A dog isn’t just a cute and fluffy pet that brightens the atmosphere at home. With the right dog breed, a dog can also be a valuable member of the family by protecting your property from those who would want to harm it. Not every dog can become a guard dog, naturally, which is why this guide exists.
This guide covers everything you need to know when buying a guard dog throughout the following sections:
Do You Need A Guard Dog? Qualities Needed In A Guard Dog Best Dog Breeds For Protection Breeds To Avoid
Across these, you’ll learn if you need a guard dog, what traits make a good guard dog, which breeds are great protectors, and which ones aren’t. We can’t do a deep dive on every breed we’ve mentioned below, so we’ve included links to materials that contain more information.
With that covered, let’s get started.
Do You Need A Guard Dog?
Before we start
looking at dog breeds, you need to ask yourself a question – do you need a guard dog? Dogs fulfill a wide variety of functions in our society, from guiding the blind, helping those suffering from trauma, or even catching criminals alongside their police handlers.
A guard dog is a specific type of dog. It is defined as “a dog trained to protect a place” but this means taking an active role in protection, so attacking and repelling any threats that try to enter your private property. A dog that barks whenever somebody’s at the door isn’t enough, a guard dog is a dog that’s ready to defend the home if that person forces their way in.
Guard Dog VS Watch Dog
Guard dogs are commonly confused with watchdogs, which serve a similar but different purpose. So, we know where we stand, let’s go through commonly confused terms and define what each one means.
We’ve already covered what a guard dog is – they act as lookouts for danger, alert of danger through barking and making noise, but they are also able to defend themselves and their family if a threat presents itself.
Watchdogs, on the other hand, only fulfill half of what a guard dog does. Watchdogs, well, watch. They watch for trouble and, when that trouble presents itself, they bark to let their owners know something is up. Most dogs act like watchdogs anyway, so it doesn’t matter how small the dogs are.
A chihuahua can be a watchdog,
they’re even quite good at it because of their proclivity for yapping at anybody who comes to the door and their massive ears that guarantee they hear any shenanigans. Sure, they’re often writing checks that their bodies can’t cash, but that’s why they are watchdogs, not guard dogs.
Besides guard dogs and watchdogs, there are also sentry dogs, personal protection dogs, and attack dogs. Sentry dogs are guard dogs who are also trained to patrol an area to defend larger zones. Personal protection dogs are equivalent to bodyguards, assigned to protect a person during movement. Lastly, attack dogs are those trained by the police or the military,
both now and throughout history, to chase and bring down criminals or enemy opposition. They use all of the skills of a guard dog but offensively, not defensively. Guard Dogs & Families
All this talk about guard dogs and what’s expected of them can raise valid concerns. If a dog breed is naturally inclined toward violence and is trained to protect the home, how do they mix with families? This is
the most important aspect of a good guard dog breed. A powerful guard dog that can turn on its master family is worse than having no guard dog at all.
That said, the right breed with the right training will be as
loyal to your family as any other pup, if not more so. The same temperament that makes protective dog breeds ideal as guard dogs also drive their deep love and loyalty to their families. Just take a look at this list. As we get deeper into this guide, you’ll notice many of those breeds are on our list of great guard dog breeds, too.
It’s also true that the individual dog matters. You can read up on temperaments and bloodlines all you want but it’s a fact that individual dogs, when properly sourced and trained, are unlikely to pose a threat to their own family.
70% of all dog bites happen because the dog hasn’t been neutered. Another sad statistic in that collection is that dogs were 2.8x likely to bite when they’re chained or otherwise confined, which isn’t how you treat a valued member of your family.
To be safe, you can teach young children the proper conduct when interacting with guard dogs. The most important thing is to stop teasing or roughhousing. Some dogs understand it, some don’t, but it’s not a risk anybody should take with their pet. Once both the kids and the dog know the rules of interaction, guard dogs can then learn how to treat the children with so-called kiddy gloves.
Qualities Needed In A Guard Dog
So, what qualities should a guard dog have? There are five – intelligence, loyalty, courage, territorial instinct, and affectionate nature. A good guard dog will have all five so they can be a well-balanced pet that’s capable of love while also knowing when to get its teeth out.
Let’s go through those five qualities in more detail.
It’s great to have an intelligent dog, by which we mean a dog that can understand and respond to the orders that you teach it. A dog that knows when to sit, stay, heel, is all good, but a guard dog must be especially smart so they understand the situation. If a standard dog misreads signals, the worst that happens is they won’t give you their paw. If a guard dog misreads a situation, they may bare their teeth when there’s no reason to do so.
