How to Train a Guard Dog

We often label dogs as man’s best friend, and nothing could be more true when it comes to their natural urge to protect us. These loving, affectionate creatures make an excellent addition to your security system with the correct training.

However, not all breeds are suitable for guard dog duties. In this article, we discuss how to train a guard dog and the breeds that are suitable for guard dog training. We also cover the following topics.

  • Why do you need a guard dog? 
  • How to train my dog to be a guard Dog
  • How to train a guard dog puppy
  • How much does it cost to train a guard dog?
  • How long does it take to train a guard dog?
  • Maintain guard dog training
  • Which breeds make the best guard dogs?
  • Guard dog vs. personal protection dog and attack dog

Why do you need a guard dog? 

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Keeping your family or business safe and secure is a top priority, and having a guard dog can help put your mind at ease. 

People often feel insecure in their home or work environment when a violation such as a burglary has taken place. There is also a risk of financial loss and theft of personal belongings. 

Events such as these can prompt some people to invest in a guard dog. Although home and business owners may have security cameras, this doesn’t help ward off unwanted visitors from the owner’s property.

You can train a guard dog to protect your property while you’re away. This gives you a sense of security while you’re in and out of your own home. 

Another reason many people own guard dogs is due to loneliness. They may own a dog initially for companionship, but they double up as excellent home security systems.

What makes a good guard dog?

Training a guard dog can be much easier if you choose a canine that possesses these traits.

Intelligence: Dogs that score high on the canine intelligence spectrum are often easier to train. Training a dog that learns easily will be less stressful for you and the canine. However, not all intelligent dogs make suitable guard dogs. For example, the Golden Retriever ranks high on the spectrum, but they’re also very friendly with strangers.

High level of concentration: Dogs that are easily distracted can be difficult to train. Consider breeds that are alert and have a high level of concentration. Guard dogs have to keep their head in the game regardless of what is happening around them.

Obedience: A good guard dog is highly obedient; they’ll listen to their owner’s commands and react instantly. Even the most intelligent canine can be disobedient. Intelligent dogs often require more stimulation, and if you fail to give that, it can result in rebellious behavior.

Loyal: A loyal canine usually makes a better guard dog as it’ll do anything to protect its property and owner. You can earn loyalty and respect from your pup through positively reinforcing good behavior. The more loyal your dog is, the more willing they’ll be to protect.

Good temperament: Guard dogs are often kept at home as a family pet, so they must have a good temperament. They usually have a friendly and sociable personality around people they know and love, but they’ll be wary around strangers. However, they won’t display aggression towards them. 

Willingness: Certain breeds of dogs are more willing to learn and work than others. A good guard dog will be eager to protect your property in any situation.

Territorial instinct: Dogs with a natural territorial instinct make excellent guard dogs. The aim of having a guard dog is to ward off any criminals that enter your property. A dog with a territorial instinct will usually do this more effectively, as they’re protecting their territory. 

A well-trained guard dog will overcome the willingness to attack and use fear tactics such as growling to deter the threat. 

How to train my dog to be a guard dog

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Socialize your dog 

Puppies begin to learn socialization skills as soon as they’re born, whether that’s from their mother, siblings, or the breeder. It’s always best as an owner to continue teaching your dog to socialize from the second you adopt them. A well-socialized dog will be more confident and relaxed in their home.

Socialization classes can begin from seven to eight weeks. However, it’s a wise idea to get your puppy their first round of vaccines before enrolling them in. 

There are several things you can do to socialize your dog. Firstly, introduce them to new people.

Secondly, try and walk them in different environments. You may live in a quiet suburb, but if you walk your dog there every day, they’ll never experience the hustle and bustle. By exposing your dog to loud noises like traffic and car horns, they’re less likely to be startled by sounds in the future.

Always reward calm, relaxed behavior in new situations. This could be an edible treat, a new toy, or verbal praise and affection.

Socialization becomes increasingly more difficult to teach with age. Puppies over 12 weeks are usually more cautious, and it may be harder to gain their trust. The earlier you begin socializing with your pup, the easier it will be to train obedience and protection skills.

Teach your dog basic obedience

Five basic obedience commands create the foundations for obedience training; sit, stay, lie down, come, and heel. You may want to teach your dog these basic obedience cues using online resources or by visiting a professional dog trainer. 

Use positive reinforcement

Positively reinforce the correct behavior during training sessions using food treats, toys, or praise. 

Some find that specific treats don’t motivate their dog. This may be due to boredom. For example, if you give your dog kibble daily and use it as a treat, your dog may take it but not value the reason why you’ve given it.

