The Best Guard Dog for Your Homestead

Find the best guard dog for your homestead with these training tips and advice on guard dog breeds.

| April/May 2006

Dogs On A Lawn

A diligent border collie keeps lookout over a homestead in Lawrence, Kan.


Finding the best guard dog can be valuable in providing protection for your home and family. My home security system is large and black — and she pants when it’s hot and sheds hair every spring. In return for regular feeding, periodic veterinary care and grooming, I get a beloved companion pet that barks loudly when any strange vehicle enters my driveway. My dog also chases opossums from my deck and rabbits from my garden. But mostly, my watchdog makes me feel safe.

I am not operating under an illusion: According to the U.S. Department of Justice, 16 percent of American households were victims of property crime in 2003. Especially in rural areas, the theft pattern goes like this: Thieves make a quick visit to a house or farm to check for security, then return later to take what they want. But a barking dog often turns off potential burglars at the scouting phase.

It’s no surprise that, of the 68 million pet canines in the United States, most are expected to perform some kind of guard duty. Guard dogs look, listen and bark to sound the alert that something unusual is happening in their territory. After that, humans take over.

Dogs have performed this duty for thousands of years. In Tibet, the little Lhasa apso, called the “bark lion sentinel dog,” was bred to work as an indoor watchdog. In Belgium, schipperkes earned the nickname “little captain of the boat” because of their work as ship guard dogs.

“Dogs have coevolved with humans for at least 12,000 years,” says veterinarian Andrew Luescher, director of the Animal Behavior Clinic at Purdue University. "”Dogs are better than any other animal at reading human body language, and they are the only animals that can follow something when you point it out to them.”

Wayne Hunthausen, a veterinarian and co-author of the Handbook of Behavior Problems of the Dog and Cat, says most dogs — including mixed breeds — can be trained as good watchdogs. The exceptions are calm, less-reactive breeds such as bloodhounds or Newfoundland dogs.

1/8/2015 11:19:49 AM

The very best breed for protection in our opinion are German Shepherds. We've trained them to protect soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan. Another good choice is the Belgian Malinois, however some lines of Malinois are not suitable for the inexperienced handler.

1/8/2015 11:11:49 AM

There is no better home security system than a well trained protection dog. A dog that only barks is better than nothing but a dog that will actually engage a burglar or home invader with it's teeth is far superior. These dogs, when properly trained, are excellent family companions and not undisciplined dogs that are to be feared by those around them daily.

6/21/2014 6:02:20 PM

My family love animals. We have a small zoo. Horses, alpacas, goats, cows, geese, chickens, etc. All free range except some of the horses and the cows. Currently 7 watch dogs. The golden retriever is very friendly but will bark and would not hurt a flea unless a child was threatened. The 4 English Shepherds (traditional American farm dog) have vastly different personalities but all are great watch dogs. All contribute to the farm security. The Lab Husky mix is the best at chasing airplanes away and is the first to notice birds of prey. The Swedish Vallhund is pretty much a wolf with short legs. Great little bark and a big heart. Plenty of predators. Wolf, coyote, fox, raccoons, weasel, bobcat, martins, fishers, rare cougar and lynx. Bear but I do not consider them high on the predator list unless it it's your garbage cans your worried about. Virtually nonexistent predator loss. Visitors often stay in their car until a family member calls off the security crew. Anyone casing the joint would have to consider a multitude of variables and I suspect would pick on a different target.

