Guarding dog care
Examples of some typical breeds in this group include:
- Bouvier des Flandres
- Neapolitan Mastiffs
- Great Danes
- German Shepherd Dogs (which also share many traits of those in the Livestock Herding Dogs category).
Many of these dogs were originally guard dog breeds, but they are now just as often found in the home as loving family pets!
Your dog is a guard dog breed if they:
Are large, strong, confident and like to protect your family and home. Your pet will be loyal and attentive to the family, and might be suspicious of strangers until they know them and see that that you are relaxed in their company. They may also enjoy walks, playing fun ‘retrieving’ games, and sitting in water on warm days – even if they don’t fancy going for a swim!
Exercise and play
Your Guarding Dog will need a good amount of exercise to keep them in tip-top shape, but as with most large dog breeds they may tire easily, especially in warm weather. Because of this, they prefer to enjoy frequent short walks with you rather than the occasional longer one.
Your guard dog breed needs a bit of extra attention when it comes to keeping their joints healthy! Ask your vet about using your dog’s height and weight as a guide to keeping their joints healthy. In general, avoid stairs and discourage your dog from jumping on and off furniture, however fun they find it! A pet ramp might be useful when you’re travelling, so your pet can walk in and out of the car without jumping.
Your guard dog breed loves to play in the garden, and the frequent walks you enjoy together will help them use up their boundless energy. All this fun and exercise helps give your dog a break from being ‘on duty’ at home guarding you and your family – a job that all of these protective dog breeds do naturally, even though they are pets rather than working guard dogs! If you want to know more, your dog’s breeder or rescue centre can give your more information about the type of exercise your dog enjoys the most.
Your dog will be at their happiest if you choose them from a breeder who actively socialises their litters and raises the pups in a stimulating and varied physical environment. Early and thorough socialisation is crucial for Guarding Dogs as they develop the capacity for fear earlier than most other breeds. Normally, dogs understand what fear is at around 49 days; but German Shepherd temperament being a little different, for example, means that they learn to feel fear at about 35-38 days. The same is true for all Guarding Dog breeds.
Before they reach this age, your young dog is not afraid of new experiences or people, because they are still learning what is ‘normal’. After this age, your dog will probably be more nervous or ‘fearful’ of things they haven’t seen before, and might respond with a range of behaviour from fight (perhaps growling, or being ‘aggressive’) to flight (running away). Because your Guarding Dog is probably large and strong, and their guarding instincts make them suspicious of people, it is vital that they are exposed to as much of the world as possible. The traits that have traditionally made them good guard dogs might make them more troublesome pets if they get used to ‘guarding’ too much!
Your dog will benefit from training from puppyhood and beyond, and this will also be fun for both of you. Use positive reinforcement methods to ensure good behaviour, such as walking to heel and coming when called. That way, if your dog encounters something unusual when out and about, they’ll respond calmly to you reassurance and your adventures will always be calm and controlled.
Your Guarding Dog’s nature means they will often want to patrol garden boundaries, vigilantly searching for intruders. Even when snoozing in the sun, they can be fully awake and barking in a split second should they detect any unexpected noise or movement! With this in mind, it is important to ensure your dog’s boundaries are secure. Guarding Dogs may be large, but some are surprisingly agile with the ability to scale a six foot fence with ease; you don’t want your friend going on any unexpected trips without you!
Your dog will 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!
As well as physical play, you could design brain games for dogs that like searching things out. They’ll love seeking out pre-filled treat-dispensing toys hidden around the garden, first searching for them and then trying to extract the treats with their 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 they have to work for their 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 their 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 them, so you have share some of the fun too.
Playing with your dog
You know your dog’s personality best, so you know how they love to play. After all, although they are all Guarding Dogs, there are many different personalities within the group; the usual German Shepherd temperament, for example, is more playful than that of a Mastiff. Guarding Dogs can be quite socially independent, particularly Mastiff breeds, but they also enjoy interaction with you. Some members of this group, including the Rottweiler and German Shepherd, really thrive on quality time playing with their loved ones, and they can reach the highest levels of success in dog agility classes and sports.
For these types of large dog, a canine hobby-sport is recommended to keep them mentally fit. Your dog will really enjoy agility courses, competitive obedience and working trials (a mixture of obedience and agility, based on police dog-type work). 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 introduce your excited pet to agility equipment like jumps, a tunnel, and weave poles, which you might put in your garden. Your dog should only use this equipment under supervision to make sure they’re safe – and it’s so much more fun if you’re there learning with them!
Your Guarding Dog will also love tug-of-war games, but make sure to teach your pet to give up the toy when you ask for it while they’re still young; it’s a skill that will prove invaluable when they over-excitedly run off with one of your shoes, or discover something that could be dangerous if swallowed.
They might also want to protect and guard things you don’t want them to have (such as the television remote!); again, the ‘give’ request is a good way to make sure their guarding instincts don’t get out of hand. When training your puppy, make a game of always replacing what they have in their mouth with something tastier (if it’s food or a treat) or more exciting (for example, substituting an old toy for a new one). As some of the most protective dogs, Guarding Dogs may be a little possessive. If your dog shows any sign of guarding their 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.
If your dog is in the Guarding Dog group, they can also be taught to retrieve a thrown toy. Some dogs, such as the Neapolitan Mastiff, often seem more aloof and less willing to play. This is because their breed was never meant for co-operative work such as herding livestock – however, great enthusiasm, patience and tasty treats will all help!
Emotional bonding with your Guarding Dog
Your dog might sometimes seem reserved, but they will 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. Protective dogs such as Rottweilers, Dobermanns and German Shepherds are generally devoted to their owners, hanging on their every word, but some of the guarding breeds, particularly Mastiff types, are more independent.
If your dog is very dependent on you, make sure they don’t become attached to the point of being unable to cope on their 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 they can snooze or chew a favourite toy on his own. Exercise your dog before you leave them alone so they are toileted and ready to relax, and hide a treat-filled chew-toy for them to find and then work on to keep themselves busy in your absence.
Your Guarding Dog is likely to be 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 your dog, with older children also being involved in some of these tasks under the close supervision of an adult.
Your Guarding Dog, when relaxing in the house with you in their line of sight, like most types of 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 dogs 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 they 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 them more easily when they decide it’s time to barks indoors!
Your Guarding Dog is quite powerful, which is one of the unique aspects of their type. Given this, 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 them back on their lead or taking them along for his check-ups. Using relaxed daily grooming sessions - whether their coat needs the attention or not - will produce the best results, as well as being enjoyable for you too.
Nutrition for Guarding Dogs
Your dog will find mealtimes far more interesting if you feed them around 30 per cent of their 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 their 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 your dog 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 your dog continues to see you as a parental food provider.
Feeding large dogs in these different ways has many benefits: it adds a level of rewarding unpredictability to your dog’s day, and encourages them to work for food and to be mentally and physically active. It also means that one of the highlights of their day – mealtime – isn’t all over in a few delicious seconds!
As long as you are following daily feeding guidelines (check your dog food packaging for reference) and monitoring your dog’s weight to keep them in ideal body condition, don’t worry if the resulting amount you put in their bowl looks small, and certainly don’t add more. Provided your dog has had their daily food allocation and you are feeding them a complete diet, they will have all the nutrients and energy they need to stay on top of the world.
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 they’re only fed one meal a day.
Look out for dog bloat symptoms in your pet: 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 and often, you may be able to reduce their risk of suffering from bloat.
By taking into account our tips and tricks for keeping your Guarding Dog happy, you’ll always get the very best from your canine companion – and they’ll get the very best from you!