7 Dog Breeds That Make Docile Guard Dogs
One concern I have heard when a client is thinking about getting a new guard dog is potential aggression. Will the dog be docile around my friends when they come over? Will the dog get along with my family? Will the dog be mellow or will it turn on me someday?
The best family guard dog is not necessarily the most docile. Most guard dogs learn to protect their family and are not docile and do not care for strangers. That is okay for most of us. We are more worried about our family than about visitors. About a third of the people I talk to, however, want a dog that looks like a guard but is actually quiet and docile even among strangers.
If you want a very mild dog, smaller is easier to handle. Small dogs should not be considered guards though since they are not strong enough to attack a large thief. The best thing to do is to get a large guard dog and a small watchdog.
None of the dogs on this list are traditional guard dogs. If you want a large friendly dog that can sometimes act as a guard, however, here are the seven best choices:
- Bernese Mountain Dog
- Great Pyrenees
- Saint Bernard
- Great Dane
- English mastiff
1. Bernese Mountain Dog
How Docile Are They?
Bernese are one of the most docile breeds around, no matter what the size. This dog breed almost never bites, either the owner or a stranger. According to one study, they have a bite frequency index of 0 (compared to a breed that more commonly bites, like the Dachshund). That sounds great until you consider that the dog is also unlikely to bite anyone crawling over your fence to break into your home. The main reason that the Bernese is chosen as a guard dog is that they appear to guard. They have a loud deep bark, a serious-looking face, and a dark and foreboding appearance.
As long as a Bernese is chosen for the correct environment, and has a family that wants to be with him most of the time, behavioral issues are not usually an issue. The problems arise when these giant dogs are asked to lie around all day in an apartment, especially alone. They do not care for that situation and can become destructive.
This dog breed does tend to have some serious problems and is not the type of pet that is going to live a long time. Cancer, kidney disease, and back problems or other joint diseases are all too common. Dogs are also prone to cruciate injuries, arthritis aggravated by obesity, and retinal problems.
The Bernese has one of the shortest lifespans of all dog breeds, 6 to 8 years. If the dog is free from these health problems, they live about as long as other giant breed dogs, about 10 years.
2. Great Pyrenees
How Docile Are They?
These dogs were traditionally livestock guard dogs, and are still one of the best dog breeds for that job. Since they do not look like one of the regular household guard dog breeds, they are often discounted out of that role. They do have a fierce bark and will bark at about anything; any burglar that is put off by a fierce dog in the home will think twice about invading a home that is protected by a Great Pyrenees.
There are a lot of issues when taking a livestock guard dog and expecting him or her to adapt to a small home. These dogs have a high exercise requirement and if not provided with adequate movement, they will become bored and destructive. They can also become excessive barkers. (A barking guard dog is a good thing, but when it becomes excessive most of us end up ignoring the sound.)
Excessive shedding is not really a health problem but it is a serious drawback with these dogs. All of the giant dogs on this list have health problems, and this breed is no exception. The hips and elbows of the parents should be certified so that the puppy you buy is less likely to have problems, and the breeder should also have the eyes examined and certified. Some problems like gastric torsion and entropion may show up can later, however.
How Docile Are They?
One reason that Newfoundlands are not good guard dogs for most situations is that they are too docile. They can be trained to be a good watchdog as they will bark at an intruder, but since they are easy-going, they are not the best at guarding. Newfies are known to be good with children, although some owners complain that the dogs get too excited and will accidentally knock down small children.
Most of the behavioral problems that people complain about with Newfies are because they are so big and need adequate training time. Yes, they can bark too much, jump up and down, dig, and pull. Those things can all be dealt with.
The main problem I see with this dog is one many breeds are prone to: separation anxiety. Newfoundlands enjoy spending time with their owners, no matter what the age, and if left alone all day they will develop anxiety and destructive behaviors.
Any time you consider these giant breeds, health is a consideration. Only 38% of Newfoundlands even make it to their 10th birthday.
They are prone to hip dysplasia, eyelid diseases, and epilepsy. Many of them die from heart disease. Cancer, unfortunately, is the leading cause of death.
How Docile Are They?
This is one of those giants with a deep voice and, if socialized properly, a very confident bearing. If they are not socialized they can be kind of shy, but very rarely will they be aggressive. Their docility is similar to that of the dog on the top of this list, the Bernese Mountain Dog.
Leonbergers are like many of the giant dog breeds in that they do not do well when left alone. They can be prone to separation anxiety and secondary destructive behavior. They are not a jogging-type dog but do need exercise like walking, hiking, pulling sleds, etc. Since they are so large and can do some damage if they are dog-aggressive; many breeders recommend that they only be kept in a household with a dog of the opposite sex. (That is no guarantee that there will not be problems, but it does help in many cases.)
This dog breed might be ranked even higher on this list if it were not for the issue of their short lifespan. A breed like the Great Pyrenees averages 10 years, while a study found that Leonbergers usually average only about 7. That means that half the dogs die before that age. They do not have the hip dysplasia as much as some of the giant dog breeds, but about a third of them die of cancer and others die young of heart disease, Addison's, laryngeal paralysis, and polyneuropathy.
5. Saint Bernard
How Docile Are They?
One study indicated this dog was too aggressive but this was an isolated case. My main issue with the Saint Bernard is not that they will not guard. They do guard, and since they tend to lie around a lot they are usually present when needed. The problem is that these dogs usually look happy. If a thief sees one of these dogs, and he or she is not growling, he may end up being ignored.
