Guard dogs have been used for thousands of years and have provided moral and practical support for their owners against all manner of predators. Some have been used as living warning bells, with their attentive attitudes and shrill barks warning their masters of approaching trouble, while others stand toe-to-toe with wolves, lions and other fierce creatures seeking an easy meal. Regardless of what you need a dog for, the thoughtful prepper can do some research and find just the right breed for their needs. We’re going to look at one of the most common needs for preppers, a guard dog that can help protect you and your family after a disaster strikes.
Disclaimer: Dogs are descended from some of the most powerful predators on the planet, and even thousands of years of domestication have not completely removed their wild instincts. As such, you need to know how to train your chosen breed so that it does not attack innocents, to ensure a steady and even temperament, and to keep it from being destructive. Always check your local laws regarding the size and kinds of dogs you may be permitted to have, and whether or not you are permitted to allow a dog to guard you with tooth and claw.
How do I Choose a Guard Dog?
When choosing a guard dog for survival, it is important to decide what you want to guard, how much room is available and necessary for the dog, can you handle the dog’s temperament, is it legal to own a given breed in your area, and what dog’s lifespan is suitable for your family’s life. The best guard dog breeds for protecting people are Pit Bulls, Dobermans, German Shepherds, Rottweilers, Akita. Popular guard dog breeds for protecting livestock and property are Great Pyrenees, Anatolian Shepherds, Kangal Dogs, Spanish Mastiffs and Komondors.
Eliminating the Obvious
Before we dive into some guardian breeds, let’s eliminate some of the others that are simply unusable to guard you:
Animals too small to protect. Let’s face it, no matter how loyal and protective your Dachshund (wiener dog) is, very few humans or dangerous animals are going to be frightened off by it. The David vs. Goliath scenario applies to people, but a dog which must rely on sheer brute strength to overcome an opponent will not have that luxury.
Animals that require frequent medical care or other aids. Obviously this can apply to almost any breed if the dog itself is sickly or weak, but some breeds such as the Chihuahua are just genetically predisposed towards needing greater medical care. Generally speaking, animals that are still bred to work rather than only as pets or show animals still have a rugged immune system and body structure.
By eliminating these two kinds of dog breeds, you can narrow down your choices and make a more educated decision.
Obviously a list of breeds won’t do much for you without some criteria to decide between them, so ask yourself a few questions to narrow your choices still further.
Firstly, what are you wanting to guard? Some dogs were bred to be left with a herd of sheep or goats, acting independently and without much human guidance for large parts of their lives. These would make for excellent livestock dogs, but their independent natures would make it harder to train them for guarding only humans in an urban or town environment. On the flipside there are some dogs that make for great personal protectors but need more human guidance or companionship than you might want to give an outdoor livestock guardian.
Second, how much room do you have for the dog to roam? Some dogs were made to stick close to people and be willing to live in a smaller and more confined domain, while some (particularly hardcore livestock dogs) were designed to wander across acres and acres of land at will. If you lived in a 1/4 acre land plot, your wandering dog might just decide to claim the whole neighborhood as his protectorate so be sure to take space into account!
Third, are you experienced enough to handle a given temperament? The more independent or ornery the breed, the more assertive you will need to be. This has nothing to do with the size of the animal vs. you, as there are tiny women who can command powerfully independent animals and big manly men who let their tiny dogs walk all over them. It’s all about your own temperament and willingness to treat the dog as a useful, productive member of the family rather than just a pet. Some particularly willful breeds are simply not recommended for even the most eager beginner, so take that into account as well.
Fourth, consider legal and insurance-related implications. For good or ill, some jurisdictions and insurance companies are det-set against certain breeds of dog. The Pit Bull, Rottweiler, and German Shepherd breeds, among others, have acquired certain reputations that could make them illegal to own in your area or just increase your insurance premiums. If it’s worth the extra cost by all means pay the fee and own an “ill-favored” breed since most of them just need a caring owner to function well, but know what you’re getting into.
