These 11 Breeds Make Amazing Guard Dogs, But Should You Own One? 

Have you ever considered getting a guard dog for your family? Maybe there have been break-ins in your neighborhood recently, or you live on a large property that can be difficult to monitor at all times. Maybe you just like the idea of having a dog to sound the alarm if they see something unusual. 

Regardless of why you are interested in a family guard dog, one thing is clear: breed is important. Some dogs are so friendly they’ll happily befriend an intruder, but other breeds have natural instincts that make them amazing protectors. 

best guard dog breeds

What Is a Guard Dog? 

Before we define what a guard dog is, let’s talk about what a guard dog isn’t. A guard dog isn’t a personal protection dog. If you imagine a dog trained to bite when its owner gives a command, that is a personal protection dog, not a guard dog. 

Guard dogs work independently of their owners and will perform their tasks whether or not you are nearby. Guard dogs are primarily used to protect property and by extension, their family members. Guard dogs can generally be broken into two categories—alert dogs and sentry dogs—but depending on the training they undergo, guard dogs can serve multiple functions for their owners. 

Alert Dogs

Alert dogs are alarm systems for their humans. These dogs bark and growl to warn intruders to back off and to alert their families to unwanted visitors. These dogs are not trained to bite, fight, or take down intruders, but because these breeds are usually large dogs, they can still be physically intimidating. 

Sentry Dogs

Sentry dogs not only sound the alarm if they find an intruder, but their training also teaches them to physically chase, attack, or even detain their targets. Although some dogs can easily take down a full-grown man, I never recommend using your dog to attack people, even intruders. Sentry dogs were once common for wealthy landowners and nobility to protect their assets, but today, most sentry dogs are employed by private businesses and official agencies. 

Legal & Ethical Considerations of Owning a Guard Dog

best guard dog breeds

It’s very important to research your local laws and regulations on the care and keeping of guard dogs before you use one of these dogs. In some states and municipalities, there are serious legal ramifications for using your dog as a weapon against another human.

While the best guard dog breeds have natural instincts to alert and protect their families, purposefully training a dog to engage with an intruder could be extremely dangerous for the dog. Not only could a dog sustain physical injuries—or even be killed—during a fight with an intruder, but they can also face psychological damage. 

Unfortunately, many guard dogs are mistreated, kept outside, or kept on a chain, and don’t get the chance to enjoy life as normal family dogs. When well cared for and trained using positive reinforcement obedience training, guard dogs can be very happy. Still, I don’t suggest training your dog to attack or physically engage with anyone. 

Family Guard Dogs vs. Livestock Guardian Dogs

Family guard dogs and livestock guardian dogs do entirely different jobs and come with entirely different instincts. The best guard dogs for families are social and affectionate with their humans—the bond they develop with both adults and young children helps to reinforce the protective guard dog nature. 

best guard dog breeds

Livestock guardian dogs, on the other hand, are bred specifically to live full-time outside with their flocks. Livestock guardian dog breeds (like the Anatolian Shepherd or the Great Pyrenees) aren’t particularly social or human-oriented and instead form close bonds with other animals. Generally not considered “pets,” livestock guardian dogs are true working dogs. 

11 Best Family Guard Dogs

What is the best guard dog for a family? There are hundreds of dog breeds in the world, and while most of them are extremely loyal to their humans, not all show the consistent instinct to protect their homes and families. 

The best guard dogs for families have social and affectionate personalities but tend to be suspicious of strangers and quick to react to unusual sights, sounds, or smells. Similarly, when we assess the best guard dogs, breeds that are hesitant to physically attack humans tend to be better with families with young children. These dogs show a considerable amount of bite inhibition and are unlikely to become reactive towards younger members of the family. 

11. Saint Bernards

best guard dog breeds
Source: @Saint.In.The.City

Quick Facts

  • Height: 26–30 inches
  • Weight: 120–180 pounds
  • Lifespan: 8–10 years

Thought to have been used as war dogs in ancient Germanic tribes that inhabited the Roman Empire, the first clear historical records of Saint Bernards show that they were used primarily as search and rescue dogs. Fully grown, Saint Bernards can be larger than some humans, making them solid physical presences for people in crisis. 

