Best Guard Dog and Protective Dog Breeds
A 2007 Gallup survey found that roughly six in ten Americans own at least one dog. Most cite companionship or a love of animals as the main reason for acquiring a pet, but fully 10% of all dog owners say that security or protection was a primary factor in their decision to keep a dog about the house.
Dog owners often assume that a guard dog is the same thing as a watch dog, but the two are distinctly different as are the characteristics of the dogs that are best suited to each job. Homeowners looking for a dog that will assume a protective role should first decide whether they are looking for a watch dog or guard dog. When choosing a protective dog, it’s important to keep in mind the characteristics and temperament of the various breeds so you can match the breed to the job you’ve chosen for it.
A watch dog’s function is to act as an alert or alarm. He barks to warn occupants of intruders or approaching strangers. A wider range of dogs can meet the qualifications to be a watch dog, including even miniature dogs like Chihuahuas or small terriers. Any dog that is protective of what he sees as “his” territory and barks when the boundaries are breeched can make an effective watch dog.
A guard dog, however, must possess the physical strength and size to take on an intruder or an assailant and prevent him from harming the dog’s family. It must also possess courage, loyalty and resistance to pain. The dog may have to restrain or injure an attacker sufficiently to allow time for family members to escape or summon help, so it needs to be large enough to physically challenge a fully grown adult.
I’ve selected what I consider the dozen best guard dog breeds. There are many other breeds that make good guard dogs. Some breeds, like Rottweilers and Dobermans, are obvious choices and are often recommended as guard dogs by trainers and breeders. Others may be less familiar, but no less good at protection. All 12 breeds have the “right stuff” to be guard dogs if properly trained and disciplined. All are fiercely loyal to their families and courageous to a fault.
German Shepherds are among the most popular guard dogs in the world. Shepherds are ranked third in intelligence of all dogs and have a very strong protective instinct. The breed has a long and successful history as police and search dogs. Though incredibly strong, with powerful jaw strength, if properly trained from puppyhood, German Shepherds can be gentle, loving and affectionate with children and fiercely loyal to their family.
Rottweilers, like German Shepherds, have a reputation for fierceness, strength and courage. In the top ten for brains, Rotties vigorously protect their families . Properly trained they are not only tough, strong and resistant to pain, but are also calm, and quite affectionate around kids and family members. I once worked with a Rottweiler therapy dog at a children’s residential treatment center who was an absolute sweetheart with the children and incredibly patient.
Doberman Pinschers round out our top three guard dogs on our list. Lean, muscular and fast, Dobermans possess great endurance. They are very smart and respond well to training. They learn quickly and develop a powerful loyalty to their handlers and to their families. They vary in temperament, so it’s not safe to assume your Doberman will be calm and gentle. Training can make a huge difference, however. They are quick to defend if they feel their family is being attacked and have fairly earned their reputation as dangerous guard dogs.
The Bull Mastiff sits on the top of many breeders’ lists of top guard dogs. It’s one of the AKC’s biggest recognized breeds. Brave and yet docile, Mastiffs love being around people and form close bonds with their families. Mastiffs have a more than 5,000 year history as guard dogs. Their pictures are found in pyramids. They earned a mention in Julius Caesar’s writings as war dogs and they kept the wolves away from English flocks during the middle ages.
Giant Schnauzers don’t automatically spring to mind when you think of fierce guard dogs, but the breed is well known for its excellent guard dog qualities. Though not truly “giant” as dogs go, it is larger than the standard Schnauzer and is so powerful and dominant by nature that it takes a firm hand to train one. They easily become attached to their owners and tend to follow you around the house constantly. They are quick to perceive aggression against family members, however, and are rather quick to defend.
The Kuvasz is a natural as a guard dog. They’re fearless, very territorial and affectionate to their human “pack”. They love to sit next to you and lean on your legs or pile up on the sofa with the kids. They are shy around strangers once you’ve assured them that the visitor is not a threat. They make wonderful livestock guards. Muscular and agile with tremendous endurance over rough terrain, the Kuvasz is the perfect dog for a ranch or country home. Well-socialized, Kuvaszes are big cut-ups and will keep you thoroughly entertained with their antics.
Rhodesian Ridgebacks were developed as hunters in South Africa, but later demonstrated a talent as family protectors. Large and muscular these dogs were bred to hunt lions. Though extremely strong, the Ridgeback is very even tempered and loyal to their owners. They will tolerate strangers, but tend to remain aloof to them. Ridgebacks are clever and strong-willed and have a tendency to get into mischief. They need a firm experienced hand and probably aren’t a good breed for a first time dog owner.
The Chow Chow was bred in ancient northern China with thick fur for the arctic climate. Though originally a working dog, over time Chow Chows have become popular as companion animals. Very protective of their territory, they take naturally to the guard dog role, requiring only minimal training. Loyal, dedicated, but a little aloof Chow Chows are quite unique.
Dogo Argentinos comes from the Cordoba region of central Argentina. Carefully bred from a total of ten other breeds, the Dogos Argentinos served as a pack hunting animal and in the dog fighting ring. They are strong, smart and quick, but friendly and amiable with their families. Steady tempered, courageous and mentally stable, their fierce loyalty makes them natural guard dogs.
The Komondor, large and muscular underneath, is covered by dense ropy cords of hair that make them look like giant rag mops. In a fight the Komondor’s coat protects him like a natural armor. Another sheep-herding breed, Komondors are deceptively active and aggressive despite their comic opera appearance, especially if there’s a perceived threat to their human pack or their territory. They think independently, but in the end are brave and loyal, ideal qualities in a guard dog.
Pulis, like Komondors were originally sheep dogs. They have curly, clumping corded hair that gives them a cutesy look that hides beneath it, a tough, vigorous and alert, herding dog. Something of an all-terrain dog, the Puli make excellent herders and guard dogs. Though not overly-aggressive, Pulis do have a suspicious nature and tend to bark a lot if they perceive a threat. Pulis combine the characteristics of watch dog and guard dog – an early warning system with teeth to back the bark! Their looks make them popular at dog shows. Out of the ring, though, they are excellent trackers, herders and even therapy dogs.
American Staffordshire Terrier
American Staffordshire Terriers, were first bred in the 19th century from bulldogs crossed with game terriers. Staffordshires are courageous, strong, athletic and muscular with a powerful head. Though a medium-sized dog they are powerful enough to take on even large intruders. They instinctively protect both property and people they consider part of their “pack”. Staffordshire Terriers are excellent guard dogs, but present some problems in training. They can be difficult to housebreak and have a very powerful sense of pack order. They do not respond well to owners who are not assertive and able to establish themselves as the dog’s superior in the relationship. You will also have to spend time socializing the dog to prevent it from becoming overly aggressive with other animals.
There are many other breeds that have the temperament to serve as guard dogs. Any breed or individual with the physical size and strength to take on an intruder is a candidate if the dog possesses suitable traits. It should be sociable, stable, not overly aggressive, confident, courageous, assertive and loyal. Above all a guard dog candidate should be intelligent and trainable. Many other less common breeds like Dutch Shepherds, larger terriers, mountain dogs, retrievers, bulldog and mastiff varieties frequently serve in a protective role. Many mixed breed and rescue dogs make outstanding guard dogs as well. The would-be owner must, however, do an honest assessment of the animal’s capabilities before acquiring it for training as a guard dog. A dog, whose temperament or intelligence is mismatched to the task, may become unmanageable or unpredictable when trained for guard duty. It’s important, therefore, to select a guard dog based as much, if not more so, on its individual traits as its breed.
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