6/19/2014 2:12:05 AM

I have feelings of disdain that are somewhat contradictory for animal behaviorists. This article demonstrated the confusion that results when all these "modern" and "scientific" dog training methods and techniques are presented to the public. First of all the only correction a person should execute is a distraction or demonstration. The only distraction necessary is a sound and the only reward or positive reinforce the dog needs is praise. Forget this selfish human need to administer correction or punishment and that dominance and submission crap you hear from that idiot on TV is pure hogwash. Using a clicker to give praise or signal proper behavior is silly and backwards. And the use of food treats is considered amateurish and often unreliable. Can you imagine military/police handlers carrying a 10lb bag of dog treats? I don't think dog saliva on my fingers makes me look professional. And then there is the penchant to assume a dogs behavior based on the breed and all these fools who want to label dogs as dangerous because they bite. What do you expect dogs to do, threaten people with lawsuits or calling the police. Sure there are bad owners/handlers, but just because a dog bites doesn't make it a man killing beasts that must be feared or killed. Birds bite way more than dogs. I wish people would stop trying to appear professional and scientific by blindly following every jerk with a "system", a book or TV show and blabbering a bunch of nonsense lingo. They try to dazzle others with their ramblings, wearing a cap and a whistle and trying to make dog training another cool profession of the IPad carrying, cell phone dependent, blog writing, coffee house, lingo spewing, feeling entitled minions. Dog training is not a hobby to dabble in and dogs are not experimental circuit boards or chemistry kits. Develop an instinct, do it with love and dedication or shut up and go into something else. To the behaviorists, academics, lazy dog owners, yuppies an such, stick to your area of expertise and let the dog trainers do their thing. You don't hire a person to do a job or walk into a place of business and then try to teach them how to do their job. This is why it's so difficult for me to get work training dogs. They hear how cheap it is at "PetShmuck" and then people whine how the dog didn't learn anything. $75 bucks down the hole or $500 for those other people with their nice brochure and sales people. I don't brag, talk game or have painted vans, but I guess that means more than actually having knowledge, skill and talent and he desire to share it. I'm not coffee shop cool or fit the ideal trainer profile of a quickly written and poorly researched article in a glossy magazine. What's wrong with people today? They prefer smoke and mirrors than reality.

5/15/2014 12:08:26 AM

Australian Shepherds being too hyper. I've owned one Border Collie and 7 Australian Shepherds and they were/are excellent watch dogs and never got/get into trouble from boredom or not having specific jobs -- as watchdog is a job. The list at the end of dogs that create insurance problems is deceptive as some of those breeds make good watchdogs. Otherwise just another empty article that does not live up to the tittle. I expect specific advise or info not just old rehashed fluff from an author too timid to take a stand and have an opinion. Just what breeds are being recommended? Where is the list of breeds the author thinks make good watch dogs - or is it just all dogs but the ones the insurance company doesn't like and Border Collies and Australian Shepherds. A waste of time.

11/13/2013 6:50:46 PM

I have been fortunate enough to own some great guard dogs, including a half standard Poodle/half German shepherd, a Gascon Bluetick hound, and a half Pit/ half Black Lab. All of these dogs with minimal training did not bark, but came to get one of us if something was amiss. If home alone, no one, even people they knew could not enter the house. Of these dogs the Bluetick was the most challenging to train, due to his background breeding of being bred to bark, and the most dangerous when he did attack, as hounds are bred to kill prey. Each of these dogs were trained not to bark because that would alert a potential intruder they have a dog to deal with. An 80 to 110 pound dog that attacks without warning is an unpleasant surprise to a criminal. I really prefer that my guard dogs not bark, but alert me quietly.

10/21/2013 11:16:12 AM

Once again, this is an article about watch dogs, NOT guard dogs. A watch dog is an alert dog, they bark at intruders. They don't do anything more. A guard dog actually does something about the intruder, be it 4 legged (wolves, coyotes,etd.) or 2 legged. Some breeds, such as Giant Schnauzers, Bouviers, some lines of German Shepherds, are bred for personal protection. They protect the owner/family members and home from intruders. They will engage the intruder if he doesn't leave or if he actually attacks. Livestock guardian dogs are bred with very low prey drive so that they can mingle/live with the livestock quietly. And they too will engage (usually very effectively) any threat to their charges. This does not have to be taught, it is natural behavior that has been bred into the particular breed. One has to know what one expects from the dog in order to choose the correct type. A herding breed like a Border Collie, or a herding/protection breed like a Bouvier or Malinois, would be a disaster left out with the livestock. They would harass the stock to death in their desire to "move" the stock. The problem would be the owner's poor choice of breed, not the dog's nature.

11/22/2012 5:36:11 PM

I had never trained a dog to guard animals either but decided when we got our goats to give it a shot. I got a 3 month old Great Pyrenees puppy and kept her in the barn with our 4 goats. She didn't need much more training than that! We have six goats (expecting more this spring) but my kids joke that we have 7 because Maggie seems to think she is a goat. She's been seen running off coyotes and if we let the herd out to graze and something alerts her, she quickly runs them back into the barn. She is a wonderful dog and I would recommend them to anyone wanting a goat guardian.... Also, people told me to turn her in with the goats and not to pet her or make a pet of her. I did not listen and now we have a great goat dog and a loving pet for our kids of all species.