An intelligent guard dog is in tune with its surroundings and able to discern the motives of human beings from their actions. Through context clues and their master’s own demeanor, they won’t start any false alarms and treat non-threats with kindness or just ignore them, even if they unknowingly engage in behaviors that a threat would also use.
Once again, this is something that comes quite naturally to dogs. They are known as being creatures of loyalty all over the world. Stories of dogs like the
Greyfriars Bobby or Hachiko have spread worldwide, where two dogs waited patiently for their owners who would never return, over years. And yes, they were the inspiration for that Emmy-nominated Futurama scene.
While Hachiko was an Akita, a loyal breed we’ve talked about below, the Bobby was a tiny Skye Terrier who was still loyal to the end despite his small size. That kind of admirable loyalty to their owners is what every guard dog should have. It doesn’t just keep them in line, it gives them the fighting spirit to risk themselves for their owner if a threat ever rears its ugly head.
That brings us to the next trait – courage. While some dogs may have a lot of bark, they may not have much bite. Consider the example of the chihuahua, where they bark a lot and can be great as a tiny watchdog, but they’re useless in a fight and probably wouldn’t even try to stop an intruder, because they’re smart. That’s why the size of the dog is important too because that gives them the confidence to engage threats.
Even then, most human intruders are going to be taller than the largest guard dog, which is very imposing. This means large guard dogs need to still be courageous to attack tall human threats if necessary.
What makes a guard dog defend its home is an attachment to the area.
Territorial behaviors are well documented in every animal species in the animal kingdom but certain dog breeds are more prone than others. There’s no benefit in having a guard dog if the dog doesn’t react to intruders walking into your home like they own the place. Affectionate Nature
Last but certainly not least, a good guard dog knows when to drop the protective act. It’s unethical to keep a dog around solely as a weapon against hypothetical dangers. Guard dogs are pet dogs, like any other canine breed, and so they must be capable of showing affection toward their owners and the family that takes them in. When a guard dog has an affectionate nature, they know when to love and they know when to protect the home, and they won’t get them confused.
Best Dog Breeds For Protection
Now that we’ve covered what guard dogs are and which traits make the best guard dogs, it’s time to
start looking at breeds. There are many different breeds within the canine family, some of which are predisposed to guard duty.
What follows is a list of fifteen dog breeds that can become effective guard dogs. All of them are large enough to be physically imposing but their temperament will vary.
It’s no surprise that we have Rottweilers, German Shepherds, and Doberman Pinschers starting the list. They’re common, cover all five of the best guard dog qualities and, as a result, they’re overwhelmingly used as guard dogs all across the world.
Lastly, it’s worth mentioning that no dog is a true guard dog until they have been trained. Every breed below should be trained to do two things:
Ignore or play nice with other dogs, instead of becoming standoffish. Act as a guard dog, even if they already show guarding behaviors because of their breed.
There’s no guarantee that any dog will act protectively unless they’ve been trained properly, so formally training them is the surest and safest way to turn your family pet into a guard dog.
With that covered, let’s take a look at the best protective dog breeds.
Rottweilers are the dogs most people think about when they hear the phrase “guard dog” and for good reason. This is because they’ve been guarding humans and their possessions since the day the breed was created, having been originally bred by the Romans to tow carts, herd sheep, and even follow soldiers into battle.
They’re also quite intelligent and they’re very loving towards their families, perhaps
too loving. While Rottweilers are fearless and intelligent, they emotionally attach to their owners. So, what’s the downside? Well, they become sensitive to the owner’s emotions, so an inexperienced owner could unwittingly transmit negative emotions to the dog. They’re also quite needy, requiring a lot of company and exercise to keep them fit, so definitely not a breed you should leave alone for long periods. German Shepherd
A German Shepherd is a
common sight in police forces and militaries across the world. This is because they exemplify a lot of the best qualities you want in a guard dog, including a stunning intelligence that allows them to be trained to recognize and sniff out objects for security reasons.
For a larger and physically imposing dog, they aren’t as heavy, rarely passing 100 pounds, and so they aren’t prone to physical issues that come with heavier dogs. Like great watchdog breeds, they have large, pointed ears that are great for listening to their surroundings and finding threats.
Like Rottweilers, Dobermans were originally bred with protection in mind. A German tax collector, Karl Friedrich Louis Dobermann, owned a dog pound and purposely bred the Doberman Pinscher to accompany him on his travels. It’s widely believed that German Shepherds and Rottweilers were used during the breeding process to create the Doberman.
The fact they were bred for strength, intelligence, and stamina makes them ideal as guard dogs in the modern world. They’re taller than most Rottweilers and German Shepherds, making for an imposing travel companion, but this also means they require more exercise and living space.