In cases like this, trainers suggest using high-value rewards such as freeze-dried liver or leftover chicken. These are things your dog doesn’t have access to every day, making them more desirable and less likely to bore your dog.

Teach your dog to bark on command

Barking on command is an essential cue to learn as it helps ward off trespassers.

The easiest way to train your dog to bark on command is to capture the moment your dog barks. If your dog isn’t often vocal, you may want to try exciting them to encourage barking. 

As you hear your dog bark, say “speak.” Then reward them with a treat or praise instantly. This allows them to associate barking with the verbal cue and a positive outcome.

If you want to introduce a hand signal, you can do so once the verbal cue is understood. A common hand signal that trainers use is, to begin with, your palm facing the dog then bringing your fingers and thumb together, a bit like a mouth opening and closing.

Using a hand signal is an excellent addition to the training process, and they’ll follow the command even if they’re unable to hear.

Once your dog understands the verbal cue and hand signal, you can use either or both to instruct them. 

Teach property boundaries 

After every obedience session, walk your dog around the perimeter of your property. This will help your dog become familiar with its territory and understand what it’s protecting.

Create a mock scenario

Once your dog is confident and knows how to bark on command, you can create a mock scenario to perfect their abilities.

Ask a friend who is unfamiliar with your dog to cross your property boundary. You could ask them to ring your doorbell or make noise outside. When they do, give your dog the bark command. Reward your dog as soon as they become vocal.

Do this regularly until your dog understands that the appropriate response is to bark when strangers cross the property boundary. It’s also a good idea to practice at different times of the day. This is so your dog knows to react to strange activity during the day and at night.

What do I do if my dog barks uncontrollably?

Dogs can’t distinguish between friend or foe in the ways we can. You may know your friends are coming to visit, but your canine won’t be anticipating it. You don’t want your dog to keep barking when it’s not necessary, so teaching them to stop barking will be beneficial. 

When your dog begins to bark, hold a treat in front of them. As soon as it stops barking, say something like “hush” or “quiet,” and give your dog the treat. It’ll begin to associate the verbal command with being quiet.

To practice, you can alternate between the ‘speak’ and ‘quiet’ commands.

Continue practicing 

Keep practicing. Repetition is essential for canines, and some dogs take more repetitions than others before instructions resonate with them.

Make sure that training sessions are short, regular, consistent, and fun. Whenever your dog gets it right, hand them a treat. Never punish the wrong behavior as this can confuse your canine.

Increase distractions 

Once your dog has got the hang of each command and you’ve done a few role plays, introduce some distractions. 

Think of all the things your dog gets distracted by and use them to practice. The easiest one and possibly the most distracting for your dog is meat. If your dog stops barking and heads over to sniff the food as you introduce it, instruct them to ‘leave it.’ As soon as your dog ignores it and returns to its duties, praise them instantly.

Trust

Trust your dog and leave them alone in the property they’re protecting. Your dog needs to learn to persist with its duties without you there.

Initially, keep an eye on the property or ask neighbors to notify you of any behaviors such as constant barking. You may want to leave and then get someone your dog doesn’t know to approach your house. This allows you to identify and make adjustments during your dog’s next training session.

How to train a guard dog puppy

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If you’re training a puppy to become a guard dog, take things slowly. Rushing into situations like mock scenarios can spook young puppies. Training sessions like these are better left until your dog is over eight months old.

Begin with the basics, including socialization training and the five basic commands. Your pup can begin to learn the basic obedience skills from around eight weeks old. Your puppy can join obedience as soon as it has its first lot of vaccinations.

Once your pup knows the basics, you can begin teaching your dog to bark on command. Teaching your dog property boundaries can also be done at a young age.

How much does it cost to train a guard dog?

The cost of training a guard dog is dependent on how you want to approach guard dog training. There are different levels to personal protection training, and it is level one that is relevant for a guard dog. 

At level one, your dog will learn to alert you if there are any intruders on your property. They’ll also learn on and off-leash obedience and how to bark on command if they feel that there’s a threat to you or themselves. The cost of a training course like this is usually around $1800.

A level two course can cost between $5700 and $7400. The price is dependent on the skills you want to include. This course can teach your dog to apprehend attackers, release them, and stand guard. They may also learn to protect you when you’re traveling as well as at home. 

You can purchase fully trained guard dogs and choose the training course that suits you.

A guard dog with a level one in protection dog training will cost around $12,500. If you want a guard dog to protect you and your property, it can cost $17,500.

Before deciding which type of dog you want, think about the responsibility of owning a dog trained to apprehend. 