elli bishop
10/4/2012 4:36:00 PM

I'm in love with German Shepherds and believe it or not, Collies. Both provide protection for the family in different ways. I didn't know that there are really a variety of guard dog categories: guard dogs, watch dogs, protection dogs, and even livestock guard dogs. My sister's german shepherd saved her from an attempted break-in about 3 months ago. I'd love to hear about how people's guard dog has protected their home and I'm posting the best testimonials here: Please share stories either here in these comments or send me an email about how your dog has protected your family, yourself, or your home!

meanguitar roulette
2/6/2012 5:45:06 AM

They are natural drovers .They help you drive your livestock. They are not a breed that you leave out with your livestock they want to be by your side..They will follow you everywhere and want you in their sight at all times

meanguitar roulette
2/6/2012 5:42:07 AM

The FILA, Is very intelligent and lives to please their master.. I have house broke a mature puppy in one day.. They want to be by your side..It is not good to leave them out side all of the time when they want to see you . They always are wanting to make sure that you are OK.. THEY ARE A NATURAL GUARDIAN A PERSONAL GUARD DOG

meanguitar roulette
2/6/2012 5:37:31 AM

READ UP ABOUT THE FILA BRASILEIRO or the othername BRASILIAN MASTIFF.. They have a natural distrust of strangers and will not bother livestock.. IF a person does not live in your house then they are considered a stranger.. The thing to remember is this is also a companion breed..They do not run from gun shots from intruders ..If the intruder has a weapon or something in their hand they either go for the weapon hand or throat. They were used to catch and hold escaped slaves..They can hold a large person down and sometimes put there mouth on the persons face without leaving a mark..They do not re-home easily because they love there owners and get very attached..They do not trust anyone who is not their " family. They do not fear bite. Nor are they aggressive to "their" owner..THEY are KNOWN TO HAVE faithfulness , loyalty .courage. and character.. I WILL NOT OWN another breed..Do your research ..they are true to themselves and their"" Aggressive Temperment comes in after 10 to 15 months of age.. THERE IS NO BETTER GUARDIAN

bruce mcelmurray
2/1/2012 11:00:50 PM

You hit the nail on the head with your comments. We have three rescue GSD''s and they do need a job and they need training. Their ability equals the level of the trainer. They are as intelligent as a 7 year old child, and in many cases are above that. They are highly sensitive to a raised voice and to yell or talk loud to a GSD can be devastating. They want to be where you are. Weak leaders lead to neurotic dogs. They are herders and naturally gravitate to doing that. You can talk to them like you would a child and most of the time they fully understand. They have a bite strength of 750 lbs per square inch. They are remarkable and it is exactly as you say they are a misunderstood breed for the most part. The rescue I volunteer for gets them from various situations and most are not good. They move on quickly and their capacity for love can't be described in mere words. Thank you for your comment.

suzanne brazell
2/1/2012 9:16:27 PM

We rescued 2 ½ year old German shepherd and with the help of a trainer we obedience and protection trained him. We have never had a better dog! The German shepherd gets a bad reputation because people do not know how to handle the breed. They need a job to do! They are a strong breed and cannot go without training; it is a detriment to the dog if they do. I not like the idea that people think that they can let loose certain dogs and they will do a job and other will not. If you do not work with your animals you will get an animal that has not been worked with. I could care less of the pedigree. As for the dogs on the list at the end, these poor animals are the consequences of what happens when people who should not own animals do. I disagree with breed specific legislation, although I live in a state where pit bull fighting is prevalent.

catlin osborne
2/1/2012 7:36:43 PM

Here was a perfectly good opportunity for you to educate the public about Livestock Guardian Dogs. Unlike 'pet' breeds and other working breeds, they have been bred for two thousand to three thousand years, depending on the country of origin, to their livestock (goats or sheep most commonly, but sometimes poultry or larger livestock). This means that they consider their goats (or other stock) as their 'pack' and will defend them with their lives, if need be. 'Pet' breed dogs may bark but are no match for a pack of coyotes, wolves, a bobcat, mountain lion, or bear. The sister to my male Anatolian KILLED a mountain lion that jumped into the pen with 'her' goats. Although this is exceptional and two Livestock Guardians are better, it is the fearless attitude of Livestock Guardian Dogs that makes them unique and 'worth their weight in gold', as owners will tell you. They save us literally THOUSANDS of dollars in livestock losses and make it possible to coexist with predators without killing them (predators trained that they cannot kill on a certain property will then train their young as well). Livestock Guardian Dog breeds include Anatolians (Turkey), Maremmas (from Italy), Akbash (Turkey), Kuvasz (Russia), Kangal (Turkey) and Gampr (Armenia). No pet breed dog or herding breed dog can ever take their place.

