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How effective are guard dogs really for home security?

In Home Security by Jody13 Comments

Guard dogs – A bit of a mixed bag

Alright, I know that most of you that are reading this probably already love dogs, are biased, and will defend their effectiveness to your grave.  So, I’m going to throw you a bone.  I think that dogs CAN be effective deterrents to criminals.  On the other hand, I’m going to tell you why they aren’t fool proof.

Don’t have false illusions the the effectiveness of your dog as a home security solution (AKA guard dog).

After all, their effectiveness can be a mixed bag.  I picked this up in just a few minutes of reading “Ask me anything” (AMA) posts from former burglars.  In response to a question about how a person could keep their things secure, he responded,

Get a dog. Houses with dogs don’t get robbed. Dogs are loud, hard to spot, and bite. Doesn’t have to be an attack dog – just a barking dog. Thieves would rather save the hassle and hit the next house.

On the other hand, the next AMA with a thief said just the opposite,

I am amazingly good with dogs and have never had a problem with them making noise. Professional guard dogs are a problem, and I’ve never had to deal with them. If I had to, I suppose it would be to have a mild tranquilizer mixed into some steak to throw over the fence. It would depend on the situation I think.

And, then he further clarified later by saying,

I only encountered a couple barking dogs so far. I’m good with animals and know how to approach them. I’ve only had one dog not calm down after a minute. In that case I just grabbed what I could in a minute and walked out.

Here’s the link if you want to read it for yourself.  So, what should we think with this conflicting information?

One of the best questions may be, is this your dog

or is this your dog.  To summarize if you didn’t watch the video, all 5 of the dogs failed to stop an intruder and most either licked or played with the guy when he broke into the home.  In summary, the average dog makes a lousy security system.  They need to be trained specifically for that purpose and even then, they may be circumvented with some pretty obvious techniques depending on their training.

Are dogs good for home security? Not usually.

First, let’s dispense with some misconceptions

Let’s go through the arguments you may think of to support the effectiveness of a dog.

  •  My dog barks at everything, so he’s as good as an alarm.

An alarm that goes off all the time (false alarms) is useless, because you will turn it off so that it doesn’t drive you crazy.  A dog that barks all the time is just as useless.  It’s worse than an alarm system, because you can’t turn it off.  And, it’s just as ineffective because you and your neighbors won’t pay any attention to it because it always barks.

Ferocious guard dog

Not too intimidating, but man, does he bark!

  • My dog is very protective of us/our home, so she’ll defend our house.

If a person your dog doesn’t know approaches you on your lawn, how does your dog react?  If she doesn’t bark and otherwise show some discomfort until getting a signal from you that it’s OK, then you have to wonder if she would be just as docile meeting a stranger in the home.  Even if there is a naturally protective nature that you encourage and do not train that behavior out of your dog by getting on to her when she acts that way, are you confident that she will not quietly and happily chew on a steak rather than attacking a stranger in your house?  This will most likely require training your dog, and can cost thousands of dollars.  And, even trained guard dogs fail this distraction, the most obvious of attacks.

We put together a Slideshare presentation that summarizes the shortcomings of using dogs for home security pretty succinctly.

Now for some good news

Dogs are definitely a deterrent.

  1.   Just like some of your neighbors may not be comfortable with dogs or you may not trust dogs that you don’t know.  There will be some criminals that either don’t have or don’t like dogs or have an innate mistrust of dogs.  I haven’t been able to find any stats on what percentage of the population that is, but at least you take a portion of the criminals out of the equation.
  2. To get around an aggressive guard dog, a certain level of preparation is required.  That can mean tranquilizers slipped in a door or windows in a piece of meat and waiting 10 minutes before the dog is asleep. Or, it could mean some steaks wrapped in butcher paper in a backpack.  Either way, your dog may turn away the thief that doesn’t come adequately prepared.
  3. Good dogs bark at the right times.  And, if you are a criminal breaking into a house, a sudden source of extra noise to draw attention to you is the last thing that you want.  So, add one to the dog column once again.

And . . . the bad news

Some of these, I have already covered.  So, I’ll be brief.

  1. First, your dog needs to be effective as a guard dog.  Most of the dogs that I meet are very friendly with strangers, so the odds are against you here.
  2. It’s not that hard to shut even a trained dog up.  Just bring a large, tough piece of meat with you when you go robbing houses or a tranquilizer in some meat that you pick up from the vet.
  3. Even if your dog barks and acts tough, without training it probably won’t actually attack and interrupt a burglar’s routine.  After all, burglars usually just need a few minutes in your house to grab any cash, jewelry, and small electronics that they can find.  Even if your dog follows them around barking or confronts them at the door, they may be able to keep him calm long enough to steal some valuables.
  4. Some people are just great with pets.  What dog doesn’t become friendly when a person acts like a friend and gives him rawhide treats.
  5. Dogs are expensive.  According to the ASPCA, they are $700 per year expensive, plus another $600 for other one time costs.  For that kind of cost, you can afford a really great security system with top-notch monitoring services, cellular backups, and multiple cameras.

#2 is confirmed in this scenario, again taken from Reddit:

I drove around his home with binoculars and found the shortest point in his fence. I hopped it. I knocked on a window and sure enough, dogs start barking. I had some dog tranquilizer (very easy to obtain) and some lunch meat in my bag, as I was expecting dogs. I walk around his house a bit and see a power box. I start picking the lock, it opens, and I power down the house. I pick the front door open, set the drugged meat down, yell at the dogs and hop the fence again. I wait ten minutes and I peek back over and the dogs were out. So I stroll on in the houses and start loading up.

So, what’s the score?

