Guardian Dogs: Right Dog For You?
Not for the novice dog owner, learn all about these large dog breeds bred to guard people or livestock to see if they are the right companion pet for you and your family.
Posted: June 1, 2012, 8 a.m. EDT
Sometimes known as working dogs, guardian dogs were bred to guard homes, people and valuables, as well as livestock. While they might sound like a useful sort of dog to have around, these dog breeds are not for everyone. Large and reserved in nature, the guardian breeds are gentle with family and friends but fierce when provoked.
Some, such as the Rottweiler and the Doberman, were bred to live closely with people as personal guards. Although their guarding instincts can work for you, they can also work against you if your dog is poorly bred, poorly socialized or untrained.
These guardian dogs bond tightly with their families but can be wary of strangers, even when socialized. If you love to entertain and thrive on having guests in and out of your home, your guardian dog must be very well socialized and always supervised with guests. This is especially true if you have children who frequently have friends over. It’s not unusual for guardian breeds to mistake friendly wrestling for an attack on "their” child and to leap to his defense.
Consider whether this type of dog is really appropriate for your lifestyle. The livestock guardians were bred to live largely independent of people. They bond with livestock rather than with people or other dogs, defending them with their lives. Guardian dogs bred to protect livestock rather than humans include the Anatolian Shepherd of Turkey and Kuvasz of Hungary. Many are still used in these roles today, in both their countries of origin and on farms and ranches across the United States.
The protective instinct of these guardian dogs sometimes puts them at odds with a human household. They make excellent watchdogs because they see their owners as their herd, and their job is to protect their herd. They can overwhelm a family not experienced with dominant dogs, however, and they may be wary of strangers and strange animals. Many experts suggest that livestock guardians be chosen only by individuals who are experienced with guardian-type dogs and have an understanding of their special needs.
Other guardians include the relatively gentle Newfoundlands and Saint Bernards. Instead of guarding against human or animal predators, these traditional search and rescue dogs held the job of aiding the lost and injured. Despite their large size and propensity to drool, both make excellent and dependable pets, being friendly and outgoing. But even very friendly working dogs should receive obedience training; their sheer size can be dangerous to both young children and senior citizens if they do not learn how to behave in a restrained manner.
Size should also be considered when deciding whether to bring a guardian or working dog into your family. Although most are sedentary, a 150-pound dog takes up a lot of room in a small apartment. And several, such as Black Russian Terriers, are highly active and need a family who can provide them with an outlet for their active bodies and minds.
These giant dogs also have giant-size needs: they require more food and more frequent cleanup, and boarding, grooming, and veterinary costs are considerably higher than are those for their smaller relatives. And giant breeds tend to have shorter life spans than other dogs do. They are often old at 5 or 6 years of age and may die by 8 or 10 years.
Guardians demand a dog-experienced owner who can provide them with consistency and structure. With most of these dogs, physical correction is not necessary or recommended— you are not going to win physically. However, firm, consistent training will garner their respect and loyalty. Guardian breeds can and do make excellent family companions, but be sure to consider their special needs before you acquire one.
Still considering a guardian dog? Here is a more information about some of these dog breeds that are less well known:
Akbash Dog: This is a livestock guardian breed native to Turkey. The Akbash weighs 75 to 140 pounds. Extremely loyal, the Akbash Dog breed is intelligent and independent. They can make good pets if raised with humans and well socialized. However, working Akbash Dogs that have not been socialized are aggressive toward trespassers. The Akbash is very protective of its family, flock and property. They have a low to moderate activity level. The best owner for an Akbash is someone who is dog-experienced, firm and consistent and lives in a rural area. An Akbash needs a fenced yard, socialization and training.
American Bulldog: Native to Great Britain, this is a home and property guardian that in the past also drove and caught cattle. The American Bulldog can weigh 60 to 125 pounds. An assertive dog, the American Bulldog is gentle and loving with its family but aggressive toward intruders. The American Bulldog is intelligent, sensitive and generally quite calm. This breed has a high activity level and need a dog-experienced owner with time for training and socialization. The American Bulldog can be good with older children if well socialized, but generally should be housed with only one dog of the opposite sex. This breed needs plenty of attention, a fenced yard, socialization and training.
