Dogs are our best friends in so many ways: They love to play, go for walks, and cuddle. Most dogs alert us to people coming to the door - and sometimes, they even protect us from harm. In this article, we will discuss the natural guarding instincts of our canine companions. We will see why dogs keep us safe – and what we can do to keep them safe in return.
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WHY IS MY DOG GUARDING ME?
WHY DOGS PROTECT THEIR HOME AND FAMILY
To some degree, every canine is born with the instinct to defend their own. Our domestic dogs share these protective instincts with their wild cousins: Wolves, coyotes, Dingoes and other canine species defend their territory and their pack members from other predators. Guarding their family and their home comes natural to canines, simply because it is a matter of survival: If wild wolves, for example, would allow others to take over their hunting grounds, they would starve to death. And if canine mothers did not protect their puppies, the survival of their species would be at risk.
GUARDIAN DOG BREEDS
Traits like territorial aggression and the readiness to defend the family are quite common in canines. And yet, not all domestic dogs are the same when it comes to standing up to perceived threats. This is where genetics come in: Certain dogs have been bred for guarding purposes over millennia. These dogs do not require any training or encouragement to excel at their job – it is in their DNA. Such natural guardian breeds include popular dogs like the Rottweiler and the Doberman. But most Mastiff- and livestock guardian breeds also fall into this category. Dogs like the imposing English Mastiff or the intrepid Cane Corso are excellent examples of natural protectors. And the same applies to the large livestock protection breeds of the world. Dogs like the fearless Turkish Kangal, the bear-like Caucasian Ovcharka and the shaggy Great Pyrenees are naturally suspicious of strangers. Their genes tell them that approaching people, dogs, foxes, boars or birds of prey are a danger to the animals in their care. And compared to most other dog breeds, flock guardians and Mastiffs are outstanding canine “bodyguards”.
Another group of dogs well-suited for guarding- and protection work are herding dogs and terriers. Breeds like the German and the Dutch Shepherd, the Belgian Malinois, the Giant Schnauzer, and the Airedale Terrier are naturally wary. If well-socialised, they are less suspicious of other people and dogs than the flock guardians. But unlike the bulky Mastiffs or the giant livestock guardians, these dogs are highly trainable. Encouraging them to protect their home and family is not difficult. And professional protection dog training allows owners to control them in everyday-situations.
But the breeds we have mentioned are not the only dogs suitable for guarding- and protection purposes: It all depends on the individual dog. Any confident canine can rise to the occasion, should their family be in danger. And there are cases of sweet-tempered hounds, gentle Great Danes, and mellow Labradors attacking burglars to defend their owners. Some larger hunting dogs (like Weimaraners, German Shorthaired Pointers and Coonhounds) can be very protective of their family. The same applies to some Labradors, and even to toy dogs like Miniature Pinschers or Chihuahuas.
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COMMON GUARDING BEHAVIOURS
When dogs perceive an approaching threat, they can display a wide range of protective behaviours. These reach from eye signals all the way to lunging at a person, or biting another dog. Common guarding behaviours include freezing, posturing, staring, growling, barking, bluff-charging, baring teeth and air-snapping. All of these expressions are meant to discourage the approaching person or animal to stay away. If these warning signals are not heeded, the dog can escalate their level of aggression – and bite.
The behaviours we have mentioned come into play in potentially dangerous situations, such as attempted robberies and home invasions: But they also occur in harmless everyday-scenarios: If you are walking your dog at night, or in an isolated area, approaching strangers can trigger their protective instincts. And most dogs will at least bark if someone is coming up the driveway, or walking past your garden. Depending on a dog’s temperament and guarding instincts, their response can go as far as jumping over a fence and attacking the person. Most dogs, however, content themselves with barking and bluff-charging at the person on the other side of the fence, or the gate.
HOW TO CONTROL YOUR PROTECTIVE DOG?
If your dog is very protective of you, it is advisable to keep them on a leash when out in public. You know best which situations and circumstances trigger their guarding instincts. Let’s say for example that your Rottweiler “Romeo” responds with protective barking whenever strangers are coming close to you. Perhaps you live in a troubled neighbourhood, and you appreciate Romeo’s response.
But nevertheless, you want to keep your large, powerful dog from escalating his barking into more dangerous behaviours, such as lunging and biting. The best way to do this is by putting an extra-durable collar or harness on the dog. We can highly recommend our Ragnar Harness. The dual traffic handles on this ultra-safe harness allows you to keep Romeo by your side in all situations. For walking your Rottweiler in busy areas, we recommend using a relatively short leash made out of ultra-strong materials, such as our Fenrir Ragnar Lead or the Ragnar Training Lead. With its wide range of configurations, it will help find the right fit for you and your dog. With the expert-approved tools of our Ragnar Range, you can keep even large and powerful dogs like Romeo the Rottie controlled at all times.
Owning a natural guard dog (or a trained protection dog) has many benefits. But at the same time, it comes with a lot of responsibility. Taking a 150-pound Cane Corso or Caucasian Ovcharka out into public requires care and situational awareness. Tools like strong, durable harnesses, leashes and collars can be veritable life-savers: If your dog’s protective instincts get triggered, these tools give you maximum control. But the most important factor in owning a guard dog is your leadership: As your dog’s high-level leader, teaching them how to safely navigate the world is your job. If you socialise and train them well, they will learn to differentiate between harmless encounters, and potentially dangerous situations. Keep improving your canine leadership skills, and you will have a wonderful canine companion and protector by your side.
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