Like the other guard dogs mentioned, their heightened intelligence also makes them sensitive to their owner’s emotions. While this makes them loving towards their families, it also means they are prone to bad behavior if they aren’t given a lot of attention by the owner.
Created by breeding bulldogs and mastiffs together, the Bullmastiff was originally bred in England in the 1800s. They were used to guard estates, specifically to chase off poachers who were illegally hunting on the land. Their history of protection doesn’t end there, as they were also imported to South Africa to guard diamond mines.
They’re known for their large physique and their flat snout, and they commonly go over 110 pounds in weight, making them the heaviest breed mentioned so far. Unlike the first three guard dog breeds we’ve already talked about; Bullmastiffs aren’t so emotionally clingy to their owners. They’re also built to carry weight, so they don’t need as much exercise to keep them fighting fit.
We wouldn’t recommend them for a first-time owner because while they aren’t clingy, this manifests in independence that needs to be tamed and controlled so that the dog doesn’t act up. They also drool a lot, too!
While the more popular Miniature Schnauzer doesn’t make good guard dogs, their larger cousins the Giant Schnauzers do. They were bred to drive livestock and included Great Dane genes to bestow them their impressive size. From there, they were imported into urban areas to guard stores and, when the World Wars came around, they were used as military dogs and exported all over the world.
Unlike the breeds we’ve mentioned so far, Giant Schnauzers have a thick coat that acts as natural armor against small animals and the weather. It’s also commonly stressed that this breed is intelligent, more than most other breeds, to the point of mischief. Naturally, this means beginners will have trouble keeping the dog in line.
This Japanese breed is known for its large size, its long lifespan, and its unrelenting cuteness. There’s also the
American Akita, which is considered a separate breed that shares a lot of the same traits. The Japanese Akita was used to hunt elks, boar, and even brown bears in the mountainous regions of Japan, and they even accompanied samurai on their travels. They’re a hardy breed that came close to extinction twice during the World Wars but have persevered. The story of Hachiko helped the Japanese Akita receive worldwide notoriety.
They’re known for being relatively quiet for a dog breed. They’re said to only bark when there’s a good reason to, which has led to them being called Silent Hunters. This doesn’t mean they can’t have fun though, often engaging in silly play when around those they love and trust. They need to be taught how to play nice with other dogs from an early age.
Next is another mountain dog, the Great Pyrenees. As you’d expect from its name, it’s from the Pyrenees mountain range between France and Spain, and they have long been used in both the Pyrenees and the Alps to deter high-altitude predators like wolves and bears. They go by many names but Great Pyrenees is the American term for them, having been exported to the USA and used on farmland to protect cattle flocks.
They will need to be trained as guard dogs. They have a loyal and brave temperament, and they have the size to scare things off, but they also have independence and aloofness that needs to be trained away. That aloofness also means they’re low maintenance when compared to the emotional needs of other guard dog breeds.
Great Danes have a worldwide reputation as being
the tallest dogs in the world. Like the main three guard dog breeds that we’ve mentioned, they also hail from Germany, where they were used as hunting dogs since the Middle Ages. Despite the fact this breed easily reaches 150-200 pounds, they don’t have much of a protective demeanor. When untrained, a Great Dane is often a gentle giant, so training is definitely required so that they can act defensively.
Of course, just the sight of them is enough security for most premises. Everybody knows a Great Dane when they see one and just the possibility of getting on its bad side is a deterrent. They’re known to strongly bond with their owner, which also means that they need more maintenance and care to keep them calm and well-tempered.
The Belgian Malinois, or Belgian Shepherd, is another police and military breed that’s commonly mistaken for German Shepherds. They look a lot like German Shepherds although they are typically stockier and have shaggier coats. They have a history of defensive work, particularly in the USA, and they’re known as work dogs more than household pets.
This is because their energy even outpaces most German Shepherds, so the average family can struggle to tame this breed and keep it controlled. They need to be exercised regularly to keep them calm and following commands.
Komondors are Hungarian Sheepdogs, known for their shaggy coats that are often compared to mop heads or dreadlocks. Underneath their thick, white coat is a large and strong working dog that has been used to guard livestock for centuries. They can get too guarded around those they love, so socialization training will be necessary from a young age.
Cane Corso dogs are an Italian form of mastiff that has been used for protection and guarding for as long as they have existed like many in the mastiff family. They typically weigh 100 pounds, the sweet spot for a lot of guard dog breeds, and they carry that weight with a calm and aloof temperament common for similar dogs like Bullmastiffs. The signature large, thick head of these mastiffs is also sure to deter intruders just at the sight of it.
