Considering The Limits Of Canine Protection

Full disclosure: I have three dogs. All of them are large, but one of them, my personal dog, is a 120 lb. German Shepherd with obedience training. I used to take him running with me when I went alone. Part of me wanted the company. The other part of me knew he would deter anyone who wanted to hurt me.

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Because dogs, it seems, keep away the bad guys. The Guardian reports that according to a survey of 12 burglars conducted by Co-op Insurance, only CCTV beat out the loud sound of a barking dog as a criminal deterrent.

KGW News conducted an even bigger survey of burglars, with 86 of them participating, and found that “big, loud dogs” turned criminals away. Small dogs, on the other hand, didn’t seem to matter. One inmate told them that, “Dogs are a deal breaker for me … Big breeds, home protectors are the best to keep people out.”

Active Response Training quotes the US Department of Justice as saying that, “On average, burglarized houses are less likely to have dogs than are non-burglarized houses, suggesting that dog ownership is a substantial deterrent.”

But while dogs might deter criminals, that’s not the full story — as we can see by reading some recent news reports.

A woman near Boston was attacked while walking her dog in Callahan State Park, reports Fox 25 Boston (no word on breed or size). A woman in Burien, Washington was attacked while walking her dog, which was small enough to be picked up, says Komo reports that a man was shot during an attempted robbery in San Marcos, California — while walking his dog (again, no word on breed or size). And Fox16 says that a man in Jonesboro, Arkansas was beaten by two teenagers, who debated taking his dog while he was on the ground. Again, no word on the breed or size of the dog.

Some dogs are better at this protection thing than others. When guests come to the door, we leave the friendly, tail-wagging Boxer in the house. The German Shepherds go into another room until the guests are settled. The AKC lists the top ten guard dog breeds as the Bull Mastiff, the Doberman Pinscher, the Giant Schnauzer, the Akita, the German Shepherd, the Staffordshire Bull Terrier, the Rottweiler, the Puli, and the Rhodesian Ridgeback. Many of these dogs were bred with protective instincts: the German Shepherd to herd sheep, and the Rottweiler to protect cattle. Bull Mastiffs used to fight, well, bulls.

[Jogging with a dog is just one way to deter would-be criminals. Check out our Security Tips For Runners.]

But even dogs with protective instincts need to have those instincts honed. They may naturally bark at everything from blowing paper bags to neighbors to baddies, but beyond that, you can’t expect them to hurl themselves at someone who’s trying to hurt you, If you want them to, they need to undergo extensive training, which includes, says Pethelpful, making friends with only one person: being fed by only one person, given affection by only one person, etc. This isn’t feasible for most people.

Extensive obedience training, followed by teaching in defense and attack, follows — and training a dog to attack, again, makes them a poor family member. You can try the shortcut of buying a personal protection dog. However, prices by one company, Protection Dogs Plus, begin at $15,000, leap to at least $25,000 for dogs with “Advanced Protection” (protect home, protect car, search area, stop violent threat), and start at $35,000 for dogs who can go into stealth mode, deal with multiple attackers, and guard a specific area. Most of the dogs on the site were priced around $42,000. These dogs you can expect to fight off an attacker for you. But you’re going to pay for it.

As North Edge Canine says, dogs are an effective crime deterrent, but the devil is in the details. A family dog will help deter a burglar, but likely won’t stop an assault. A guard dog trained to protect an area will keep someone out — but again, they aren’t going to stop crimes against your person. You’re only assured that a trained personal protection dog can do that. They say that, “Obviously, achieving this level of training does not happen overnight and requires not only significant time, dedication and skill but relies also on appropriate dog selection, correct foundation work and upbringing of the dog.”

So is my German Shepherd good at keeping burglars out of my house? You bet. Is he going to stop someone from assaulting me while I’m out jogging? Not unless they’re scared of him on sight. Once an attack’s in progress, I can’t rely on my pup to end it by putting himself in harm’s way for me. A big dog’s a wonderful visual. The fact that he’s obedience trained is convenient for me. But otherwise, I’ll be carrying pepper spray.

Elizabeth Broadbent

Elizabeth Broadbent

Elizabeth Broadbent lives in a medium-sized city in the South with her three children, three dogs, and patient husband. She works as a staff writer for Scary Mommy, and her writing has been featured in The Washington Post and on

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