasons they’re so useful as guard dogs. Germany holds a competition inspired by Shepherds called Schutzhund (“protection dog”) that focuses on obedience, tracking, and protection.
- Komondor: Komondors originated in Hungary as sheepherders and now work herding cattle. Famous for their “dreadlocks,” they’re strong, courageous dogs with an innate desire to protect their territories. Komondors require a lot of space, and that hair needs special care to keep it looking its best. These dogs thrive on one-on-one interaction, and they aren’t recommended for first-time owners.
Repurposed Guard Dog Breeds
Some of the more common guard dog breeds got their start performing different jobs. Some of those jobs might surprise you (or make you laugh). While those old jobs aren’t applicable now, the roots make them more effective guards today.
- Doberman Pinscher: In the 1890s, Dobermans got their start as companions for tax collectors. Louis Dobermann wanted a protector as he made his rounds collecting people’s money (go figure), and he aimed for an aggressive nature. That trait earned Dobies a bad rep for a long time. Highly intelligent and naturally obedient, Dobies make excellent guard dogs. They do need regular mental stimulation to prevent destructive behavior, though.
- Rhodesian Ridgeback: Ridgebacks originated in South Africa as hunting dogs for lions and other big game. Natural athletes, they can easily beat an intruder to the fence line. Ridgebacks rarely bark, so if you hear one, it means something’s wrong. While obedience training is essential, Ridgebacks should NOT undergo guard dog training. You’ll heighten their natural protective instincts and cause problems.
- Cane Corso: Pronounced “Kah-nay Kor-so,” they originated in Italy as war dogs and hunters. Imposing in stature, they stand around 27 inches at the shoulder and tip the scales at over 100 pounds. Cane Corsos are not for the inexperienced owner, but fans of the breed will tell you they’re marshmallows with their family. These dogs need space and regular exercise, so they aren’t meant for apartments.
Training, Training, Training
As with any breed you look to bring into your home, research is a must. When considering which guard dog is best for you, this goes double. Find a reputable obedience school in your area and speak with the trainers. They may be able to make recommendations based on your needs. They can also get you signed up for you first classes.
When it comes to guard dogs, training is your best friend. It will keep you – and your dog – safe and healthy.
Whether it’s the mailman on the other side of the door or someone less friendly, a guard dog will always have your back.