Adopting a dog is a wonderful experience on many levels. In addition to a cuddly companion, you get unconditional love and unwavering devotion. In most cases, you also get your own personal security detail. Canines are naturally protective of their families, happily putting themselves in harm's way if it means saving the life of a loved one. That is, assuming your pet is able to identify a potential threat and respond appropriately. It's a skill that some dogs are better at than others.
How do you know which breeds make the best family guard dogs? That depends a lot on the characteristics of your family and what you're looking for in terms of pooch-based protection. In some cases, "talkative" dogs are best at keeping away would-be evildoers. While you know that your dog's bark is much worse than its bite, criminals do not.
One important consideration in choosing a family guard dog is its tendency to be aggressive. An animal with a short fuse probably isn't suitable for a family with small children. And even though an aggressive dog may seem like the perfect people protector, such animals will often respond the same way to a trespasser and a trick-or-treater. That could cause serious trouble in the neighborhood.
The key to rearing a good family guard dog is to train early and often in order to build your dog's trust in you and himself. Confidence in an animal means the difference between reacting when it is important to do so and lashing out due to insecurity.
Now that you know some basics about people-protecting pooches, let's explore some of the more protective breeds in our list of the top 10 family guard dogs.
If you're looking for a guard dog that doubles as a nanny, an Akita may be the perfect pet for you. This large breed has strong protective instincts and will immediately investigate any hint of an intrusion into his family home. But unlike most other dogs, the Akita usually investigates quietly. If it barks, that probably means something is seriously wrong.
The potential downside of owning an Akita is that this breed tends to be quite independent, which isn't always a good thing for a large dog with strong protective instincts. Akitas need to be trained and socialized early and continually throughout their lives. When considering an Akita or any potential guard dog, ask yourself how much you're willing to work with the animal. Your canine companion will need to be under your control if it's going to function as a guard dog. That will undoubtedly require a bit of skill and dedication on your part.
Assuming your family has time to devote positive reinforcement and encouragement to your Akita, this breed makes an excellent guard dog and loyal family friend. It would be virtually impossible to harm a member of an Akita's family while this animal is around.
9: Great Dane
If you're in the market for a family guard dog that looks like a fierce predator but acts like a gentle giant, look no further than the Great Dane. This friendly, easy-going breed is somewhat lackadaisical and loves to lounge around the house. He really isn't much of a guard dog in terms of personality. But the mere sight of him would send any criminal running for the hills, despite that fact that a Great Dane is unlikely to attack an intruder. On the other hand, it will probably show off its sufficiently scary bark.
The best example of the Great Dane's demeanor is displayed in the cartoon "Scooby Doo." A Great Dane through and through, Scooby and his loyal pal Shaggy are more inclined to alternate between snacking and snoozing than to harm anyone. This is a great choice for a family looking for a pet that looks the part of a guard dog, but with low risk of actual aggression.
8: Airedale Terrier
Known as the "King of the Terriers," the Airedale is an elegant and self-confident animal. They are also alert and energetic, though perhaps a bit more independent than other terrier varieties. This breed is also larger and considerably stronger than the other members of the terrier family, making this an ideal choice for family guard dog.
If you're in the market for an Airedale Terrier, it's important to keep in mind that this is a more high maintenance dog than some of the others on the list. They're whip smart and highly trainable, but they also need to be engaged intellectually and physically. No lazy afternoons on the sofa for this dog. There is also no way unwanted guests can ever sneak into your home with an Airedale around -- it's simply too high-strung to allow it.
Airedale terriers are considered to be good with kids, but this can vary among individuals within a breed. For the most part, dogs that grow up with kids and have positive experiences with them tend to be good with them. The key is to socialize early.
The collie is one of the most-loved dogs in the U.S. and around the world. Made famous by the movie "Lassie," this beautiful and graceful animal is a devoted and affectionate family pet and an excellent guard dog. That is, assuming a loud bark is all the "guarding" you need. Because collies are vocal animals, they make better watchdogs than guard dogs. In fact, they will generally relax a moment or two after announcing a newcomer. For this reason, a savvy home invader may actually be able to subdue a collie with just a scratch under the chin and some small talk.
Overall, collies are very easy pets to own. Despite their luxurious coats, they do not need a lot of grooming. A good brushing once a week should suffice. Collies are also very sensitive, intelligent, and highly trainable. They do well as service dogs for people with disabilities, police dogs, and as search and rescue animals.
6: German Shepherd
The German shepherd is a very loving and lovable animal, which makes it a great choice as a pet and a wonderful guard dog for families with children. German shepherds form extremely strong bonds with their owners and families and will protect a child with their lives. They are also easy to train and very eager to please [source: American Kennel Club].
Confident and fearless, German shepherds make great watchdogs and guard dogs. This animal has the uncanny ability to remain calm and keep its wits about it even in chaotic circumstances -- qualities that definitely come in handy during crisis or high-threat situations. This is why German shepherds are commonly used in police work and military operations and for assisting people with special needs.
The one potential downside to owning a German shepherd is that they don't do well in couch potato families. German shepherds need constant mental and physical stimulation, so be sure you're ready to commit to an active lifestyle before adopting.
A gentle giant, the Bullmastiff is an expert hunter with a low inclination for aggression. That's because this animal was specifically bred not to bite. Instead, the Bullmastiff was bred to use its weight and agility to overpower a person or game animal, pinning it down until help arrives. But don't let the tough exterior fool you -- the Bullmastiff is a softie on the inside. Extremely eager to please, this is a wonderful choice for family guard dog.