Finally, what kind of lifespan do you want? Generally speaking, the smaller the dog the longer it lives though there are exceptions. The Great Pyrenees for example is a massive dog, but it can also live for up to 10-12 years in some cases which is quite long-lived for a dog that reaches 120 pounds. A longer lifespan can make for longer utility as a guarding dog particularly after a disaster when you may not be able to get another easily. On the other hand, it may also limit your choices somewhat for only a year or two of extended life.
Consider these questions and their implications in your life, and make sure that you aren’t downplaying any negatives or forgetting any positives in your household. Once you’ve got a pretty good answer for these questions, check out the different breeds!
Guard Dog Breeds
We discussed the general criteria for selecting a particular breed of guard dog so now let’s get down to the different breeds and their strengths and weaknesses. We’re going to separate them primarily by Personal Guard and Livestock Guard, since those two personalities tend to run contrary in many ways. Obviously these are far from official and many of each kind can easily be both, but this distinction will focus on what the animal is best or most commonly suited for rather than what it absolutely must be used for.
Disclaimer: As always, check local laws and regulations concerning what breeds are appropriate for your area. Furthermore, always properly train and care for dogs, including ensuring an even temper and properly curbing destructive or harmful behavior.
Types of Guard Dogs Primarily Suited to Protect People
These types do well in more confined areas and bond better with their human masters, though some still have enough energy to require frequent and lengthy walks. There is a danger with these breeds that they can be dulled somewhat by “babying” a guardian animal, curbing or destroying some of the guardian instincts that you want them to keep. Always try to maintain proper pack order when dealing with a guard dog so that it remains protective and knows its place in the hierarchy of your family.
Infamous for their “destructive” or “Aggressive” personalities, pit bulls in truth are no more aggressive than other guard dogs of similar temperament. Sadly they were (and in some areas still are) bred and used primarily for the pit fights that gave the collection of breeds under the pitbull moniker their name, but that merely makes them adept at defense and combat rather than inherently aggressive or dangerous. Pit bulls are affectionate and will guard a family well assuming that the animal has been well-socialized with people and other animals during its puppyhood and early adult life. It is recommended that families watch their children when playing with a pit bull even if even-tempered since these dogs tend to play more roughly and can accidentally injure a child without meaning to.
Doberman Pinschers (AKA Dobermans)
These are one of the quintessential guard dogs and were designed from inception to be just that. Depending on your needs defense-wise, some breeds of Doberman are more gentle and better suited to family life without sacrificing their fearlessness and obedience. Others breed truer to the original Doberman, which was more aggressive and not at all kindly towards strangers or strange animals. Both types are longer-lived for dogs (10-11 years) and are known for their obedience and trainability.
Often known for their work in police K-9 units, Shepherds are among the most intelligent of the guardian breeds. Although one of their original uses was herding, they still bond quite well with humans and their independence can be curbed better than most former herd animals. If properly socialized they are gentle even with small children, though they can be slow to trust strangers. Potential owners should take pains to acquire a German Shepherd that does not suffer from deficiencies related to puppy-mill style inbreeding, since the breed is one of the most popular pet animals in the United States.
One word can describe a guardian Rottweiler: balance. Their heritage stretches back to the Roman Empire, and for thousands of years they were used for all manner of tasks including herding, livestock guarding, pulling small loads, and guarding money and other valuables. As such, unlike many breeds they were bred specifically to be a multipurpose workhorse (work-canine?) with the strength and instincts to aid many different occupations. This balance means that they lack the speed of pure herding dogs or the sheer size of the larger livestock guardians, but they make up for it in being able to move their bulk quite rapidly when need be. Rottweilers are also among the better watchdogs, and a Rottweiler will naturally seek out a hill or window from which to “survey their domain” and will react quickly to a perceived threat with loud and intimidating barking.
The Akita were originally a Japanese breed though an American variant currently exists as well. These animals are ill-suited for anyone without a dominant personality and knowledge of how to handle dogs, but for the effort you get a very capable guard animal. Akita were originally used to hunt wild boar, bears and other powerful animals, supporting the hunter rather than working in packs as some European boar dogs did. As such, they are extremely independent but also loyal to their family, being fiercely protective. They are not suitable for housing with other dogs unless they can become the “top dog”, as they are extremely dominating and do not suffer opposition well.