As well as these options, there’s also the opportunity to train your dog yourself. This will cost you nothing but time, love, and affection. Oh, and the enormous amount of treats you’re going to need for your dog’s fantastic behavior.

How long does it take to train a guard dog?

When thinking about the time it’ll take, you have to consider everything that shapes your dog into a guardian. This includes socialization stages taught as a pup. You’ll then move on to basic obedience before teaching bark on command and property boundaries. 

Even if your dog learns these easily, they won’t necessarily be confident enough to guard alone until at least eight months old.

This can be a lengthy process that will take months and requires patience and consistency. Reliable protection is ongoing, and you’ll have to maintain your dog’s training for it to be effective.

Maintain guard dog training 

Training is never truly finished, and it’s always a good idea to set aside time for learning sessions. Training is an excellent way for you and your dog to have fun and bond while revisiting the basics.

You can also maintain training by setting a schedule of tasks. For example, you might put down a piece of meat once a week when the mailman comes. This will enable you to check that your dog is still focussing on its duties before distractions.

Which breeds make the best guard dogs?

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While it’s possible to train any dog to be a guard dog, certain breeds are better than others. 

Some breeds such as German shepherds, Rottweilers, and Dobermans have a natural instinct to provide protection. However, they’ll still require obedience training to learn how to control their innate abilities.

A guard dog will only become a guard dog when a considerable amount of training and socialization has taken place.

Here are several breeds of dogs that make excellent guardians, not just because of size but because of their characteristics. 

Akita: The Akita has a muscular body with a heavy bone structure and a broad head. They’re friendly and affectionate with familiar people but cautious of strangers. Akitas are alert, attentive, intelligent, and enjoy the thrill of a training session. This breed is not for beginners.

Beauceron: These bright sparks aren’t great for novices who plan on training their dog without the help of a professional dog trainer. They’re incredibly intelligent and can end up dominating their owner. However, training a Beauceron can be extremely rewarding as they’re naturally very protective.

Boxer: Boxers are affectionate and loyal with a great work ethic. They’re a popular dog breed with a curious, playful personality, and they make excellent family pets. Boxers are intelligent and have a reputation for being naturally protective, and they’ll dedicate themselves to the role of a guard dog.

Bullmastiff: The Bullmastiff has a large muscular body with a broad head. When socialization and training begin early, they make fantastic pets and guard dogs. They’re alert, intelligent, and extremely confident.

Doberman Pinscher: Doberman Pinschers are fast and extremely powerful. These are courageous dogs, and they won’t hesitate to confront an intruder or protect their owner. They’re incredibly intelligent with a good work ethic.

German Shepherd: German Shepherds are extremely loyal, affectionate, and highly intelligent. They’ve got a heavy, muscular build but they can be quick if they need to be. They’re also very willing when it comes to training.

Rottweiler: The Rottweiler is a robust breed with an excellent work ethic. They’re affectionate and playful with their family but are naturally suspicious of outsiders. According to the American Kennel Club, early socialization has a positive effect on Rottweiler’s territorial instincts.

Staffordshire Bull Terrier: The Staffordshire Bull Terrier isn’t a large breed but it’s a muscular one with a powerful body. They’re very playful and intelligent making them easy to train and a great family pet.

The list above is a small selection of the most popular breeds that people use as guard dogs. There are many more breeds that possess natural guard dog instincts. This includes the Australian Shepherd, Barbado da Terceira, and the Cane Corso. The list goes on.

Most owners will choose a large breed which increases the fear factor. The majority of these breeds are big, but some smaller intelligent dogs are just as fierce and won’t hesitate to protect. 

Pro tip: When choosing a breeder for your new puppy ask yourself if your primary goal is for the dog to be a guard dog. If yes, look for parents with proven ability. You also should absolutely meet the parents of your future puppy. If they are so aggressive that they don’t have an “off switch” when their owner tells them everything is fine, you don’t want that temperament. A good confident guard dog should alert when someone shows up at the house, but then calm down and settle when told it’s ok.

Guard dog vs. personal protection dog and attack dog

A guard dog’s duty is to protect your home, whereas a personal protection dog learns to protect you and your family. 

Attack dogs are for police and military use, not for family homes. Their handlers train them to attack and even kill on command.

Key takeaways on training a guard dog

Guard dog training requires a lot of patience from you as an owner. But it can be made easier if you choose the right dog. Look for a dog that is willing to learn, obedient, loyal, calm, and friendly with familiar people. 

The breed can also impact a canine’s ability to protect your home. Large dogs help with the intimidating factor. But size isn’t all that matters, and certain breeds are more intelligent than others with a better work ethic.

Kate Basedow, LVT
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