For centuries, dogs have served as guardians of their owners' property, whether it be family members, homes, livestock, or land. While most dogs do this naturally to a certain degree, some dog breeds are definitely more effective than others because of their size, strength, obedience, and intelligence. Nevertheless, the choice is not a simple one. While few would contest that a German Shepherd will make a better guard dog than a Pomeranian, the right choice will depend upon the situation and type of duty needed. Canine protection duty varies in the level of aggression required, and the environment that the dog will defend.
Types of Protection Duty
Watchdogs or alarm dogs simply warn their owners by barking vigorously when something out of the ordinary occurs, such as strangers entering the property. They are sufficient to warn their owners that something is wrong, and may even be able to scare some trespassers away. They do not, however, have the necessary level of training and discipline to physically stop a determined intruder. Attack dogs, on the other hand, are more vicious, and are trained to incapacitate intruders on sight. These dogs are often used in police or military roles, and can become unsafe if not expertly trained and handled.
What is commonly referred to as "guard duty," offers a comfortable medium between the other two types, and is suitable for a person who wishes to protect their home without the risk of seriously injuring or killing anyone. These animals will physically restrain an intruder, but will attack only on the command of the handler. This type of duty is the focus of the present discussion.
Rottweilers make great guard dogs and family companions. Their protective instincts ensure their immediate action once a family or "pack" member is threatened by an intruder. Massive in size, these dogs grow to a height of 24 to 27 inches (61 to 69 cm) and weigh between 93 to 110 pounds (42 to 50 kg).
Rottweilers are good guard dogs because of their alertness and wait-and-see attitude. They do not usually bark until they see that harm is about to come upon their owners or the territory that they are guarding. They are also quick learners, but require firm handling and discipline due to their strong-willed nature. They may not be the best choice for less-experienced dog handlers. While experts maintain that a large dog of any breed can become dangerous and unpredictable if not properly raised and trained, unfortunately Rottweilers have acquired a social stigma in some areas for being aggressive and dangerous pets; consequently, local ordinances in some communities have specifically banned them.
Standing tall at a height between 24 to 28 inches (61 to 71 cm) and weighing anywhere from 71 to 100 pounds (32 to 45 kg), Dobermans are well-known for their fierce temperament, making them excellent guard dogs. These dogs are used in both the military and police force because of their obedience, intelligence, highly trainable attitude, and ability to bring down human assailants. They do, however, tend to have less mass than some of the other breeds, which could make them less effective against a very large attacker. Additionally, like the Rottweiler, many people associate Dobermans with viciousness; which means that they may not be welcome in some neighborhoods. Despite their ferocious reputation, they are also known for being loving and affectionate pets, willing to do anything for their owners.
Some experts have labeled the German Shepherd as one of the best guard dogs and family companions. They measure from 22 to 26 inches (55 and 65 cm) high, and weigh from around 49 to 88 pounds (22 and 40 kg). Their gentle nature, especially with children, does not imply a lack of capability to be fierce when necessary. Formidable in size, with long teeth and powerful jaws, an angry German Shepherd is a highly intimidating animal.
These dogs are obedient and are able to attack and release on command, which makes them ideal for guard duty. German Shepherds are also known for their courage and loyalty. Because of their affection and dependence on their owners, however, anyone considering this breed should understand that German Shepherds are prone to separation anxiety, even if left alone for a few hours.
Bull Mastiffs are crossbreeds composed of 60% Mastiff and 40% Bulldog. Their appearance alone is intimidating. These dogs are tall, standing at a height between 25 and 27 inches (63 and 69 cm), and heavy, weighing from 110 to 130 pounds (50 to 60 kg). Wonderful guard dogs, Bull Mastiffs usually knock intruders down and stand above them, baring their teeth and growling threateningly.
Because of their sheer size, Bull Mastiffs also are very good at preventing aggressors from moving past them. These dogs are fiercely loyal to their owners, and regard strangers warily. For this reason, early socialization is crucial to ensure that Bull Mastiffs do not become aggressive against people they do not know.
Other dog breeds can also make good guard dogs, even if they are not traditionally seen in this role. Labrador and Golden Retrievers are both large enough and strong enough for this role, even though they are typically thought of as being friendly and docile. St. Bernards are incredibly strong animals, and like Bull Mastiffs, can present an impressive barrier to burglars. Rhodesian Ridgebacks are said to make excellent guard dogs, though they are somewhat rare. The Dalmatian is another potential choice, though it is a bit smaller in size than the preferred breeds mentioned above. Dalmatians tend to have stubborn personalities and require a lot of training, but they have been successful guardians nonetheless.
Advice for New Owners
Though some breeds do require more attentiveness than others, a basic level of experience with dog handling is crucial for the owner of any guard dog. Having one in the family is somewhat akin to keeping a weapon in the home; the owner is responsible for insuring that innocent people are not harmed, and that he or she is able to control the animal even in an emergency. Training classes are widely available for less experienced owners, and this is a very good way to get started. Without consistent and structured handling, even an experienced guard dog may cease to perform as desired.
When selecting a breed of dog, it is critical not to choose an animal that is, or will be, larger and stronger than the owner can physically handle. Another common recommendation is to adopt the dog as a puppy, rather than as an adult. This will make it easier for the owner to become expertly acquainted with dog's personality, and to firmly prove himself to the dog as the "pack leader." It will also make it easier to socialize the dog. Many experts advise as a rule of thumb that female dogs do better at protecting people, while male dogs are often more inclined to defend property.