Like a lot of other dogs on this list, St Bernards are prone to separation anxiety and do not do well if left alone all day. They get bored, and when a dog this large becomes destructive there can be a lot of damage. They also shed a lot and because of their loose lips tend to drool more than many breeds.
Giant dog issues like bloat, hip dysplasia, heart disease, and cancer are all too common with this breed. St Bernards are also prone to eyelid problems like ectropion and entropion because of their faces.
6. Great Dane
How Docile Are They?
Most dog owners report that the Great Dane is mild, tranquil, and easy to handle. These dogs are one of the easiest giant breeds for an inexperienced owner to handle because they are easy to train and spend much of their day just sleeping.
Danes are usually great dogs but are near the bottom of this list because some of them do become aggressive. This is usually a problem with other pets, not family and visitors, but since the dogs are so large and powerful this can be a big problem.
Some dogs can also be very active when young and become hard to handle. They do not do well when left alone all day and some do develop separation anxiety.
Like many of the giant dog breeds, Great Danes do not have a long lifespan. Gastric torsion (a twisted stomach) is the most common killer, and it can strike at any age. Other causes of death include heart disease and several types of cancer. Hip dysplasia is common, as are ruptured cruciate ligaments.
7. English Mastiff
How Docile Are They?
I have included this breed at the bottom of the list because they are usually, but not always, docile. They like to sleep a lot and lounge around, but might develop aggressive behaviors if they are not socialized, exercised, and obedience trained. I have included a link to a breeder website below if you are interested in this type of dog.
This dog can be left alone a lot more than others on this list but if it is excessive will become destructive. To prevent excessive shyness and aggression, these dogs also need to be socialized when in the sensitive period and obedience trained from an early age, when still small enough to be handled easily.
These dogs usually live less than 10 years and suffer from giant breed problems like bloat and heart disease. They also have a high rate of cancer, and many older dogs begin to suffer from hip and elbow disease. Some dogs also have epilepsy, skin problems, and hypothyroidism.
Are These Dog Breeds Always Docile?
Just because a dog is known as one of the most docile dog breeds does not mean that any individual dog will always be docile. A breed of dog can be perfectly docile but if an individual is abused and not loved and cared for properly he can change as he becomes older.
Some dogs will also be even more docile than you expected. This can be a serious problem if you want your dog to bark at strangers.
Dogs are individuals. If you get one of these dogs because you need a docile dog breed, there is always a chance that you get an aggressive puppy. Most families are able to adapt to an individual´s personality difference. If you are not, do not just dump your puppy off at the animal shelter. Contact the breeder that sold you the puppy or find him another home.
Where Can I Find a Docile Guard Dog?
Finding one of these giant dog breeds is not always easy. I always recommend searchers start out locally, by visiting their closest animal shelter. It is possible that someone had the dog you are looking for and had to give him up because of moving or some other change of circumstances. If the local shelter does not have the dog you are looking for you can also contact Petfinder.com and look at their website for dogs available in local cities or states.
While checking Petfinder, you can also check breed rescue organizations by typing in the kind of dog you are looking for, the word rescue, and your city and state. Rescue organizations will want to ask you a lot of questions and may want to do a home visit. If you are dealing with a rescue make sure that you ask them things too, in order that you find the dog that best fits your search for a docile guard dog.
If none of these options pan out, look into buying a dog from an ethical breeder. An ethical breeder will also want to ask you about where the dog will be going, and if you give the dog up sometime in the future the breeder will want to know about it to find the dog a new home. Breeders can give you detailed information on the health screening of the parents.
In my opinion, the best way to find a breeder is by visiting dog shows and talking to the breeders that have the kind of dogs you like, but for some other ideas read this article on finding an ethical dog breeder.
Pet shops usually do not have giant breed dogs since they cost more to care for. If you do see one, however, do not buy him from a pet shop and expect that the dog will become a docile guard dog.
Dogs for sale in pet shops are produced by puppy mills or backyard breeders and will have had no genetic screening to look for health problems and may have been raised in filthy conditions that will prevent them from ever being housetrained.
Why are you looking for a docile guard dog?
- 5 Best Family Guard Dog Breeds
If you have decided that you would rather have a dog to guard your family, these are some excellent choices. They are not as likely to accept strangers, however.
Kogan, L. R., Schoenfeld-Tacher, R. M., Hellyer, P. W., Oxley, J. A., & Rishniw, M. (2019). Small Animal Veterinarians' Perceptions, Experiences, and Views of Common Dog Breeds, Dog Aggression, and Breed-Specific Laws in the United States. International journal of environmental research and public health, 16(21), 4081. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6861953/
Farhoody, P., Mallawaarachchi, I., Tarwater, P. M., Serpell, J. A., Duffy, D. L., & Zink, C. (2018). Aggression toward Familiar People, Strangers, and Conspecifics in Gonadectomized and Intact Dogs. Frontiers in veterinary science, 5, 18. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5834763/
Summary of the 2000 Health Mortality and Morbidity Survey Findings. Leonberger Club of America. LEO Watch Volume 2, Spring 2002.
https://www.mastiffclub.com/ The English Mastiff website, which has links to breeders, show information, and more health info.
This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. Content is for informational or entertainment purposes only and does not substitute for personal counsel or professional advice in business, financial, legal, or technical matters.