Keeping Your Guarding Dog Happy
Some dog breeds are large, strong and confident and like to protect your family and home – these types are known as guard dogs. These breeds often make excellent family pets as they’ll be loyal and attentive, but they’re likely to be suspicious of any strangers that come into your home, until they realise that you’re relaxed in their company.
Protection dog breeds are also generally quite energetic and as such, they’ll enjoy walks, playing fun ‘retrieving’ type games and many will also enjoy a swim. If you love big dogs that will also offer your home and family an element of protection, keep reading to discover what breeds fall into this category…
7 Guard dog breeds
There are many breeds which are considered to be protection dogs, but a few of the most popular ones are as follows:
Bullmastiff’s are well known because of their strength and natural protection instincts. They make great household pets but you’ll need to ensure you have a large garden with a tall fence.
This guard dog breed is typically incredibly kind and gentle with all members of the family but possess an intense loyalty. Due to this, Rottweilers can be particularly wary of strangers and will need to be socialised at a young age.
3. Giant Schnauzers
Strong and powerful, Giant Schnauzers have a dominant personality and will require a considerable amount of training. They’re great family pets but will need plenty of physical and mental stimulation to keep them entertained.
4. Bouvier des Flandres
Perhaps the least well-known protection dog on this list, the Bouvier des Flandres is a large breed that’s calm and friendly. In terms of guarding, they’re more of a watchdog that will alert the family to any visitors arriving.
5. Neapolitan Mastiffs
The Neapolitan Mastiff is a guard dog breed specifically bred for protection. These types are huge and powerful and are typically wary of strangers, but incredibly loyal and big softies to all members of the family.
6. Great Danes
Great Danes are often used as guard dogs due to their large and intimidating size, but at their heart they’re actually very sweet-natured family dogs. You’ll need to make sure you have a home and garden that’s large enough for them though!
7. German Shepherd Dogs
German Shepherds are possibly one of the most popular guard dogs which is likely due to their use in the police force and military. Where they’re extremely loyal and take great pride in protecting family members and the home, they’re also very loving dogs and are known to form lasting bonds with their owners.
Exercising your guard dog breed
Your guard 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 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 protection dog breeds do naturally, even though they are pets rather than working guard dogs!
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!
Toys for your guard dog:
Strong rubber toys: perfect for plenty of chewing
Rope toys: for games of tug-of-war
Treat-dispensing toys: to stimulate your dog’s mind and body
Doggie sandpit or ball-pits: lots of guard dogs enjoy digging so hiding a few treats in a ball-pit or sandpit may help to save your lawn or flowerbeds.
Balls: all dogs love to chase balls and protection dogs are no exception!
Training your protection dog
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 your reassurance and your adventures will always be calm and controlled.
They might also want to protect and guard things you don’t want them to have (such as the television remote)! 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, guard dog breeds 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.
Training your guard dog to stop barking
When relaxing in the house with you in their line of sight, most types of protection dog breeds 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!
Keeping their joints healthy
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.
The matter of your garden and fence
Your guard 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. Protection 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!
The importance of early socialisation
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 protection dogs’ temperaments are a little different and they tend to learn to feel fear at about 35-38 days.
The fear stage
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!
Getting them used to strangers
Guard dog breeds can be quite powerful, which is one of the unique aspects of their type. Given this, it’s also important to get them 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.
Bonding with your guard 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 guard 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.
Separation anxiety related issues
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 anxiety in dogs. 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 protection 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.