Whilst we commonly hear that many breeds require specialist handling and training and a more enthusiastic and knowledgeable owner than other types of dog, this is never truer than with many of the dogs that sit within this group.
Oh, this is unreservedly my favourite group of dogs. I am not yet sure why people are attracted to certain types of dog, but the guarding group are certainly my top dogs. I share my home with ten dogs of various breeds, including Rottweilers and German Shepherd Dogs who fit within this group classification amongst others who do not such as Chihuahua, Great Danes , a Pomeranian and a Jack Russell terrorist!
Within this group, there are many breeds, such as the Tibetan mastiff, Doberman, Bouvier De Flandres, English Mastiff, Australian Shepherd, Schnauzer, Rhodesian Ridgeback, Leonberger, Komondor, Black Russian Terrier, Belgian Shepherd, Boerbel, Cane Corso, Akita, Boxer, Chow Chow, Shar Pei, Caucasian Ovcharka, Kuvasz and many, many more.
Whilst over generations of breeding the aggressive guarding responses have been diluted and reduced and in line with our increasingly intolerant society of any aspect of a dog behaving normally (like a dog!) being unwanted. Many breeders have been reducing the dogs’ natural guarding ability over generations. That said, many of these breeds retain their natural guarding instincts; some more than others.
Whilst one could argue that the majority of dogs are ‘alert’ dogs; barking when people approach the property, the guarding breeds are more predisposed to xenophobic territorial aggression, in contrast to many dogs’, excited barking when people arrive.
Due to the dog show world in the UK many breeds that are common have been modified to have softer temperaments and ‘show’ better and more easily. These dogs often have working counterparts – dogs not so specifically bred for aesthetics, more for temperament and ability.
For example the German Shepherd Dog. We have a working strain and a show strain, which to the majority of us is simply bizarre!
In Europe many of the working breeds must be subject to temperament (breed suitability) tests, working tests and prove that they are capable of the role for which they were originally bred before being shown and aesthetically assessed, making for a far better all-round, healthier working dog.
It is fair to say that the guarding breeds need more effort, input and owner knowledge from the outset than many other breeds.
These are not dogs that can bring themselves up or cope with inexperienced handlers and ineffective upbringing. The predisposition to aggression is within the innate blueprint of the breed and so most often when rearing puppies of the breeds that sit within this group we are going against their intrinsic drives – a little fight between nature and nurture. As a personal example, when rearing one of our Great Dane’s recently (he is now aged 5 months), I made a point of holding and touching the food bowl and stroking him when he was eating – I did not expect him to be aggressive over the food. In contrast presently with our fourteen week old Rottweiler, I carry out the same actions, but I do expect him to growl at me at some stage in the near future. The natural drives are different and so training methods and actions and leadership requirements are different.
Choosing a dog from the guarding group of dogs is not something that should be done without proper consideration and a real commitment on behalf of the owner. They are certainly not suitable for everyone.
People that they are most suited to are people with a real interest in the dog and those with time to dedicate to training and socialisation during the critical periods and onwards throughout the dog’s life.
I think the reason that they are my preferred canine companions is due to the durability, intelligence, versatility and personability. I am also a firm believer that an Englishman’s home is his castle and no one should be able to infiltrate that and take our well-earned goods and our guarding breeds can be a great help in that regard.
One thing that all of the breeds within this group have in common is their large size and stature.
This means that a large house, garden and plenty of time for exercise is a prerequisite. Whilst there are exceptions to each and every rule, these dogs are not flat dwelling dogs or dogs for lazy owners. They are by far happiest when allowed to carry out the behaviours that come naturally. For many this is herding or droving, patrolling or simply on ‘look out’ over their charges.
Daily exercise is absolutely essential for all dogs and the guarding breeds need a good deal to create and maintain balance in their physical and psychological health. A component of exercise for me is training and this is a key factor in owning a guarding breed. It is essential that a breed from this group is the very best trained dog within a 20 mile radius simply due to size and public perception.
Moreover, due to the often predisposed confidence and independence, these dogs need to know that what you, as the owner says, matters regardless of what they want to do at the time. Leadership and intelligent, balanced training is the key to successful living with a guarding breed.
