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Best family guard dogs: 7 top breeds

Feb. 1, 2019

A pet can add a sense of security to any home. The simple idea of having another living, breathing thing in your house has a way of doing that.

Some families want to go one step further and bring home a dog that can truly offer protection from unwanted people entering the picture. You should know that this is easier said than done.

“The idea of protectiveness can sound attractive but when it comes down to it, dogs don’t always protect in the right way, especially without extensive training,” says Jennifer Hack, dog trainer and behavior specialist for Dynamic Dogs in Chicago. “It’s all great when a dog is protective towards a threatening stranger but not so great when the dog is ‘protective’ toward a neighbor, a relative or a guest you have in your house. All of a sudden, the dog is barking at people you want in your life. Dogs are not always great at telling the difference.”

If you are set on having an imposing animal join your brood as a guardian, it’s important to choose your breed wisely — find a reputable breeder, Hack adds, and meet the dog’s canine parents if you can — and know that a dog will not be a guardian from the moment it walks in your door. It will need intense training to do that.

“I tell people if you want that kind of protective attribute [in a dog], maybe what you really want is a deterrent,” she says. “Any large dog that barks will automatically be a deterrent against a would-be home invader. [A dog that’s] protective is not always a desirable trait in a family dog because dogs don’t always protect against the right things… not every dog can be protection trained.”

If you’re ready to do what it takes and hire an experienced trainer to help make your pooch your home’s protector-in-chief, or at the very least a doggy deterrent to would-be criminals, here are seven breeds that are typically trained to do so.

1. German shepherd

This breed is Hack’s first choice in terms of guard dogs, “for protection, security, and a family dog. I would say a German shepherd is probably the best choice.”

The American Kennel Club describes the large, muscular dogs as gentle family pets and immensely courageous — unafraid to put themselves in danger to save a loved one, as many of them do as police and military dogs.

Considerations: “A well bred German shepherd” is Hack’s recommendation. Before you buy any dog from a breeder, find out the breeder’s reputation and meet the dog’s parents if possible, to make sure the dog is coming from a healthy environment.

2. Rottweiler

Hack notes that this breed is your “classic guard dog,” and the AKC says that if properly trained, the intelligent and confident Rottweiler makes an excellent guard dog for families. There is apparently no limit to the jobs they can perform, like herding and carting to name a few. Tire them out enough and they may even cop a squat in your lap.

Considerations: “Some Rottweilers have a natural suspicion of strangers and [therefore] they need a lot of socialization as puppies,” Hack says. “Socialization makes the dog confident and you want your dog to be confident and not barking just because it’s fearful.”

3. Doberman pinscher

The Doberman pinscher is an intelligent, easily-trained breed that is athletic, requiring lots of regular exercise, the AKC says.

“One of the best things about a Doberman for the protection aspect is that they have a very intimidating look,” Hack says, adding that they’re popular for home protection. “I’ve had Dobermans where if I’m walking down the street, people will keep their distance just because they see the dog.”

Considerations: The AKC warns that Dobermans are very strong and can be destructive if they’re not trained. Obedience training is definitely recommended.

4. Bullmastiff

A cross between a bulldog and a mastiff, the bullmastiff is described as strong, fearless, confident and sometimes strong-willed by the AKC, so starting training early, as puppies, is important. A busy family may like that they rarely bark but tend to be good at sensing stranger danger.

Considerations: As with any dog, no two are the same.

“Obviously [the bullmastiff] is a very intimidating looking kind of dog, they can be protective,” says Hack. “But I’ve trained bullmastiffs that would run and hide if they don’t know someone. So not every bullmastiff is protective.”

5. Boxer

Though they may look menacing (which may be what you’re searching for) a boxer is an active, bright, fun-loving and extremely loyal breed, according to the AKC, and typically great with children. Rather than a protector, a boxer is best suited for alerting their owners to happenings in their environment, like for instance, a visitor.

Considerations: Bear in mind that they have a high energy level, says Hack. So they’ll need plenty of exercise.

6. Great Dane

If you’ve ever seen one for yourself, you haven’t forgotten just how large they are! Though they are giant and larger than most pups out there, the Great Dane is surprisingly gentle and patient with children, according to the AKC. They are said to make friends easily and be very alert.

Considerations: The Dane is a better deterrent for unwanted visitors than a protector.

“Their size and the bark would be a deterrent because they are huge,” says Hack. “But I wouldn’t get a Great Dane for actual protection work, a lot of them are kind of scaredy cats. They’re also prone to a lot of health issues because they’re so large.”

7. Giant Schnauzer

The AKC says loyalty and smarts are what make this dog a great companion, and, as their name implies, their giant stature makes them command attention.

“They’re intelligent, they can be strong-willed, and they have an intimidating look,” Hack says. “They’re good with kids when they’re raised as part of the family and well-trained.”

Considerations: They have grooming requirements that none of the other breeds above would have, Hack says. The AKC recommends weekly brushing and regular clipping of the coat.

In conclusion, Hack suggests that you talk with dog trainers in your area for advice on selecting a breed.

“Especially if you’re looking for protection or guard dogs,” she says. “The dog is going to require training in the future, so let them help you pick a dog that’s right for your lifestyle. Protective instincts [in a dog] without really solid obedience training and control is a liability.”

Read next: 101 facts about dogs you might not know

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