Anatolian Shepherd Dog: This breed is a livestock guardian native to Turkey and Asia Minor. It can weigh from 80 to 150 pounds. The Anatolian Shepherd is highly protective and territorial. Reserved with strangers, they are affectionate with friends and family. Intelligent and independent, the Anatolian Shepherd is watchful, calm and alert. The best owner is an experienced dog owner who is consistent and firm, with the time for proper socialization and training. The Anatolian Shepherd can be good with children, but should be supervised because of its large size. Anatolian's needs a fenced yard, socialization and training.
Black Russian Terrier: Native to Russia, this breed was bred to do multiple jobs, such as a guard, a herder and a sled dog. According to the Black Russian Terrier Club of America, they can weigh between 80 and 130 pounds. The Black Russian Terrier is an alert and energetic dog that is affectionate and gentle with family, but protective and wary with strangers. Stable and quite adaptable, this breed has a high activity level and would do best with a dog-experienced owner. The Black Russian Terrier needs ample exercise, but as long as they gets it, this breed can live in the city, suburbs or country. This breed needs attention, grooming, socialization and training.
Bernese Mountain Dog: Developed as an all-purpose farm dog, pulling carts, driving cattle and guarding, this easygoing dog is confident and gentle. The Bernese Mountain Dog can weigh from 75 to 105 pounds. Some may be aloof with strangers, but they generally get along with everyone, including children and other animals. The Bernese Mountain Dog has a moderate activity level. The best owner is an active one who lives in a suburban or rural environment. The Bernese Mountain Dog needs grooming, socialization and training.
Bullmastiff: Bred to catch and hold poachers without hurting them, the quiet and docile Bullmastiff is patient and gentle with friends and family, especially children. Bullmastiff's will, however, be protective and territorial. This breed can weigh 100 to 130 pounds. They have a low activity level, but needs socialization and training. The Bullmastiff does well with a family and can adjust to most living situations but may be too large for apartment life.
Cane Corso: Originating from Italy, this dog was bred to be a hunter of large predators, a cattle drovers and a guard of home and livestock. The Cane Corso can weigh between 88 to 110 pounds. This is an even-tempered , trainable and quiet dog that is loyal and affectionate with its family, including children, but extremely wary with strangers. The Cane Corso is very protective, intelligent and often aloof. They do fine with other animals as long as they is well socialized. This dog breed has a moderate activity level. The Cane Corso does best with a guardian dog-experienced owner in a rural or suburban home. They can adapt to apartment life if they receives enough exercise. This breed needs a fenced yard, socialization and training.
Central Asian Shepherd: Descended from dogs kept by Central Asian nomads, they were used to guard against large predators, such as bears and wolves. The Central Asian Shepherd can weigh from 90 to 150 pounds. This breed is intelligent and protective, wary of strangers and other dogs, but affectionate and loyal toward family. Some say theiy have catlike behaviors. The Central Asian Shepherd has a moderate activity level and does best best with dog-experienced, firm owner in a rural area. They need a fenced yard, socialization and training.
Dogue De Bordeaux: From France, this dog breed was used to protect property as well as for blood sport entertainment, fighting large animals such as bear, jaguars and wild boar. The Dogue De Bordeaux can weigh between 80 and 100 pounds. This breed is affectionate and friendly with family but wary with strangers and often dog aggressive. They do well with children, if well socialized. The Dogue De Bordeaux’s activity level is moderate. They do best in the country or suburbs with an active, dog-experienced family or individual. The Dogue De Bordeaux needs socialization and training.
Entlebucher Sennenhund: This breed from Switzerland was developed as a cattle drover, herder and guard dog. The Entlebucher weighs between 55 to 65 pounds, with a lot of muscle. The Entlebucher is easygoing, friendly, intelligent and highly trainable with a moderate activity level. This breed does best with an experienced, active owner in a rural or suburban setting with a climate that is not hot and humid. They require training as they are strong enough to knock over kids and adults.
