It’s late, it’s dark, and all is quiet. Except for the click of a door lock sliding open. The intruder slides his lock pick into his pocket and pushes the door open only to see a large dog rise from the shadows and step towards him. The intruder backs out the doorway, trips across the porch, and stumbles down the driveway followed by rumbling growls. The kitchen lights flip on and there silhouetted behind by bright yellow light, stands a Golden Retriever, wagging his tail and watching with big sad eyes as the intruder runs down the street.
When it comes to protecting the home from intruders, animal and human, nothing equals having a guard dog and they come in all shapes and sizes. Security systems can be disabled. Martial arts works if you are close to an intruder but is useless otherwise. Guns require you to both hear and see the intruder. But these aren’t a problem for guard dogs. They will smell and spot an intruder long before you. They can alert you to an unfamiliar presence before it comes close enough to cause harm, and should harm become imminent, the guard dog will naturally escalate its own response, barking, shielding its family and attacking if necessary.
Do home guard dogs require expensive training? Will they be dangerous to family and friends? Won’t they make jumpy house pets? Actually, no. Home guard dogs rely mostly on instincts and a puppyhood filled with plenty of healthy human and animal interactions. By choosing a well-bred puppy from particular breeds, training your dog basic obedience, and socializing the puppy thoroughly, your dog will become both a peaceful family pet and vigilant sentinel, one that can morph into a strong defender should the need arise.
There are three levels of protection a dog can offer — voice presence, physical presence and defense. Some dogs are quite talkative and will alert you to any and all changes in their environment. This can range from an intruder to a leaf that blows up against the window. Other dogs will silently check things out themselves and alert only if they feel it’s warranted.
Watchdogs come in a variety of shapes and sizes, from mini-sized Chihuahua’s to Shetland Sheepdogs, Schnauzers and Collies. These dogs are constantly alert, even while sleeping, keeping tabs on their family as well as the house and grounds. If something is different, they’ll be sure to alert you by barking, growling or pacing. My family’s Shetland Sheepdog was a reliable alert system, barking whenever a car came into the driveway. My family also had a Golden Retriever. While Goldens are lovingly referred to as the friendliest dogs around, our Golden’s voice was very deep and intimidating; we knew she was a deterrent solely from that.
Some dogs’ protective qualities are housed in their impressive frames and muscular stature. For many owners, this is all they need. Great Danes and Newfoundlands are two breeds that are not naturally aggressive, but exhibit quite an impressive physique. These dogs are generally sweet and good-natured and most likely will not attack someone (though there are exceptions to all breeds). They are loyal family dogs, friendly to guests, and will bark some, but their size and looks make them good guard dogs. Generally the larger a dog is, the more intimidating it will be.
Also, darker colored dogs, black ones especially, are quite impressive. Common protective breeds generally receive more respect, too. Dogs that resemble German Shepherds, Rottweilers, pitbulls, mastiffs and Doberman Pinschers will automatically be assumed to be protective dogs. Whether you choose a purebred or a mixed breed that resembles one of these breeds, know that your dog will be respected purely because of its looks. Most of the time, this is all that’s called for to deter an intruder and encourage a burglar to look elsewhere.
Defense In Action
Most people can be just fine with the above types of dogs, but sometimes there is a call for a dog that will not only alert you to danger, but will do something about it as well. Many homesteaders and livestock owners have found guard dogs to be invaluable because sometimes action is necessary.
Bullmastiffs are not afraid to get physical. Most of the time, these muscular dogs are gentle, lazy giants, but when their family is in danger, these dogs, originally bred to knock down poachers, will knock intruders down and stand over top of them, growling menacingly. Another breed that will continue to escalate things as needed is the Great Pyrenees. These dogs were originally bred to protect livestock and are still used for that today, but these dogs adjust fairly well to living with a family too. Great Pyrenees have been known to take on packs of wolves and bears in defense of their charges (human or livestock). Yet, Great Pyrenees are sweet tempered and make pleasant family companions. Other breeds that aren’t afraid to defend their families are German Shepherds, Rottweilers, Akitas, many of the mastiff breeds, Giant Schnauzers, the Belgian breeds (Sheepdog, Tervuren and Malinois), Doberman Pinschers, Rhodesian Ridgebacks, Bouvier des Flandres and Cane Corsos among others. Early training and socialization are very important for these breeds due to their size and naturally assertive personalities. Research the breed you’re considering and talk to breeders before you bring one home to ensure that your choice will mesh well with your family.
Raising the Home Guard Dog
When it comes to home guard dogs, general dog training guidelines reign, with perhaps a little more emphasis on socializing and obedience training, due to the guard dog’s strength and size.
Choosing a Puppy
Choose a puppy from quality, stable parents. High-strung or fearful dogs do not make good guard dogs and can become dangerous. German Shepherds and Rottweilers especially have seen a lot of breeding from poorer quality animals. Ask to see the parent’s pedigrees and meet both the dam and sire if at all possible. If there are grown brothers or sisters on the premises meet them as well. Ask about and evaluate temperament as well as health information. (You’ll want to check for hip dysplasia in the family lines. If the parents haven’t been evaluated by a veterinarian, proceed with caution. Hip dysplasia is very prevalent among the larger breeds and it cripples dogs and can lead to an early death.)
Early Training and Socializing
While breeding is important, nothing can replace the time you put into early training and socializing of your puppy. After you get your puppy home, introduce it to as many situations as you can. Once the puppy gets his first vaccines, introduce him to other dogs and your livestock (if you have any). Let the puppy meet elderly people. Take your puppy to a nursing home. Go to the park, for walks down the sidewalk and try to find puppy playdates. Have your puppy around men and women, and especially children. Make sure these are good experiences for the puppy with lots of fun, treats and praise thrown in. Socializing a puppy doesn’t make them less prone to engage an intruder. Rather, it shows the puppy what “normal” is, so they can realize when something isn’t normal and take the action required. Many of the guard breeds listed above can be somewhat suspicious of new people and surroundings, so the more situations they are introduced to, the more their confidence level will rise and the better family pet they’ll be. In tense situations, having a dog that is cool and confident is priceless!
Begin obedience training early with your puppy, even as soon as the week you first bring them home. Many guard breeds can grow to be quite large and strong; obedience is essential for them to live acceptably with the family (and is essential for trips to the vet, too). Find an obedience club or training class near you and enroll your puppy. This is an excellent opportunity for the dog to socialize with other dogs and people while forming an obedient relationship with you. Providing the puppy with lots of good situations and positive training experiences instills confidence in them, confidence that is essential for any large breed and especially for the home guard dog.
Whether your dog is a tiny Chihuahua with razor sharp hearing or a lumbering Saint Bernard with a mouth full of drool, their presence in your home heightens the security level. They’ll act as watchdogs and discourage burglars and intruders merely by their presence. (Security personnel have said that merely adding a large dog dish near the front door discourages burglars.) Enjoy your dog as part of your family. The stronger bond you have with them, the more they will see you as their pack and rise to defend if ever called upon.