Examples of some typical breeds in this group: Mastiff, Bullmastiff, Rottweiler, Schnauzer, Bouvier des Flandres, Neapolitan Mastiff, Great Dane, German Shepherd Dog (which also shares many traits of those in the Livestock Herding Dogs category)
Your dog is this type if he:
Is large, strong, confident and likes to protect his family and home. Loyal and attentive to his family group, he is often suspicious of strangers until he knows them and sees that his family are relaxed in their company. He may also enjoy walks, retrieving games and sitting in water on warm days, even if he doesn’t go swimming.
Exercise and play
Guarding Dogs generally need a good amount of exercise but, as with most larger breeds, may tire easily especially in warm weather, and so prefer more frequent, shorter walks to occasional long ones. Using your dog’s height and weight as a guide, there are a number of good, general rules owners can follow to help avoid damage to his joints, such as avoiding stairs and discouraging him from jumping on and off furniture. When travelling, a pet-ramp is recommended as it allows your pet to walk into the car instead of jumping in and out. Playing in the garden and short-but-frequent on-lead walks are enjoyable and will help your dog use up his energy while exploring the world surrounding him. They also give him a break from being ‘on duty’ at home, guarding you and your family – a job that all dogs in this group do naturally, whether they are working guard dogs or simply pets. For more specific information concerning the amount and type of exercise your dog needs, contact your dog’s breeder or rescue centre.
It is essential that you choose a breeder who actively socialises their litters and raises the pups in a stimulating and varied physical environment. Early, thorough socialisation is crucial for Guarding Dogs as they develop the capacity for fear earlier than most other breeds. For the average dog, this happens at around 49 days; however, German Shepherds, for example, learn to feel fear at about 35-38 days.
Before they reach this threshold, young animals are not afraid of new experiences or people because they are learning what is ‘normal’. After this time, they begin to react increasingly fearfully to anything they’ve not seen before, and can respond with a range of behaviours from fight to flight. Given their size, strength, natural guarding instincts and innate suspicion of unfamiliar people, it is therefore absolutely vital that they are exposed to as much of the world as possible.
Ongoing training from puppyhood using positive reinforcement methods will ensure good behaviour, such as walking to heel and coming when called. This will ensure that, should you encounter something unusual when out and about, you will be in full control of your dog and he will respond calmly to your reassurance.
By his nature, a Guarding Dog will often want to patrol garden boundaries, vigilantly searching for intruders. Even when snoozing in the sun, he can be fully awake and barking in a split-second should he detect any unexpected noise or movement. With this in mind, it is important to ensure his boundaries are secure. Guarding Dogs may be large but some are surprisingly agile with the ability to scale a six foot fence with ease.
These dogs enjoy strong rubber toys that they can chew, chase and pounce on. If you have more than one Guarding Dog, invest in some good-quality rope toys so that they can enjoy a tug-of-war between themselves You’ll need to be strong if you want to join in and play this game with your dog yourself!
Hiding some pre-filled treat-dispensing toys around the garden for him to seek out is sure to keep your dog amused, first in the searching for them, and then in trying to extract the treats by manipulating the toys with his paws, nose and teeth. Due to the strength of a Guarding Dog’s jaws, only the toughest chews and toys will stand up to this task.
If, like many Guarding Dogs, your dog likes digging, hide some treat-toys in a place where he has to work for his prize. A doggie sandpit or doggie ball-pit is ideal, as is any digging area just for your dog and out of bounds for children. Installing one of these in your garden could help save your flower beds and vegetable patches as it will help transfer his innate need to dig to his own, more suitable location.
Ball-loving Guarding Dogs may enjoy oddly-shaped dog toys that move and bounce unpredictably. Ordinary balls are fun too, and your dog will take great pleasure in tossing them in the air, chasing and jumping on them. In the event that the novelty wears off your dog may prefer you to join in and start throwing and rolling the balls for him.
Playing with you
Guarding Dogs can be quite socially independent, particularly the Mastiff breeds, but they also enjoy human interaction. Some members of this group, like the Rottweiler and German Shepherd, really thrive on quality time playing with their loved ones, and can reach the highest levels of success in dog agility classes and sports.
For these types of dog, a canine hobby-sport is recommended to keep them mentally fit. Agility courses, competitive obedience and working trials (a mixture of obedience and agility, based on police dog-type work) are ideal. Joining a suitable training club is recommended, so that you can learn how to train safely and your dog can enjoy the social aspect of mixing with other dogs and their owners.