bruce mcelmurray
2/1/2012 5:48:53 PM

I think the distinction needs to be made between a guard dog and a watch dog. Almost any dog is a watch dog and will bark to warn of any intrusion of its territory. A guard dog is serious business as it will attack (based on its or its owners judgement) any intruder. We have three German Shepherds that would not hurt anything, but they will let me know if anyone is around. They do not bark, but will come and get me. A non barking dog that sits and stares at you is far more scary than one barking and its tail wagging. Any intruder has no threat from our dogs but had better be wary of the owner. German Shepherds will most often stand back and watch a person and that is very intimidating in itself. I also volunteer for a German Shepherd Dog rescue and most often find that the dog is far smarter than the owner. We do not adopt to anyone who wants a yard ornament or guard dog. That is against the very nature of the German Shepherd Dog breed as it is with a pit bull. I think your article is misleading to those who would want a dog for anything other than a family member. Much of what you write comes natural to any dog regardless of breed and I think to promote guard dog is wrong as it requires highly advanced training and the owner needs to not let the dog make the decision. Visitors have nothing to fear from our dogs but they need to fear the owner greatly if they are not where they need to be. That is the way it should be. Don't let the dog regardless of breed assume your responsibility.

robert white
2/1/2012 5:46:36 PM

great article thanks. i know when i make the move back to the farm i will want a dog. growing up on a farm we had a rat terrier, then a collie/german shepherd cross that was a great cow dog on our dairy farm, and then an australian/queensland cross. i have thought of going to the local humane society to see what they have. any thoughts on this? I've never had to train a dog so not sure if this is the best or wisest option. thanks.

5/13/2010 11:02:48 AM

When I was younger, we joked about how terrible a watch dog our pit bull was, and that he'd probably lick an intruder before biting one. Our other dog barked her fool head off at any passing stranger, but the pit bull just didn't see the point. Then one of my cousins sent a friend (and frequent house guest) over to pick up some tools. The pit bull greeted him as enthusiastically as ever, but growled and blocked his path when he picked up the tools. He let the guy leave with lots of happy tail wagging and licking--but not with the tools. Not a good watch dog, but a pretty good guard dog.

1/24/2010 4:43:31 AM

I have a rescue Doberman. He is the best, he barks to alert during the night and will deter strangers but the meter woman, postman love him. Go for the pound pups they give you 110% every time

2/6/2009 9:59:02 PM

I have owned 2 Ausralian Shepards and for my money nothing can beat them for both livestock and human protection. A well trained dog you do not even realise is around most of the time. Both dogs were perfect baby sitters for the kids, not letting them out of the yard but gently herding the 5 year old away from the fence. And on the flip side god have mercy on any animal or unknown person trying to get too close. Basically though it is in the way you treat your dog how they will behave for you.

wendy brott-harsell
2/6/2009 10:48:10 AM

I have used Great Pyranees dogs for over 5 years to keep my animals safe and help me feel safe to. They gaurd my goats, chickens and even the cats from coyotes. They have a tremendous bark, but are really very sweet if you train and socialize them. The cats sleep on top of them din winter and my two younger kids learned to negotiate the sttepp Missouri hills by holding on to their white fur. No one comes up to our house without me knowing it before hand. The only drawback is that they bark A LOT. Basicly they are semi-nocturnal and patrol the perimiter of our land just barking to let the world know that they are on duty. I have learned to tell the difference in a patrol and alarm bark, but it is anoying to overnight guests. I find it comforting.

2/4/2009 9:49:03 PM

as an owner of 2 dogs a pit bull and a border collie. the border collie is a much better guard dog as she has even chased down and had held, in her teeth an intruder, while my pitbull just wants to be petted. pitbulls have a bad reputation but a well bred one isn't a man killer as led to believe. but the border collie is a very intellegent breed that can learn just about anything you wish for it to learn. and an excellent family,guard,security dog!

2/4/2009 10:09:12 AM

I have a Lhasa Apso at my house. She weighs ten pounds but has the bark of a forty pound dog! How so much sound can come out of such a little body is beyond me, but she's a wonderful watchdog. I'm almost deaf, so you could call her an early warning system too. Another bonus is that she is a good judge of character. If she doesn't like somebody or accept them, then I don't trust them. Then, when you add all of the love and entertainment that comes with owning a Lhasa, you just can't go wrong with them.

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