Greater Swiss Mountain Dog: From Switzerland, this breed was used as an all-purpose guard and draft dog by farmers and merchants and a military dog during World War II. The Greater Swiss Mountain Dog weighs between 85 to 140 pounds. This is a faithful, devoted and stable dog that is territorial, alert and watchful, but never aggressive. The Greater Swiss Mountain Dog has a moderate active level and does best with an active dog-experienced owner in a rural or suburban home. This breed needs exercise, socialization and training.
Hovawart: This German guard dog was used to protect and guard the farm, but today is also used in search and rescue. Hovawarts can weigh as much as 100 pounds or more, according to the Hovawart Club of North America. This breed is self-confident, loyal and even-tempered. Gentle and affectionate with family, the Hovawart can also be protective and territorial. This breed has a high activity level and an independent streak. The Hovawart does well with an active family in a rural or suburban environment. Hovawarts need attention, exercise, grooming, socialization and training.
Kangal Dog: Native to Turkey, the Kangal dog is a flock guardian. This breed can weigh from 90 to 145 pounds. The Kangal Dog is strong and courageous, affectionate with family but wary with strangers. They are naturally calm, but will fight if necessary. Intelligent and trainable, this dog breed has a high activity level. The Kangal Dog does best in a rural or suburban home with the opportunity to work. Owners of this breed should be dog-experienced and active. Children and other animals are fine as long as the dog is well socialized and interaction between them is supervised. However, most Kangals will react to provocation. This breed needs exercise, a fenced yard, socialization, training and supervision with children and other animals.
Leonberger: This German breed was bred to be a companion dog. They can weigh between 105 to 132 pounds. The Leonberger makes an excellent family dog: affectionate, playful and very good with children. The Leonberger is protective of family and home. This breed has a high activity level and does best with an active family in a rural or suburban home. The Leonberger needs attention, grooming, socialization and training.
Newfoundland: Native to Canada, this breed was developed as a drafting and general working dog, used to tow lines and nets and for water rescue. The Newfoundland can weigh from 100 to 150 pounds. A gentle dog that is excellent with children, they love the water and is known for attempting to rescue swimmers, whether or not they are in trouble. The Newfoundland has a moderate activity level and does best in a rural or suburban home with an easy-going owner who is not fastidious. Newfoundlands need grooming, training and supervision around water so they don’t inadvertently hurt swimmers.
Sarplaninac: Originally from Serbia and Macedonia, the Sarplaninac is a flock guardian that can weigh between 66 and 99 pounds. This breed is affectionate with family but wary of strangers. They make an excellent guard and is courageous and intelligent. This breed is independent minded and can be dominant. The Sarplaninac has a moderate activity level and does best with a dog-experienced owner in a suburban or rural home. This breed needs a fenced yard, socialization and training.
Tosa Ken: Native to Japan, this dog was bred to be the canine equivalent of a sumo wrestlers and was used in ceremonial dog fighting. They can weigh from 90 to 240 pounds. The Tosa Ken is a quiet, reserved dog that is affectionate and friendly with family and aloof with strangers. Tosa Kin's may be dog aggressive. They are devoted to their owner and highly trainable. This breed has a high activity level and does best with a dog-experienced owner in a suburban or rural home. The Tosa Ken is fine with children if supervised but does well only with animals with which it is raised. Tosa's needs attention, socialization and training.
Other guardian dog breeds include: Aidi, Alentejo Mastiff, Appenzeller, Boxer, Cao de Castro Laboreiro, Caucasian Ovcharka, Cimarron Uruguayo, Danish Broholmer, Doberman Pinscher, Dogo Argentino, Estrela Mountain Dog, Giant Schnauzer, Great Dane, Great Pyrenees, Karst Shepherd Dog, Komondor, Kuvasz, Majorca Mastiff, Maremma Sheepdog, Mastiff, Neapolitan Mastiff, Owczarek Podhalanski, Perro De Presa Canario, Pyrenean Mastiff, Rottweiler, Saint Bernard, Slovac Cuvac, Spanish Mastiff, Standard Schnauzer, Tibetan Mastiff, Tornjak.
Excerpt from the book,The Original Dog Bible, edited by Kristin Mehus-Roe, with permission from its publisher, BowTie Press. PurchaseThe Original Dog Bible here.
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