The reality of owning a “Guard Dog”
It’s been a long time since I’ve sat down to write a blog post. I guess it’s because I’m a little burnt out on all the topics I’d typically write about: tech stuff, programming stuff, photography, and dogs.
With that said, I still get asked a lot about these topics, especially dog related topics. One topic I get asked about frequently is guard dogs and guardian breeds. So, I thought I’d take a few minutes and put my thoughts on owning guard dogs down in a blog post in case others might find this info helpful.
First, let’s summarize what exactly “Guard Dog” means. A guard dog is a dog that guards your property, possessions, and/or livestock. He/she, at the very least, should be expected to scare off a potential threat or “bad guy”. Guard dogs differ from “Watch Dogs” and “Personal Protection Dogs” in many ways, and if you’d like to read more on this subject check out my post “Guard Dog vs. Watchdog”.
Before I dive into what I’m about to write, I want to make it clear that these are my opinions. I’m not an expert on anything. What I am is a guy with an above average understanding of canine behavior & training who’s owned and worked with many different types of dogs – most of which have been those in the “Guardian Breed” and “Hunting Breed” categories.
The harsh reality of owning a Guard Dog
When deciding to get a Guard Dog I feel it’s important to answer these questions first before you select a breed or a breeder:
- Do you want this dog to be social with guests at your home?
- Do you expect this dog to engage (bite) an intruder? And by “bite” I mean a real damaging bite, not a nip or fear bite – one that sends the person to the hospital with potentially life threatening injuries. Most dogs will fearbite if pushed; few will actually give a real bite.
- Are you really willing to accept the liability associated with owning a dog who might bite an intruder (like the fact it will likely mean the dog will be PTS once he/she performs his/her role IRL)?
If you answered yes to 1 and 2, then, I’m sorry to be the one to tell you, but you’re shit out of luck. There is simply no such thing as a dog who is 100% safe around guests who can also be trusted 100% to bite an intruder. That’s the simple reality of a guard dog. A dog who will bite a potential threat will need to be put away when you have company over. Takes the romance out of it a bit, huh?
Maybe reconsider your options?
Before you get upset and stop reading my thoughts here, maybe stop and consider the fact you may actually be interested in a watch dog and not a guard dog? Let me give you some statistics that might help you reconsider getting a dog that will bite an intruder.
From Key domestic burglary crime statistics (at January 2007) by Andrew Kent…
Based on findings from a small sample of burglars in a study in Kirkholt (Forrester et al., 1988xviii; n=76), over half of the offenders felt deterred by occupancy, visible burglary alarms or high visibility at the point of entry. Findings from a small group of active burglars (Cromwell et al., 1991xix; n=30) indicated that for a sample of 30 active offenders, 90 percent stated that they avoided selecting houses that appeared to be occupied and 70 percent were deterred by the presence of a dog.
A. Ask the experts about home security. Jack MacLean (Secrets of a Superthief) reports the results of a survey of over 300 prison inmates who’d been convicted of burglary or other residential crimes. Three of the questions were about dogs and home security:
Would dogs scare you away?
65% said that dogs of good size and unfriendly persuasion would scare them away
35% said no dog would scare them away.
Based on reassessment of responses, MacLean concludes that over 95% would indeed be scared away.
Houses without dogs. A dog’s presence is a close substitute for human occupancy, and most burglars avoid houses with dogs. Small dogs may bark and attract attention, and large dogs may pose a physical threat, as well.31 On average, burglarized houses are less likely to have dogs than are non-burglarized houses, suggesting that dog ownership is a substantial deterrent.32 (Security alarms, discussed below, are also a substitute for occupancy.)
Based on my research, it seems that 90% of criminal activity directed at your home and occupants would be eliminated by having ANY dog. But the effectiveness of the dog increases based on color and size of the dog. A large black dog, of any breed, is considered a better deterrent than, say, a small white dog.
With that, perhaps an English Mastiff, Leonberger, Tosa Inu, or Newfoundland would suit the needs of someone who answered “yes” to questions 1 & 2 but “no” to question 3 above.