If you don’t have the time for regular classes and competitions, you might like to take a short course to learn the ‘basics’ and introduceagility equipment like jumps, a tunnel, some weave poles etc. into your garden. For safety, dogs should only be able to use this equipment under direct supervision.
Tug-of-war games are also popular with Guarding Dogs , but make sure to teach him to give up the toy when you ask for it while he’s still young; it’s a skill that will prove invaluable when he runs off with one of your shoes or discovers something that could be dangerous if swallowed.
The ‘Give’ request can also help to prevent your dog from learning to protect and guard things that you do not wish him to have. When puppy training, make a game of always replacing what he has in his mouth with something tastier (if it’s food or a treat) or more exciting (for example, substituting an old toy for a new one.). If your dog shows any sign of guarding his bed or other possessions or being possessive of you or other family members, seek the immediate advice of a qualified canine behaviourist on referral from your vet.
Most breeds in this group can also be taught to retrieve a thrown toy but some - such as the Neapolitan Mastiff- often seem more aloof and less willing to play. This is due to the fact that their breed was never meant for co-operative work such as herding livestock – however, great enthusiasm, patience and tasty treats will all help!
Guarding Dogs can sometimes seem reserved, but they form close bonds with their family and have been known to defend them with great vigour. Strangers will often be viewed with initial suspicion, but friends and visitors, once introduced and accepted, will be seen as part of the group.
Some Guarding Dogs are more demonstrative in their affection than others. Rottweilers, Dobermanns and German Shepherds are generally devoted to their owners, hanging on their every word, but some of the guarding breeds, particularly the mastiff types, are more independent.
If your dog is very dependent on you, make sure he doesn’t become attached to the point of being unable to cope on his own. It is important that your dog is taught self-reliance from an early age to avoid separation-related behaviour issues. Provide a comfortable den-like indoor kennel (sometimes called a crate) or a cosy bed in a dog-proofed room where he can snooze or chew a favourite toy on his own. Exercise him before you leave him alone so that he is toileted and ready to relax, and hide a treat-filled chew-toy for him to find and then work on to keep himself busy in your absence.
Guarding Dogs are often particularly close to one individual in a family. To safeguard against over-reliance on the one person, ensure that all adult family members feed, train, walk and play with the dog, with older children also being involved in some of these tasks under the close supervision of an adult.
Relaxing in the house with their owners in their line of sight, Guarding Dogs will remain alert to anything unusual in their environment. They will immediately react to the sound of a car alarm or footsteps outside, and will often bark to alert you and to ward off potential threats. Some are more reactive and persistent than others, and teaching a good response to the requests of ‘Speak’ and ‘Shush’ is very useful. If you teach your dog to bark when asked, it will mean he can be vocal when it’s convenient for you both, such as outside on a walk, when it won’t annoy your neighbours. Teaching your dog to start and stop barking also means that you can quieten him more easily when he barks indoors.
Given their power, it’s also important to get Guarding Dogs used to being handled by different people, including strangers, while young. Your dog’s vet, groomer, walker or sitter will certainly thank you for making their lives easier when it comes to getting him back on his lead or taking him along for his check-ups. Using relaxed daily grooming sessions - whether his coat needs the attention or not - will produce the best results.
Mealtimes can be made far more interesting by feeding him around 30 per cent of his daily dry food allowance in a variety of food-dispensing toys placed around the house, or in empty cereal boxes outdoors. A further 15 per cent of his daily food can also be used as training rewards, and another 15 per cent can be scattered on the garden patio or in short, dry grass for him to seek out and find. The remaining amount can be split into two meals fed in a bowl, morning and evening, to provide a predictable routine and ensure he continues to see you as a parental food provider.
Feeding him in these different ways has many benefits: it adds a level of rewarding unpredictability to your dog’s day, encourages him to work for his food and to be mentally and physically active. It also means that one of the highlights of his day – mealtime – isn’t all over in a few seconds.
As long as you are following daily feeding guidelines (see dog food packaging) overall each day and monitoring your dog’s weight to keep him in ideal body condition, don’t worry if the resulting amount you put in his bowl looks small, and certainly don’t add more. Provided he has had his daily food allocation and you are feeding a complete diet, he will have all the nutrients and energy he needs to help him stay happy and healthy.
With some large and giant breeds, providing smaller portions in various ways may also reduce the chance of them suffering from bloat; a condition that affects some giant breeds when only fed one meal a day. When a dog suffers from a bloat attack, their stomach fills with gas and can sometimes twist dangerously, which can prove fatal. By feeding them little an often, you may be able to reduce their risk of suffering from bloat.