World’s Best Watchdogs

For many people, dogs are a better alternative than alarm systems. Some people pay as much as $230,000 for highly trained protection dogs. Dogs — even those that don’t cost thousands of dollars — can alert their owners to potential threats, scare off would-be intruders, physically attack dangerous people, and at the end of the day, still provide companionship. Just think of them as security systems that drool. But just like when choosing a dog for any purpose — or an alarm system, for that matter — educating yourself and finding the perfect fit for your home, family, and lifestyle is essential.

Watchdogs vs. guard dogs

While the terms “guard dog” and “watchdog” are often used interchangeably, they are dogs that have been trained for two different tasks. Some breeds that are good as watchdogs wouldn’t work well as guard dogs, and vice versa. Watchdogs are trained to bark at intruders or people they see as threats, alerting their owners and intimidating criminals. They need to be highly alert dogs, but not aggressive. To train a dog to be a watchdog, dogs normally need to be socialized with people and other pets to control aggression. Clicker training and rewards can be effective in teaching a dog its territory to watch over and how to bark at strangers only.

Guard dogs, on the other hand, are trained to attack intruders and protect the owners’ family and belongings. They are also trained to bark at strangers like watchdogs, be socialized, and taught where the property line is so they won’t chase intruders past it. Following owners’ commands is essential for good guard dogs, so training a dog when to attack and when to stop is an important part of the process. Dogs must also be taught to attack clothing rather than exposed flesh and to go for extremities. A professional trainer may be required for proper guard dog training.

The Best Breeds

Watchdogs

  • Airedale terrier

    The largest of all terriers — normally weighing somewhere between 40 and 65 pounds — the Airedale can be intimidating to intruders by both his size and bark. Terriers in general are good at barking, and the Airedale is known for taking on responsibilities, such as protecting his owner or “babysitting” his family’s children. Airedale terriers’ high energy, intelligence, and confidence make them great watchdogs.

    Care

    Airedales need lots of regular exercise because of their high energy level. Their wiry coats require grooming about every six to 10 weeks; clipping normally costs somewhere between $50 and $70. Airedales often dig and chew, so the costs for repairs or replacements can add up.

    Training

    Airedales can be stubborn, so training can take time and patience. Because of their intelligence, though, they have the ability to become very well-trained. Positive reinforcement is the best way to train an Airedale because they often have an independent streak. They also must be socialized from a young age so they don’t become too dominant.

    Best for

    Families with older children. Because Airedales are large , very energetic, and dominant, they often don’t mesh well with small children.

    People who can go on long walks daily. Airedales need at least one significant walk every day, if not two. Because they don’t like being left in the yard alone, walks with their owners are the best way to exercise Airedales.

    People without other pets. Though Airedales can do okay with other pets if they are raised around them, they are typically aggressive with other dogs and instinctively chase small animals, including cats.

  • Poodle

    Poodles come in three sizes: toy, miniature, and standard. Toy poodles can weigh as little as six pounds, but standards can weigh up to 70 pounds. This larger size may be the best bet if you also want a dog that may intimidate intruders as well as alert you of their presence. Poodles stand out for being affectionate, intelligent, and protective; they can be easily trained to give a warning bark when strangers approach. They may also take time to warm up to strangers in general, but are rarely aggressive.

    Care

    As long as poodles get regular, plentiful exercise, they can be kept in apartments. They prefer to live indoors with the family and not to spend large amounts of time alone. Poodles don’t shed but their fur needs to be clipped every three months or more. Professional grooming is suggested, particularly for the breed’s ear hair, which can get tangled or cause infection. They often also require brushing every few days.

    Training

    Poodles are known for their intelligence, and they are very trainable. Training also keeps the poodle’s mind active , keeping it from destroying the owner’s property out of boredom. Even toy and miniature poodles need to be trained to prevent boredom and break bad habits. Poodles learn quickly, both with good and bad habits, so be careful what you teach them and use positive reinforcement for the desirable habits.

    Best for

    Families. Poodles are affectionate and loyal. Standards are better with young children than the toy and miniature versions, but all sizes of poodle love to be around their families. And since poodles enjoy lots of attention, families help give them the attention they need.

    Apartment dwellers. Poodles are great for any size home, as long as they get the attention and exercise they require. This makes them particularly good pets for people in apartments who may have trouble finding a dog that requires little space.

  • Chihuahua

    Though Chihuahuas only weigh three to six pounds, their personalities make up for their small stature. They are wary of strangers and very alert, which makes them excellent watchdogs that will bark when a new person comes to your home. Chihuahuas are curious and bold, stubborn but affectionate, and can make great pets.