Guard Dogs that are Mainly Suited to Guarding Livestock and Property
These animals are protective and oftentimes seem very laid back, but their tendencies towards independence and a desire to roam and drive off predators makes them better suited to the pasture over a household life.
Big, fluffy, and friendly, the Great Pyrenees doesn’t look like one of the foremost livestock guardians. However, that poofy outer layer of fur actually helps protect the dog from bites from wolves or coyotes, clawing from raccoons, and general debris. Despite their friendly disposition towards their owners, they are also extremely protective of their flock, sometimes roaming over a mile around (or as far as they can within the bounds of a fence) barking warnings and chasing off anything it doesn’t want near its charges. They are also unafraid to tangle with enemies if their barking fails, though otherwise they can be extremely gentle even with children or lambs and kids. Generally if they are taught what they are to protect you can leave them to their duty, but attempting to teach it much more than general principles can be an exercise in frustration owing to the strong independent instincts found in this breed. They tend to live about 10-12 years and are extremely hardy animals.
In contrast to the more sedentary lifestyle of a Pyrenees, the Anatolian Shepherds tend to be energetic and speedy despite weighing nearly as much as the Pyrenees do. Even more so than most livestock guardians, this Turkish breed is fiercely independent and may ignore commands if it finds something better to do. Of course,they were bred to do a fine job guarding livestock from even the fiercest predators without guidance for days at a time so this fits with their overall design. Few dogs can measure up to their resilience if attacked, and three working together have been known to take on entire wolf packs and survive. Fitting their resiliency, these Shepherds tend to go on the attack when driving away coyotes, wolves and other predators as opposed to merely barking. Owing to their energy and fierce instincts, they are generally not suited for small pastures and need at least a few acres to roam in order to burn off excess energy.
Hailing from Turkey like their Anatolian cousins, Kangal Dogs share the energy and protective instincts of the Anatolian Shepherds. Unlike the Anatolians, Kangals are known for being extremely gentle which makes them better suited to family farms and interactions with multiple caretakers. They are also excellent for working in a protective pack, as two Kangals will actively switch shifts and split patrols to ensure that the flocks under their care are protected at all times. Like Rottweilers they also like to take vantage points in order to survey the landscape and see what’s going on everywhere. You will want to spend time training them to interact with people if they will not be left to guard a flock most of the time, which can be difficult for the inexperienced owing to their independence. They are notable for being instinctively heroic, throwing themselves between their masters or their flock and an opponent, using their size and growls and barks to intimidate almost any predator. Although not all Kangal are as durable as their Anatolian kin, some well-trained and genetically strong specimens are used as specialized wolf killers, demonstrating their potential in a combat situation.
In most photos these animals just do not look intimidating, if anything they look fat owing to their loose skin…until you realize that they weigh about 200 pounds and can make all that bulk move when they protect their flocks. Like most livestock guardians they can be stubborn, but if provided with a strong leader they are actually quite companionable and could work well as a farmyard helper or in an extended and isolated pasture as needed. Being rather more low-energy in their general actions, they do not chase of predators like some other guardian dogs do. Instead they meet them once the predator approaches, intimidating them with loud, deep barks and demonstrations of its rather significant power. If intimidation fails a Spanish Mastiff can be quite agile for its size and will fight predators to the death. Their slow paced ways make them very gentle, but even a playful bat from such a powerful animal could harm a child so always keep an eye on younger members of the family who play around the Mastiff.
The Komondor might well be called “the generic sheepdog” to many people, owing to their presence in many farm-related movies and tv shows. Their ropy hair and happy-looking faces hide an extremely powerful, muscular and protective animal that is quite capable of facing down bears and wolves or even a human intruder. This breed is actually quite good with other dogs and people if properly trained but they tend to lack patience with teasing making them a danger to unsuspecting children. Among the livestock breeds the Komondor is still independent and capable of working without much help but they are also more trainable than many others if raised properly from a young age. They tend to leap upon and pin down predators (including people!) until their master comes to deal with them, though if they are left to be more independent they will kill predators as they patrol around their flocks.
And these breeds are but a small selection of potential guardians, either for you or your livestock. Consider carefully, be ready to keep them properly trained, and you will have a potent companion to take with you into a survival situation.