Owners of Cane Corso dogs should have a fenced-off yard that the dog can roam around in, as they’re more energetic than other mastiff breeds. Because of that, owners should be experienced in taking care of guard dogs and have plenty of time to exercise them.
Descended from bulldogs that were used for cattle driving and bull-baiting, American Bulldogs are larger variants that propagated throughout the southern USA because of their ability to hunt down feral hogs,
a pest that’s still plaguing the nation today. They have been bred and conditioned to control other animals larger than them, which requires the bravery and tenacity that makes a good guard dog.
They’re workaholics, so they always need to be doing something to keep them from getting antsy, even if that’s a daily walk around the yard. You can get
American Bulldogs in many different shapes and sizes but a constant in the breed is that they’re easy to train. Boxer
Boxer dogs are renowned for their drooping jowls and the drool that they’re always creating in them. They are part of the mastiff family but were also bred using the Old English Bulldog, so they share an ancestor with the American Bulldog.
For use as a guard dog, they’re quite small compared to the other breeds here, but they have a history of protecting people and land. They make up for it by being bundles of energy, making them both fast and strong and harder to get a hold of for potential intruders. They’re also easily trained and have a reputation for being good with children, but the dog and the child should still be trained in proper conduct around each other.
Another guard dog breed that found its way to South Africa for its effectiveness as a hunter is the Rhodesian Ridgeback. It was used as a hunting dog to track and bring down Africa’s large game, and have even killed baboons independently, and they were even used to bay lions, which means they’d distract and perform hit-and-run attacks to keep them busy while their hunter owners lined up a shot.
With such impressive prowess, it’s no surprise modern Rhodesian Ridgebacks are used for security. They have a natural tendency towards protecting their family and their territory. It’s also the only breed here where guard dog training may be too much, as it could encourage them to become
too protective. Basic obedience and socialization training is always a must, however. Beauceron
Lastly, we have the Beauceron. If they look familiar, it’s because they were used to breed Doberman Pinschers. They’re essentially the French cousin of the Doberman and the
Rottweilers from Germany, though they have a softer appearance that has been compared to a Labrador. They weigh 80 to 100 pounds, depending on the dog, and they’re aloof or disinterested in strangers, preferring to keep their distance. Because of this, they’re great as watchdogs but will need extra training to engage with intruders.
They’re known for being stubborn, which isn’t a great trait for a dog that you want to train into a guard dog. They also have a strong drive towards prey hunting, making them unsuitable for being housed with smaller animals.
Breeds To Avoid
There are many breeds you should avoid when choosing a guard dog. You should already know that Chihuahuas and Poodles won’t make the best home defenders, so instead let’s focus on common dog breeds that are large enough to be guard dogs but are unsuitable because of their temperament.
Labradors are among the most popular dog breeds in the entire world. Why is that? Because they’re one of the friendliest! They also have a high intelligence that makes them very easy to train, to the point that disabled people receive this loyal breed to help them in day-to-day tasks. This makes
Labradors a great guide dog, not a guard dog. Because of their playful temperament that makes them friendly and helpful, they are unlikely to leap to your home’s defense unless the dog is personally threatened. Golden Retrievers
Similarly, Golden Retrievers aren’t suitable for guard dog duty. While they have a hardier past than Labradors, having been used to hunt in the past, they’re also overly social. They’re used as guides and as search and rescue dogs, and they’re also known to be energetic to a fault. A Golden Retriever would sooner splash in puddles and roll around in mud holes than keep a vigilant watch over the home.
Irish Setters have a history of hunting, but not the kind that makes them ideal as guard dogs. They’re a gundog, a breed that was used to retrieve fowl after the hunter has shot them. Golden Retrievers were used for this too but Irish Setters have a more illustrious past when it comes to playing fetch with dead birds.
They have a cooperative temperament that makes them want to help most people they’ll come across. That said, they will try to hunt small animals, so they shouldn’t be kept with other pets.
Hounds may have a long history as sniffers and attack dogs… Basset Hounds? Not so much. Basset Hounds were initially bred to hunt hare but have since become known for their laziness in the modern home. They’re prone to joint problems, typically from becoming overweight, and they’re too friendly to become aggressive at the sight of most intruders.
By now you should have some idea of what breeds make for a good guard dog. Not only have we described the traits you should look out for, but we’ve also even provided fifteen examples and four examples of which breeds you should avoid. From here, it’s time to track down the ideal breed and welcome it into your home.
Remember that you can’t teach an old dog new tricks, so guard dogs are best when they are bought as pups so they can attach to their owner and easily learn obedience, socialization, and guard dog skills directly from their master.