Early puppyhood from 5 -12 weeks of age is a critical period of temperament formation for all breeds of dog, but some breeds have more room for error than others. For example, the naturally gregarious temperament of the Labrador generally means that they do not require such a huge investment of time in early socialisation, but breeds such as the South African Boerboel and Russian Black terrier this essential window of opportunity cannot be missed under any circumstances. As I have alluded to, in order that the dog develops to accept what we expect them to encounter within a normal lifestyle – such as engaging with other dogs and unfamiliar people throughout their life. A balance is difficult to achieve – often over socialisation can occur creating a mad dog that ‘mugs’ everyone – this is of course the lesser of two evils and one should err on the side of excess socialisation rather than not enough.
The majority of these breeds are designed for active work (excluding the Mastiff et al) and so training and exercise requirements are generally high.
Dog training is essential for all breeds of dog, but the guarding breeds really do need focus and metal and physical stimulation to keep them in optimum physical and psychological health. A few hours training at a dog club will not suffice for the average dog within this group. For this reason the owner needs to be a committed dog person – not just someone that fancies a big dog! Whilst we all must start somewhere the guarding breeds are not the group to ‘cut your teeth’ on.
If you are a first time dog owner considering a dog from this group, a suitably sought professional advisor is essential to help you out en route to a balanced companion.
In the right hands the guarding breeds are wonderful, in the wrong hands they are the exact opposite! I think that it is fair to say that in a professional capacity, I do not see a higher percentage of the guarding breeds for problematic behaviour, but of course when I do due to size and power the problems can often appear more severe/serious than within the other breed groups. Personally speaking, living in a large multi-dog household, the Rottweilers for example do not enjoy such an environment in the same way that the others do, but that said the German Shepherds seem more gregarious and less focussed on their own status within the group. As with all dogs, their personality and attitude is not only breed specific, but personality, environmentally and obedience led and each should be judged on their own merit.
Having studied the guarding breeds more than any other and shared my home with them for many years, I have learnt that there really is no end to their talents.
Teaching them obedience, agility, tracking, protection and all manner of ‘tricks’ is what they live for. They thoroughly enjoy being with people and the more time that you spend training and teaching, the more the bond deepens between dog and owner.
Delivering leadership and respect is the key to a successful relationship with the guarding breeds. They need a leader and need to know the rules, they need kind handling, but unwavering consistency – give an inch, they take a mile!
If you obtain the dog at the right age, socialise correctly, obedience train and ‘work’ for life and have a consistent approach and believe in treating a dog like a dog (not a fluffy person) you will be rewarded with no greater companion that one of these breeds. If you are inconsistent, too busy to invest any time or want a macho guard dog then forget it.
Deciding on obtaining a dog of any breed is a huge commitment and responsibility and should not be undertaken lightly – obtaining a guarding breed is tenfold that responsibility. It may however be tenfold the benefit…who knows?!
Written by James Hearle from www.dogsandkisses.co.uk – One of London’s finest day care and boarding establishments:
Whilst I love any breed of dog (I live with a large variety of guarding and non-guarding breeds), we have found that often certain breeds, will not enjoy the pack environment of our day care and boarding centre. One of our core fundamental values is for each dog to have a great time with us and to enjoy life as much, if not more than their normal home environment. We also need to be proactive in ensuring that each dog is as safe as can be and can stay in a relaxed, stress free and secure environment. Some of the smaller breeds can be very feisty indeed and some of guarding breeds do not take kindly to being ‘bullied’ and sadly when they react in the same fashion as the chug’s and cockerpoos etc, their size and determination is far more dangerous and for that reason we make a general rule that guarding breeds are not accepted.
It can be a little awkward when a new client enquires to send their beloved guarding breed to day care or for a holiday in the country, but the majority understand. We certainly try not to taint all breeds with the same brush, so we take an assessment of their personality and behaviour. We have regular Rottweilers, Schnauzer’s and Mastiff’s who have a great time with us and are firmly put in their place by their smaller counterparts!