Using Dogs for Home Defense

For thousands of years, humans have used dogs for protection and to alert them to danger. The Ancient Egyptians employed dogs to carry messages, go on patrols and attack enemy soldiers. The Greeks and Romans made use of them to guard buildings and military outposts. Founding Father Thomas Jefferson imported chiens de plaine (shepherd dogs) from Europe to protect the sheep on his plantation from preying wolves. During World War I, Sgt. Stubby, the mascot of the 102nd Infantry Regiment, anticipated incoming German mustard gas and artillery attacks, saving the lives of countless American soldiers. Whether during war or peacetime, dogs have long been man’s premier guardian.

A Burglar’s Worst Enemy

Burglars hit roughly 1.5 million homes in the U.S each year, according to security company ADT. Surprisingly, most of these break-ins occur during the day — between 10 a.m. and 3 p.m. — when homeowners are at work and children are at school.

Besides a home security system, there may be an even better deterrent to burglaries. Jack Black, a burglar and thief during the early 20th century, declared in You Can’t Win: A Story From Life (1926), “Dogs, young or old, are the bane of the burglar’s life.” One hundred years later, this statement is still pertinent.

During an investigation conducted by Portland’s KGW, the news station mailed questionnaires to 86 convicted burglars. The surveys asked about home break-ins, most notably if dogs scared them off. The inmates admitted that a security sign in a homeowner’s yard hardly deterred them but a big, loud dog would keep them away.

While a barking dog can discourage an intruder, the animal can also alert a homeowner to danger. In extreme instances, a pet may even come to your defense if you’re attacked by a trespasser. But one important thing to remember is that while dogs are inherently protective, it doesn’t necessarily mean they will come to your aid.

This was best demonstrated by CBS’ Inside Edition when it tested how dogs would react to a home invasion. Astonishingly, two of the dogs in this YouTube video — a Labrador retriever and a pit bull/Labrador mix — appeared anxious; one even fled. Neither protected its owner when assailed by a pretend intruder. Two smaller, less-intimidating dogs — one a Chihuahua — came to the rescue of their elderly owner and drove the burglar out of the house.

The lesson here: While your dog can be a wonderful deterrent and alarm, don’t assume it will spring to action in your defense. These skills have to be learned, just like humans learn self-defense techniques.

Training Dogs for Protection

If you are looking to acquire a dog for protection, there are a few things you should know. Dogs that make the best guardians are ones that possess a vital trait: confidence.

Dogs that exhibit fearfulness, shyness or hesitation around people won’t likely make good defenders. Likewise, the animal should be outgoing and persistent. Certain breeds are favored as protection dogs (German shepherds, Rottweilers, bullmastiffs, Doberman pinschers, Boxers, etc.). But that doesn’t mean these breeds are the only ones that can be used for protection (see the YouTube video above).

There are three different types of protection dogs, and you need to decide which best fits your needs. In The Dog Trainer’s Resource: APDT Chronicle of the Dog Collection (2006), professional dog trainer Dan McNally lists them:

  • Image or Threat Dog: Taught to react by barking, growling and snarling, but does not attack or bite.
  • Area Guard: Taught to protect a certain area. The dog will guard this perimeter until the person leaves it.
  • Protection Dog: Taught to attack on cue and cease on command (e.g. a police dog).

Almost any dog owner can train his or her pet to be an image or threat dog. The other two categories (area guard and protection dog) are the hardest to train and best left to a hired professional.

It is crucial not to use any dog that is uncontrollable for protection. This kind of animal is more of a risk and liability, especially if it attacks you, a family member or another individual.

Before purchasing an animal, consult a professional dog trainer to make sure it receives proper instruction for the level of protection you desire.

Without an alarm system, a dog may be the next best deterrent in a home invasion. Decide what kind of protection dog best fits your home-defense needs.


About Frank Jastrzembski

A native of Cleveland, Ohio, Frank Jastrzembski is an associate editor with Delta Defense, LLC. He studied history at John Carroll University (B.A.) and Cleveland State University (M.A.). He’s written dozens of history and travel articles and two books on Victorian officers. He’s also a regular contributor to the blog Emerging Civil War. He runs “Shrouded Veterans,” a nonprofit mission to identify or repair the graves of Mexican War and Civil War veterans.

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