Don’t buy into the hype
Most of the guardian dog breed descriptions are filled with hype and historical bias written by breed purists and enthusiasts hoping to “sell” the breed. This is really no more than mental masturbation. I think it’s important to connect with honest and down-to-earth owners of the various breeds to get a real understanding of owning a breed before you base your decision on what info you can gleam from the interwebs and breed purists. Even better – go meet a few breed representatives yourself.
I’ve come to realize that most breeders have a biased view of the breed. The breed for them is what they want the breed to be, or what they produce in the breed. This is why it’s important to find a breeder who shares your views on the breed you’re interested in. If a breeder gives you any reason to doubt that their views are in line with yours, then I’d pass on that breeder – or breed.
Don’t set a dog up for failure!
In the guardian dog world – especially the large molosser-types – it’s become a trend to try and “sell” the breeds as “all purpose” guardian dogs. Many go as far as to test their dogs in activities that are alien to the original function of the breed. For example: testing a Livestock Guard Dog (LGD) in Personal Protection Work (like biting a sleeve) or herding work. These breeds were not “designed” to take the human-pressure associated with PPD work or to have the energy and drive to do herding work. In this situation, the dog (breed) is being set up to fail, and that’s a shame. I’d stay away from any breeder who tries to sell their dogs for work in something they were not originally meant to do.
I would avoid breeders who claim their breed will excel in work it wasn’t meant to do – unless they have solid proof. A great example of this can be found in the Ovcharka breeds, where they’re regularly tested in a man work scenario. Sure Ovcharka are human aggressive dogs, but they are not dogs selected to have the temperament needed to take real human physical pressure, and therefore shouldn’t be worked (or expected to work) in a man work type of scenario. Put them behind a fence and let them give a big scary display – this is something they excel at like no other breed. Set these dogs up for success and to display their best qualities!
So you want a “maneater”?
Now let’s say you answered “no” to question 1 (being friendly with guests), and “yes” to question 2 (biting an intruder). Assuming you’ve done the research to understand the liability associated with owning a dog who WILL bite an intruder and are ok with it, you’ll also need a safe and secure place to put your Guard Dog. You’ll need to be diligent in how you manage a dog like this – always thinking ahead of potential situations that might trigger them to act aggressively so you can set them up for success.
It’s also important to understand that a true guard dog – a dog who will engage an intruder – will likely not be a dog you want to treat as a “normal pet”. This is a dog who will have certain natural instincts and fixed behavior patterns (FAPs) that could trigger their aggression in situations where it’s not appropriate – especially with young dogs. So you will need to use your judgment when doing things like playing rough and introducing the dog to high stimuli environments and situations.
A dog expected to perform a function like this needs to come from a breeder who tests and selects for a stable working dog – focused on this specific type of work. Many breeders will go to extremes to convince you that their dogs will perform well in this role, but if they’re not testing their dogs to engage human threats then you cannot trust them to produce a dog that will work for your needs/wants. And, unfortunately, most breeders do not test their dogs in a way that will give you any hope of a guarantee the dog will perform the role you’re interested in him/her performing.
Another thing to keep in mind is that Protection Sports is NOT the same as Personal Protection work or guarding work. Protection sports is built around training the dog to bite under very specific and obvious conditions. A dog trained like this knows it’ll be biting a thing (usually a sleeve or bite suit) the second it’s taken out into that specific environment or under those obvious conditions. This is useless for someone looking for a PPD or Guard Dog. Be wary of breeders who work their dogs in Protection Sports (ringsports and Schutzhund) and claim they will protect – one does not equal the other – a dog trained in protection sports, or a pup from dogs tested in protection sports, will give you NO guarantee that the dog will actually protect in a real world scenario.
I write this info from personal experience, having purchased dogs from breeders who “worked” their dogs (in protection sports) only to end up with a dog who’s a great sporting dog, but not a guard or protection dog. There are very few breeders left in the world working and selecting their dogs in roles that are suitable for a guard dog. If you think you’ve found a breeder who produces dogs who will suit your need, be sure to get a second opinion as it’s very easy to be caught up in the idea of getting a new pup – hell, feel free to contact and ask me my opinion. At the very least you’ll be pointed to someone who knows a thing or two about real aggression and not just simply a person doing sport work with their “protection dogs” or trying to sell you a false promise.