Of course, this is your decision.  But if I look at it objectively, I can do a lot more with my money by increasing the robustness of my home security with an alarm system and other home upgrades.  So, if I get a dog, it’s because I want to train him to hunt birds with me and not because I want a deterrent for criminals.

I’m sure some of you will disagree with me and may even have great stories of how your dog as helped you.  Feel free to share those with us in the comments below.

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Comments

  1. #2 – there are dogs trained to refuse foo from strangers … IF you have a TRAINED guard dog i presume that you will train it for that
    other that that… i have a german shepherd and i don’t know how she will react to a burgler…. then again i didn;t get her for that

    1. That is true. From my research though, this is THE most difficult thing to train a dog. A dog trained to that level would likely be a $40,000 animal, which just isn’t practical for most people.

      Dogs are great as an alarm when you’re home, and I’m sure your shepherd does well at that. Just don’t expect something from her she isn’t trained for. 🙂

  2. I have a 100lbs German Shepherd from Europe,his mom was a police dog and dad has 7 working Titles,,this guy is a great deterrent and his background is all protection,he refuses food unless I give him the ok,I Trained him Myself,it doesn’t cost anything or a person can hire someone to train the dog.
    The one thing the home security alarm businesses don’t tell you is that dogs can detect a person I soon as they reach the sidewalk,I know when a person is there before they take their third or fourth step on the property.
    What home alarm does that?
    My brother has a home alarm and constantly goes off even for no apparent reason,The company calls me as a secondary contact.
    I live in Los Angeles and most of the break-ins are tweakers or drug addicts who are looking for quick money they are not going to carry meat that’s been filled with a a tranquilizer then wait for the dog to pass out if someone has tranquillized food or poison then either you’re never home or you have something very valuable that someone you know has leaked your information.
    Alarms are great but I’d rather have something alert me me for an attempt has been made.

    1. Author

      Sounds like you have a winner, Sid. I like the combination of a good dog, opsec, and a security system just for the coverage.

      If only you could train your dog to use a cell phone you wouldn’t need an alarm at all!

      1. My pitbull knows how to use a cell phone ,it cost me $40,000 to get her trained by the same company that sells security dogs,it’s worth it especially when my German Shepherd is locked on a intruder ,the pitbull can text the address to law enforcement and dial for an Ambulance right after that.

  3. There are several dog trainers out there who train their dogs to refuse food and it’s not where near 40,000?! That’s upsurd. Don’t forget you can also use a guard dog outside ur house. When u leave. Any alarm system can be hacked. But u can’t hack a dog. Good luck. My dog would tear u a new one.

    1. Author

      If you know some good trainers, drop us some links. I’m sure everyone would appreciate it. Back when I wrote this, I couldn’t find anything affordable in my area.

      I worry a lot less about hacking than I do a guy kicking a door in, but it’s certainly possible. I just choose to cover the high probability risks first.

  4. Let’s Talk About response time… OK times up. My Pyrenees is barking at the first sight, sound or smell of anyone on my property while the alarm system is still dialing the number. If you want to try a steak with a tranquilizer; fine, roll the dice, her bite is far worst than her bark.

  5. alarms systems take sometimes 30 seconds to react…dogs bark instantly if they carry the right genetics to do so. Pitbulls are awful guard dogs, but German shepherds, mals, Dutch shepherds are great. By the time they bite, u can get up, grab ur gun, put it in the guys face with the cops on the phone, and u can call ur dog back to u so the intruder doesn’t pull out a knife or weapon to hurt your dog. A protection isn’t trained to kill, its trained to hold and detain until further decisions are made. They buy you time, and time is everything when I’m a dangerous situation.

  6. Thanks Michael, you are right, it’s a matter of time, the further you can extend your home boundary the safer you are. My dogs are outside during the day when I am awake and inside at night when I am most vulnerable.

    Alarm systems are far too slow and can also be easily “bypassed”. First the call is made to the alarm service, then the call is made to the police and then the police have to respond. Way too much time has elapsed: YOUR DEAD.

    I am not trying to undermine weapons, my shooty does very well, but; if it is not in my hand it does no good and it’s impossible to have in my hands 24/7. My dogs buy me time and time is all important.

    Sure dogs sleep and are not as alert at that time, but; in a confined area, such as a home they are paramount. They will alert at the first sound and being that close to me, I have time to react. People can promote alarm systems all they want, but as for me I have the best alarm system in the world my dogs and that’s the reason the U. S. Military uses them.

  7. I hope this isn’t too much to ask but I’m using some information from this article to support my argument in a persuasive speech for class and need the author’s last name and I can’t seem to find it on this page. Can anyone help a brotha out?

  8. My pit is an absolutely terrible guard dog, as she is so friendly and loves people… which is a combination of her personality and my consistent reinforcements throughout her 9 year existence. She is good for alerting. She never barks at normal dog things like squirrels or passersby, but she will bark if someone comes to the door and knocks or tries to open it. although if she’s outside that’s useless too, as I once had a peeping Tom, and she stood with him at the window while he was looking in, lol.. I have a lot of lighting on the outside of my house, since the peeping Tom incident… I didn’t have any electric outlets so I bought solar powered motion lights, and they work great. I also make sure the inside of my house isn’t visible when I’m not home and once the sun goes down, I feel like that makes it less of a target. I black out my interior at night so if someone does come in they will either need a flashlight or be stumbling around in the dark. I have a background in law enforcement and currently work in the private sector as a licensed armed security officer and private investigator, so I do have sufficient training and am required to qualify twice a year with CPOST. So needless to say I sleep with a Glock under my pillow… for anyone who ignores the lights, dogs, reinforced deadbolts, and can make it that far into my house; they have a surprise waiting lol.

    1. Author

      Well, at least you get the extra warning when you’re at home. That’s better than nothing, and I’m sure she’s a great companion!

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