Having a guard dog as your first dog is a big decision. While these dogs can be incredibly loving and bring lots of happiness to your family, they also represent a very real danger because of their nature and their strength.
Of course, a first-time dog owner may choose any breed they wish, but that doesn’t mean that they should. Your safety, the safety of the dog and of the people who would be interacting with the animal should be high priorities when considering the best type of guard breed to bring into your home.
Can a first-time dog owner just choose any guard breed they want?
The first point to consider should be the reasons why you want a guard dog. If it is for solely protection reasons, have you considered all other options first (e.g. CCTV, sensor alarms, etc)? A dog is first and foremost a social creature and even if they are working dogs, they will still need to have their basic needs met.
If your dog will be living with you and your family at home, you will certainly need to ensure that you choose an animal that shows family-friendly traits. However, just because a dog breed may be known for certain characteristics, a dog’s upbringing will have a major effect on their temperament.
That is why it is strongly recommended not to rescue an adult dog with the sole aim of making it a guard dog to live with your family. You cannot know how the dog will react in different situations so it is much safer to rear the dog from puppy age so that you can supervise its training and ensure it is treated properly.
The most important point when it comes to choosing a guard dog as your first pet is undoubtedly the training that must be done to model good behaviours and make sure that the dog’s behaviour is safe and under control.
If you know that you will not be able to invest time and money into training your guard dog, then realistically you should not look for a guard dog for your first time. With strict penalties and potentially fatal consequences for a dog who is untrained, it represents a significant risk.
Recommended guard dog breeds for first-time owners
There are a couple of key differences between a guard dog, watchdog and attack dog. A guard dog is one who can be trained to bark at intruders and attack on command, while a watchdog is one that has just been taught to bark at unusual noises and disturbances. Often, a watchdog will be quite small (but very loud!). An attack dog is a working dog that can be trained to kill on command and are likely to be owned by police services or military units.
There is some disagreement over whether a guard dog can even be a family pet (with some experts saying not) and that instead, family dogs that act as guard dogs are actually protection dogs.
Let’s take a look at some of the most popular guard dog breeds.
You might have a preconceived notion about some of the dog breeds in this list, but you should keep an open mind and do your own research from trusted sources like the American Kennel Club. Rottweilers are a beautiful dog breed, and they can be effective as both a guard dog and a family dog.
A Rottweiler must be socialised and fully trained, especially if they will be around young children in a home. In terms of your first dog to own, it would be better if you know how to discipline and train a dog (or at the very least, if you have done plenty of research into it. The Rottweiler requires a serious amount of discipline to ensure it behaves appropriately.
A Great Dane is a wonderful family dog that will provide unrivalled levels of safety and security. They are so large, however, that you must be sure that your home is able to cater to their needs. They require a lot of space to be able to thrive.
They are known as ‘gentle giants’ in that their size can intimidate intruders and yet they are known to have a sweet and temperate disposition for their family members. As your first dog, this may be a good choice owing to their natural tendencies to guard the home and willingness to be trained.
Bernese Mountain Dog
Another larger-sized dog requiring plenty of space to live happily, the Bernese can be a great choice as a guard dog and your first pet.
They are built to be very strong and sturdy animals, with plenty of resistance to the elements because of their thick coat and from their original breeding in the mountains of Switzerland as working farm dogs.
If trained correctly, they can be perfectly friendly dogs and they will become very protective of their family.
Of all the dog breeds that have undergone bursts in popularity (which experts say is detrimental to dogs in general), the boxer is one that has rarely become a fad and has instead remained a constantly popular dog over the years.
And if you have ever spent any time around one, it is clear to see why. They are playful, affectionate, and highly intelligent. They are very strong animals and have athletic instincts – they love to run and play outdoors.
They are a natural choice as a guard dog owing to their strength and abilities. They are much more inclined to be protective rather than aggressive. Again, training your dog will be crucial if you want your dog to be well-behaved and behave appropriately.
Another powerful dog, the Newfoundland is named for its origins in Newfoundland, Canada, where it was bred to be a working dog who assisted fishermen in their duties.
It is well known for being a great family dog, docile around children and protective of its owners. Due to their average size (with males weighing up to 150 pounds and with an average height of 28 inches), they are a prime example of a dog with both strength and beauty.
Like most dogs, they need to be taught with positive reinforcements methods – supportive, reward-based training with an emphasis on praising desired actions.
We’ve presented a list of what we would recommend as the best guard dog breeds if you have never had a dog before. There’s no one single right answer because there are multiple factors involved in the decision and they are context dependent.
Deciding to bring a dog into your home is never a decision that should be made lightly, but this is doubly the case if you are looking for a guard dog. While most of the breeds we mentioned have temperate traits, these are still animals that can pose a threat to your safety and this decision should be made with 100% certainty that you are getting the right breed for you.
We also don’t want to say that a rescue dog can’t be a good family dog, or that it can’t be trained to protect your family – quite the opposite. However, the chances of your dog engaging in unwanted behaviour with babies or young children will be decreased if you are responsible for the dog’s upbringing and training from an early age.
If you are planning to have your first dog become a guard dog but also a family dog, then it is essential that you treat your dog with the same kindness you would show a non-guard dog. Dogs won’t respond well to harshness, punishment, or poor treatment.
All in all, this is a major decision to make and if you have any doubts at all, be sure to consult with your local kennel club or veterinary professional.