In addition to love, affection and companionship, many dogs provide their families with a significant degree of protection. In fact, the ancestors of many modern breeds were specifically developed as guard dogs, and expected to protect people, livestock and property from criminals and trespassers.
But some breeds clearly function better in a protective capacity than others. Few people would be intimidated by a Chihuahua, for example. Other dogs are simply too friendly to provide the kind of protection you’d want. Pit bulls and American Staffordshire terriers are a great example of this; they may have an intimidating appearance, but when properly raised, these dogs tend to view strangers as friends they haven’t yet met.
Nevertheless, there are several breeds that make excellent guard dogs for families, and we’ve detailed eight of the best below. Note that while each of these breeds will certainly help deter criminals, no dog should be considered a true “guard dog” until they’ve been specifically trained to serve in this capacity.
German shepherds are one of the most common breeds used in guarding contexts, and they are frequently the breed of choice for law enforcement agencies and military units. German shepherds not only have the intelligence and courage to protect their family from danger, they also reach 80 to 110 pounds in weight. German shepherds can be good for first time owners, although it is important to provide them with plenty of attention and exercise to prevent them from developing problematic behaviors.
Formerly known as the “butcher’s dog,” Rottweilers were originally tasked with pulling the carts used by butchers and protecting them from thieves. Rottweilers have an extremely intimidating appearance, thanks to their broad shoulders, blocky head and muscular build, but they also possess all of the personality traits you’d want in a guard dog, including bravery, loyalty and intelligence. Rottweilers are head-strong dogs who require a firm, loving and confident owner; they are definitely not appropriate as a first dog.
One of the most visually intimidating breeds, Dobermans (who are also called Doberman pinschers) make excellent guard dogs for families. Thanks to their courage, intelligence and loyalty, Dobermans have long been used in law enforcement roles. But despite their impressive physical appearance, Dobermans are actually sensitive souls who love nothing more than snuggling with their family on the couch. Nevertheless, they are still incredibly brave and protective dogs, who won’t hesitate to protect their owners.
One of the largest breeds in the world, the Great Dane will repel would-be criminals by virtue of size alone. But Great Danes are not only large, they are also brave, protective canines, who will quickly jump to their owner’s defense if necessary. Because they are relatively low-energy dogs, who are content to spend most of the day just hanging out, they often make a suitable choice for owners living in apartments, despite their large size. Great Danes are often very friendly with children and other dogs, so they make great choices for large families with other pets.
Originally bred to guard flocks of sheep from wolves and other predators, Great Pyrenees tend to be protective of their humans too. Although Great Pyrenees are relatively gentle dogs, their immense size and willingness to face any perceived threat make them a good guard dog for many families. Great Pyrenees aren’t quite as loving or affectionate as some of the other breeds detailed here, but they are still ready to protect their families at a moment’s notice. Although it is always important to provide any dog with appropriate sleeping quarters and protection from the elements, Great Pyrenees don’t usually mind living outdoors, if provided with a large, fenced yard.
Although most schnauzers are too small to serve as an effective guard dog, the Giant schnauzer reaches about 85 pounds, making it large enough to give potential criminals pause. Giant schnauzers are intelligent, loving dogs with their families, but they can be a bit aloof around strangers. Note that giant schnauzers have a very high energy level, and they require long, frequent walks or play sessions; unless you plan to take a giant schnauzer on several long walks per day, they are not suitable for apartment life.
Also known as the Italian mastiff, the Cane Corso is an excellent guard dog, who has the size, temperament and bravery needed to protect his home and family. Cane Corsos are very loyal and loving with their families, but they tend to be suspicious of strangers, even when well socialized from a young age. Cane Corsos require experienced owners, and they are not a good choice for a first dog. Unlike a lot of other dogs that reach very large sizes, the Cane Corso typically adapts well to warm climates and makes a good choice for owners living in the southern United States.
The English mastiff (sometimes simply known as a mastiff) is a very large breed, who sometimes exceeds 220 pounds in weight. English mastiffs aren’t the most intelligent breed in the world, but they are still easy to train, and because of their loyal nature and bravery, they still make excellent guard dogs. Like Cane Corsos and many other mastiff breeds, English mastiffs are rarely very warm with strangers, although they are usually very gentle companions for children.
There are certainly other breeds that deserve consideration when selecting a guard dog. And while these may not be quite as suitable as some of those listed above, the following breeds can also make good guard dogs with proper training.
→ Dogue de Bordeaux
→ Caucasian shepherd dog
→ Kangal dog
→ Presa Canario
→ Black Russian terrier
→ Spanish mastiff
→ Dogo Argentino
While the breeds mentioned above typically make good guard dogs, it is not their ancestry that makes them well-suited for guard dog work – it is the combination of physical and psychological traits that they possess, which make them good at keeping their owners safe.
In fact, many other dogs – including mixed breeds – can make excellent guard dogs if they exhibit the necessary traits. Some of the most important include:
→ Good guard dogs are typically large. Many of the best guard dogs, such as English mastiffs and Great Danes, deter criminals with their size alone. However, guard dogs needn’t be 200 pounds to look intimidating, and most dogs of about 80 to 100 pounds are large enough to discourage those who would do you harm.
→ Good guard dogs often have intimidating physical features. In addition to large size, many good guard dogs have physical features that increase a dog’s ability to intimidate adversaries. Examples include the broad shoulders of Rottweilers, the pointy ears of Dobermans and the blocky heads of Cane Corsos.
→ Good guard dogs usually bond strongly with their family. Many good guard dog breeds tend to love their owner and family intensely, while keeping strangers at arm’s length. This is part of the reason they are willing to put themselves in harm’s way to protect their families. Rottweilers, Dobermans, German shepherds and Cane Corsos are some of the best examples, and they all tend to love spending time with their family more than anything else in life.
→ Good guard dogs should usually be very intelligent. Only sharp canines can be trained sufficiently for guard dog work, so you’ll notice that most good guard dog breeds are quite smart. Intelligence also helps these dogs to distinguish between those things that are a threat and those that are not.
→ Good guard dogs should be brave. Skittish or nervous dogs are more likely to flee at the first sign of danger than they are to face the threat head on. Accordingly, you’ll always want to select a courageous breed when trying to find a good guard dog for your family. Brave dogs are also more likely to accurately judge the potential danger a stranger represents, rather than treating everyone they meet as a threat.
→ Good guard dogs are usually territorial. Many dogs have a natural territorial instinct, which causes them to defend their home from anyone who comes too close. This trait alone can help keep most criminals at bay and avoid unnecessary altercations.
Not all guard dogs will exhibit each of these traits, but the best ones will usually possess the majority of those listed above. Just be sure to consider your needs carefully before making your selection.
Have you ever considered getting a guard dog for your family? What breed did you select? Has your pet ever had to come to your rescue? We’d love to hear about your experiences in the comments below.