    Care

    Small dog breeds tend to have more dental problems than the larger ones, so you should brush your dog’s teeth every couple of days. Chihuahuas’ small size makes it necessary to supervise them in situations with larger dogs and when in the yard. Chihuahuas are bold and won’t back down when playing with or threatened by a larger dog . They can also fit through small holes in fences and escape yards easily.

    Training

    These dogs are easily trainable, though they can become domineering if not trained properly. Chihuahuas can be stubborn, so positive reinforcement works best to train them. Socializing this breed from an early age is important so they get used to meeting new people and dogs and learn to not be aggressive with larger breeds.

    Best for

    People without young children. Chihuahuas are friendly and great family dogs, but aren’t recommended for families with children under the age of 8. Because of their small size, Chihuahuas are fragile and can be easily injured by young children.

    Single people. Chihuahuas often bond strongly with one person, which can make them very loyal to a single owner.

    Families without large dogs. Though Chihuahuas can get along with larger dogs and may thrive when raised with other dogs, their fragility makes it dangerous to be around rambunctious large breeds. Chihuahuas and cats have been known to get along when socialized properly, because of their similar sizes.

  • Shih Tzu

    This small dog was bred to be a companion, so it is an affectionate, loyal breed. Though they’re not working dogs, they are alert and make good watchdogs if you can train them to bark just at strangers. Shih Tzus weigh between nine and 16 pounds, are playful, and great with families.

    Care

    Shih Tzus may be cute and love cuddling, but they require a lot of care. Their long hair needs to be brushed daily (or groomed every six to eight weeks), they are prone to dental problems like many other small dogs, and they can’t be kept outside when it’s warm out because they are prone to heat stroke. They are also more likely than other dogs to eat their own and other dog’s feces, so poop has to be cleaned up right away. Shih Tzus’ faces must also be cleaned regularly because facial hair gets dirty when eating and the eyes often tear up.

    Training

    Shih Tzus are slightly hard to train. They can be stubborn, and can be very difficult to housetrain. Positive reinforcement and crate training are recommended methods of training Shih Tzus.

    Best for

    Families. Shih Tzus are great companion dogs, both enjoying playtime and cuddling. Though small children may injure the Shih Tzu if not careful, these dogs are great for families for the most part.

    Apartments. Shih Tzus can thrive in any home environment and can be great apartment dogs because they don’t require much space to run and are content just playing with their toys. Some owners choose to train their Shih Tzus to use doggie litter boxes because of the difficulty of housetraining, which would make the dogs even better fits for apartments without much outdoor space.

Guard dogs

  • Bullmastiff

    The bullmastiff was bred to be a guardian, so it is perfect for protecting a home. They can weigh up to 130 pounds, which can intimidate intruders and do some damage if they attack. They are excellent guardians, but don’t make good watchdogs because they don’t normally bark. While bullmastiffs can be aggressive and standoffish with strangers, they are loving and loyal to their owners. In general, bullmastiffs are very low-key and don’t need a lot of exercise or attention compared to other breeds.

    Care

    Caring for a bullmastiff is minimal. They don’t mind being left alone for long periods of time, only need a few short walks every day, and don’t shed very much. They do, however, drool a lot and are prone to gas. Because of its size, food will cost a significant amount and if health problems crop up, medical costs will likely be larger than with smaller breeds.

    Training

    Bullmastiffs are strong-willed and can be hard to train if a person isn’t dominant and commanding enough. They should be socialized from an early age and trained not to be territorial over food. Protecting their owners is instinctual for these dogs, but they must be trained to follow commands and react appropriately. It’s important for these dogs to also know that they aren’t dominant over the youngest members of a family, so children should be taught to also command the dogs.

    Best for

    Working adults. Bullmastiffs don’t require constant attention like many other breeds, so they make great dogs for working adults or couples . As long as they are taken out on a couple of short walks a day, they are content to relax indoors.

    Families with older children. Bullmastiffs are great with children; because of their high pain tolerance, they withstand ear- and tail-pulling with patience. Their size and strength, however, makes them potentially dangerous with smaller children. They are also very protective of the children in their family and may misunderstand play-fighting with other children as a threat and become aggressive.

  • Doberman Pinscher

    Often used for police and military work, the Doberman Pinscher is an excellent guard dog. They typically weigh between 60 and 80 pounds and are extremely active. Dobermans are not normally aggressive without reason, but they spring into action to protect their families. They are affectionate and loving with their owners and very intelligent.

    Care

    Doberman Pinschers needs lots of exercise, both physically and mentally. They are very active and very playful, but this can require a lot of time on the owners’ part. Ear cropping is a common practice with Dobermans and is normally taken care of by the owner rather than the breeder. If you want to do this with your Doberman, consider the cost of the procedure and the care that must be taken during the recovery time – it takes several months of care afterward. Dobermans have short coats that don’t require much maintenance, but they do tend to shed.