Despite its strength and physical abilities, the Bullmastiff does not require much exercise. It is also a low maintenance dog in terms of grooming, which makes it a good choice for a family that wants a guard dog but doesn't want to put forth a lot of effort.
Another good quality of Bullmastiffs is that they don't tend to bark much. Silence was a virtue when they were originally used to guard estates so they could sneak up on predators. But that doesn't mean they're asleep on the job. This animal has excellent guarding skills -- he just doesn't like to make a big fuss about it.
The boxer is a very high-energy dog, making it a great choice for a family with kids, especially older and very active ones. While not as large a dog as some of the others on this list, this medium-sized mutt is a powerful protecting machine in the face of danger. And when you consider that the boxer is also wonderfully affectionate, it makes this animal a great choice for family guard dog.
If you're considering the boxer as a pet, you'll be pleased to know that this is a highly intelligent and easily trained breed. But you should also keep in mind that the boxer has a tendency to jump on his loved ones, making it a somewhat less-than-perfect choice for families with small children. On the other hand, this habit can be managed with proper training.
Whether you're planning to adopt a boxer or any dog, be sure to do a thorough investigation of the breeder and his commitment to breeding for sound temperament. Fear and anxiety is not a good quality in any pet, guard dog or not.
3: Bernese Mountain
The Bernese mountain dog is the perfect choice for a family that wants a pet whose presence would deter an intruder but is actually quite gentle. This breed is friendly with children and does very well around other animals. As one of the most social breeds, Bernese mountain dogs make loving and loyal family members.
Before adopting a dog -- especially one that will serve as a guardian of the family -- it helps to know the characteristics of its lineage as well as the breed. There are considerable variations within each breed and knowing a puppy's parents will give you a sense of the demeanor your dog will eventually develop.
Also, before adopting a Bernese mountain dog, it's important to consider your lifestyle. This breed requires regular exercise and daily grooming. The Bernese mountain dog is also quite sensitive to being left out of the social circle, so it's not a good choice for a family that tends to be away from its dog for long stretches of time.
If you're looking for a dog that's friendly with children as well as other animals, look no further than the Newfoundland. Affectionately called "Newfies," these gentle giants offer protection by virtue of their imposing size and stature. No criminal in his or her right mind would break into a home with a Newfie inside.
Another potential perk of having a Newfoundland around it that this breed is strong enough to do heavy labor. Newfies were traditionally used as working dogs, performing such tasks as hauling wood from the forest and pulling fishing nets from the water. You never know when this kind of strength will come in handy around the house.
Newfies are also highly trainable, which is important for such a strong animal. The one possible downside is that this animal's thick coat requires regular brushing. Newfoundlands also need regular exercise, so be sure to consider your willingness to work out before you adopt.
1: Saint Bernard
With awesome strength, impressive smarts, and a gentle spirit, Saint Bernards are the ultimate family guard dog. They are loyal and loving and unfaltering in their protective nature toward their families, especially kids. Assuming you can put up with a bit of drool, the Saint Bernard may be the perfect pet for you.
Traditionally, Saint Bernards worked in the Swiss Alps rescuing avalanche-trapped travelers. This is good to keep in mind -- you never know when you or someone you love might need to be pulled from a snow bank. The only potential downside to adopting this breed (other than the drool) is that it needs space to roam. Saint Bernards generally don't do well when confined to small spaces.
If you're planning to adopt a Saint Bernard, remember to train early and often. They key to good behavior for Saint Bernards and all dogs is to socialize them throughout their lives. Remember that you cannot train the guarding instinct out of a dog, but you can (and should) fine tune it so that it's used appropriately.
Lots More Information
- American Kennel Club. "Airedale Terrier". (Aug. 10, 2011) http://www.akc.org/breeds/airedale_terrier/
- American Kennel Club. "Akita" (Aug .10, 2011) http://www.akc.org/breeds/akita/
- American Kennel Club. "Bernese Mountain Dog". (Aug 10, 2011) http://www.akc.org/breeds/bernese_mountain_dog/
- American Kennel Club. "Boxer". (Aug 10, 2011) http://www.akc.org/breeds/boxer/
- American Kennel Club. "Bullmastiff". (Aug 10, 2011) http://www.akc.org/breeds/bullmastiff/index.cfm
- American Kennel Club. "Collie". (Aug 10, 2011) http://www.akc.org/breeds/collie/
- American Kennel Club. "German Shepherd". (Aug 10, 2011) http://www.akc.org/breeds/german_shepherd_dog/
- American Kennel Club. "Great Dane". (Aug 10, 2011) http://www.akc.org/breeds/great_dane/
- American Kennel Club. "Newfoundland". (Aug 10, 2011) http://www.akc.org/breeds/newfoundland/
- American Kennel Club. "Saint Bernard". (Aug 10, 2011) http://www.akc.org/breeds/saint_bernard/
- Akita Club of America. "Is the Akita the Right Dog for You?" (Aug 10, 2011). http://www.akitaclub.org/
- Beymer, Jessica, DVM, DACVECC. Contra Costa Veterinary Emergency Center, Sacramento, CA, personal correspondence, Aug 8, 2011
- Huelle, Jane, Owner/Trainer, The Dog Shop, personal correspondence, Aug 8, 2011
- Levén Shoemaker, Vivian, CPDT-KA, Dog Training Director, Fur-Get Me Not, personal correspondence, Aug 8, 2011
- Sanchez, Veronica, CPDT-KA, CABC, Trainer and Behavior Consultant, Cooperative Paws LLC, personal correspondence, Aug 8, 2011