Sensitive, diligent, and protective of their humans, Saint Bernards were essential for rescue teams recovering travelers in the Swiss Alps. Notably, Saint Bernards are also known to be very gentle with children. Today, most Saint Bernards are pets, but their deep devotion to their humans makes them decent guard dogs if not the most ferocious protectors.  

10. Bernese Mountain Dogs

best guard dog breeds
Source: @Bo.The.Bernese.Mountain.Dog

Quick Facts

  • Height: 23–27.5 inches
  • Weight: 70–115 pounds
  • Lifespan: 7–10 years

Before we had Bernese Mountain Dogs, we had ancient black and tan Mastiff-like dogs that aided Roman soldiers crossing the Swiss Alps. Used as multi-purpose guardians, these dogs pulled carts filled with gear and weapons, herded and protected livestock, and acted as alert dogs while their humans rested. 

Later, farmers and ranchers would take over the breeding of these dogs, standardizing them and creating the Bernese Mountain Dogs we know today. Though many Bernese Mountain Dogs are timid, the vast majority are reactive vocalizers who will quickly alert their humans to strangers. 

9. Great Danes

best guard dog breeds
Source: @Zander.TheGreat

Quick Facts

  • Height: 28–32 inches
  • Weight: 110–175 pounds
  • Lifespan: 7–10 years

The ancestors of today’s Great Danes were fierce hunting dogs used primarily for large, dangerous game like wild boars. During the 19th century, the breed was standardized and eventually named the national dog breed of Germany, despite its name. Owned primarily by wealthy businessmen, politicians, and nobility, many Great Danes were used as bodyguards. 

Today, the average Great Dane has a sweet, laid-back disposition, but still retains that protective nature. Incredibly tall and large, Great Danes can be intimidating, particularly when they unleash their giant bark. Great Danes also offer a certain amount of aesthetic security—these large dogs can be alert and watchful, and often stand stoically observing their surroundings, which can deter unsavory visitors. 

8. Lhasa Apsos

best guard dog breeds
Source: @LhasaApso_Cookie

Quick Facts

  • Height: 10–11 inches
  • Weight: 12–18 pounds
  • Lifespan: 12–15 years

Watch dogs don’t have to be big, and the Lhasa Apso is the perfect example of the best small guard dog breeds. An ancient breed that originated in Tibet, the Lhasa Apso was bred by Tibetan monks to watch over their monasteries. Quick to bark and alert to an intruder, the tiny Lhasa Apso also possesses a courageous spirit, and won’t hesitate to chase off an unwanted visitor. 

Just 11–18 pounds, Lhasa Apsos look like lap dogs and often behave like lap dogs, but they will fiercely protect their families! 

7. Rhodesian Ridgebacks

best guard dog breeds
Source: @MittsTheRidgeback

Quick Facts

  • Height: 24–27 inches
  • Weight: 70–85 pounds
  • Lifespan: 10–12 years

Rhodesian Ridgebacks originated in modern day Zimbabwe and are the descendants of Khoikhoi or Africanis—a wild breed of dogs native to southern Africa. These dogs had ridged backs and were known for fighting lions. Dutch settlers to South Africa brought European domesticated dogs that crossbred with the local Khoikhoi. These dogs were hugely diverse, and came in all shapes and sizes, and wouldn’t be standardized until the early 20th century. 

One quality Rhodesian Ridgebacks inherited from their Khoikhoi ancestors is a fierce protective instinct. Suspicious of strangers and quick to react to perceived threats, Rhodesian Ridgebacks are good family guard dogs, though not always the appropriate dog for families with young children. 