    Training

    Because of their intelligence, Dobermans are very easy to train as long as the owner is firm and kind and provides fresh lessons to keep the dog from getting bored. Dobermans must be socialized from an early age to provide the right balance of aggressiveness and timidity, especially if they’re going to be trained to be guard dogs.

    Best for

    Big yards. Because Dobermans need so much exercise, they do best in large houses with room outside to run and play. They are too active to live comfortably in an apartment.

    Active owners. Dobermans require a significant amount of exercise and stimulation, so it’s important that their owners are up to the task. Walking and jogging with a Doberman typically aren’t enough exercise to exhaust the dog, so games like fetch or extra training in competitive sports are recommended.

    Families with other pets. Having a second Doberman is ideal, as they can chase after each other and fulfill their exercise needs. But Dobermans also work very well in homes with other animals, as long as the Doberman has been raised with the animals or has grown accustomed to them. They may act aggressively toward strange animals, but will take on a protective role of their family and its pets.

  • Rottweiler

    Weighing up to 130 pounds, Rottweilers are a frightening sight for intruders. They are often feared, however unfairly, so they make excellent guard dogs. It’s very rare to find a Rottweiler that is timid or fearful, so they don’t back down from threats. Rottweilers have earned a negative reputation, and some cities have banned the breed because of it. Anyone considering a Rottweiler should check out their city’s policies. Regardless of the stereotypes, a Rottweiler can be a caring companion with a fierce loyalty for its owner when trained properly.

    Care

    Because of public perceptions of Rottweilers, you may be required to carry extra liability insurance to own one. This requirement varies from town to town. Rottweilers need attention; they tend to become aggressive and destructive when left alone most of the time. A sturdy fence is essential, and visitors should be advised not to enter your property without you as this can cause the Rottweiler to act aggressively. These dogs vary in energy level, some requiring several long walks a day and others being content with just a couple of short walks.

    Training

    Rottweilers are highly trainable, but they require a firm owner who is consistent with training and commands. With a weak owner, these dogs may start to test the limits and bully their owners. Training is important to teach Rottweilers the line between being protective and being aggressive. They can easily become overly protective, which makes them dangerous to anyone they don’t know. Well-trained Rottweilers are calm and discerning.

    Best for

    People without children. Though Rottweilers aren’t aggressive toward children, particularly when they’ve grown up with them, their size and habits make them a poor choice for families with children. These dogs have a herding instinct and may bump children to “herd” them. This can be dangerous, especially for young children. They also have a hunting instinct, and running children may excite the Rottweilers.

    Assertive owners. A Rottweiler with a weak or apathetic owner is a recipe for disaster. The dog will become the dominant force, which is dangerous for those around it. Assertive, consistent owners that are willing to put the time into socializing and demonstrating command over the dog are best.

  • German Shepherd

    The German Shepherd is one of America’s most popular dog breeds, used for everything from police service to serving the handicapped. German Shepherds are active, intelligent, and happiest when they are with their owners. They make great watchdogs and guard dogs, though their suspicion of strangers can make visitors uncomfortable. German Shepherds can weigh up to 95 pounds, making them intimidating, though they aren’t usually aggressive unless threatened.

    Care

    These dogs must be given plenty of attention and exercised regularly to keep them from getting bored. Boredom often results in chewing, digging, and barking. Provide proper chew toys and bones to keep German Shepherds from injuring themselves when chewing. German Shepherds are also known for shedding a lot, so they must be brushed several times a week.

    Training

    German Shepherds are highly trainable and intelligent. They can be trained for almost any task, including protecting your family. They tend to bark more than other guard dog breeds, so training may need to involve a command to stop barking. Many German Shepherds become anxious when separated from their owners, so crate training is a recommended method for curbing this anxiety.

    Best for

    Big yards. German Shepherds need a lot of exercise and a significant amount of space to run. Keep in mind, however, that they don’t do well if left alone in the yard all the time. These dogs should live inside with the family, but be exercised frequently.

    People who are around a lot. German Shepherds often experience separation anxiety when they are away from their owners, so this isn’t a good dog for people who work full-time and aren’t home very much. The dog will not only get bored and become destructive, but it will also suffer psychologically.

Choosing a dog for security shouldn’t be taken lightly. Every breed has its own quirks and situations that fit it best. Think of what you need from a dog, what time you have to train it, and how each breed would mesh with your family. While security systems can just be uninstalled or disarmed if you’re not happy with their performance, dogs are a 10- to 20-year commitment and require a great deal of love, care, and training to make sure everyone is getting what they need from the partnership.

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