6. Bullmastiffs

best guard dog breeds
Source: @Bullmastiff_BobbyWaffles

Quick Facts

  • Height: 24–27 inches
  • Weight: 100–130 pounds
  • Lifespan: 7–9 years

Bullmastiffs were originally bred to patrol and guard large central European estates from game poachers. Bred not only for size and strength but also speed, Bullmastiffs were often deployed to chase down and physically detain poachers. Because the goal of estate owners was to capture trespassers rather than hurt them, Bullmastiffs were not bred to fight but rather hold their adversaries if intimidation didn’t first work to scare them off. 

Today’s Bullmastiffs are wonderful family guard dogs, and have a deep bark that could scare off even the bravest intruder. Gentle with children and wonderfully laid back, Bullmastiffs are the perfect mix between couch potato and family protector. 

5. Akitas

best guard dog breeds
Source: @Coco.The.American.Akita

Quick Facts

  • Height: 24–28 inches
  • Weight: 70–130 pounds
  • Lifespan: 10–14 years

The Akita is an ancient Japanese breed that was bred as a multi-purpose working dog. Fierce hunters and attentive guard dogs, Akitas helped their owners to take down giant game like bears, elk, and wild boar. At one time, the strength and courage of the Akita was so revered that only nobility were permitted to keep Akita. 

Attentive, alert, and protective, Akitas are highly territorial of their homes and families. Though they form close bonds with humans, the Akita isn’t considered a good breed for families with very small children. 

4. Rottweilers

best guard dog breeds
Source: @Rocco_The_Rottweiler_

Quick Facts

  • Height: 22–27 inches
  • Weight: 80–135 pounds
  • Lifespan: 9–10 years

The ancestors of modern Rottweilers were war dogs, livestock herders, and guardians for Romans traveling through Germany and the Swiss Alps. Eventually becoming cart-pulling dogs and all-purpose working dogs for Europe’s farmers, the industrial revolution nearly eliminated this breed’s relevance. Interestingly, Rottweilers were transitioned to police dogs and private property guardians, which is often how we think of them today. 

Protective, vocal, and reactive to threats, Rottweilers are a quintessential guard dog and make wonderful family companions. 

3. Giant Schnauzers

best guard dog breeds
Source: @RoninTheGiant

Quick Facts

  • Height: 23.5–27.5 inches
  • Weight: 55–85 pounds
  • Lifespan: 12–15 years

Giant Schnauzers originate in the Bavarian Alps. Originally bred to be livestock herders, farmers quickly began to use these formidable dogs to guard their properties. Instinctively protective, merchants took notice of these brave dogs and began to use them to guard their stores and taverns. Today, the Giant Schnauzer still has its protective instincts, making the breed a favorite as family guard dogs. 

2. Doberman Pinschers

best guard dog breeds
Source: @ChicagoStopCopper

Quick Facts

  • Height: 24–28 inches
  • Weight: 60–100 pounds
  • Lifespan: 10–12 years

One of the world’s best known guard dog breeds, Doberman Pinschers have long been used to protect property and homes. Sometimes called velcro dogs, Doberman Pinschers develop incredibly close bonds with their humans, and will do almost anything to earn their praise or keep them safe. 

This breed isn’t for everyone—Doberman Pinschers have lots of energy, and require regular vigorous exercise and consistent mental stimulation throughout the day. If you can keep up with a Doberman you’ll have a loyal companion, but if you can’t, you might find your life in chaos. 

1. German Shepherds

best guard dog breeds
Source: @SimbaThe_GermanShepherd

Quick Facts

  • Height: 22–26 inches
  • Weight: 50–90 pounds
  • Lifespan: 12–14 years

German Shepherds are today’s most used working dogs, both as family guard dogs and police, military, and service K9s. The breed has a long history as both a herding dog and a guard breed, and today’s German Shepherds retain an intense spirit and love of hard work. A somewhat high-maintenance dog breed, German Shepherds require experienced handling, lots of exercise, and plenty of mental stimulation to keep them balanced. 

If you have experience with working dogs, German Shepherds can be wonderful companions, and are incredible at picking up on commands and training. 

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