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The Best Guard Dog Breeds for Protection

These dogs won't only make you feel safer, they make for great pets, too.

black big dog of the breed beauceron (french shepherd) lies on the hayEkaterina Gorokhova/Getty Images

Born to protect

Dogs have been protecting their humans at least since the days of Plato and Aristotle. Our needs for security, companionship, and loyalty haven’t changed much since then, making dogs a popular choice for protection of our loved ones and our property. Watchdogs will bark or otherwise alert their people to perceived intruders but usually won’t attack. Guard dogs have a protective instinct for their families, honed over hundreds of years, says Gina DiNardo, executive secretary at the American Kennel Club, and they will bite or otherwise defend against threats. The best guard dog breeds have an intimidating size and appearance, and also display intelligence, fearlessness, and loyalty, DiNardo says, while the best owners will begin training when their dog is still a puppy. Here are some great examples of protective pooches.

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Airedale terrier

The “king of terriers,” the Airedale is friendly and exuberant—sometimes seeming to have no “off” switch, according to VetStreet.com. But Airedales are great with kids, and quick learners to boot, making them wonderful guard dogs. During World War I, the breed earned a reputation for bravery and focus, thanks to their role as sentries and couriers, notes the BBC. If they sense a threat, Airedales will bark relentlessly, and will put their powerful jaws to use if necessary, but are ready to love on anyone the family accepts. Airedales don’t like being alone, though, and if bored can resort to chewing and digging. They also can be aggressive toward other animals, and even play a little too rough with their family, unless trained otherwise. With their bearded chin and folded-down ears, Airedales have won the Westminster Dog Show four times, but the last time was in 1933.

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Akita

This stocky, curly-tailed Japanese mountain dog is revered in its native country as a symbol of good health and long life, according to the AKC. Akitas are fiercely protective by nature and, in the Middle Ages guarded the Japanese emperor and his family. Helen Keller was gifted an Akita during a trip to Japan in 1937, making her the first American to have one. Akitas are very social animals, and can be playful and silly. Typically, they bark only when there’s a really good reason, says the Akita Rescue Society of America. Akitas can be aggressive with other dogs, and need to be socialized early on to interact appropriately with them as well as with people.

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American Staffordshire terrier

The AmStaff, which is one of several types of pit-bull dogs, is affectionate, playful, and energetic, despite its bull-like appearance. They enjoy mental stimulation, and have tons of personality, the AKC says. It requires a good deal of exercise, too, but can become overheated in warm weather, and isn’t a great swimmer. Weighing in between 50 and 80 pounds when fully grown, the AmStaff is muscular and powerful, and has a reputation for being unruffled by pain. Because of the breed’s long history as a fighting dog and its natural drive to hunt prey, an AmStaff will need proper training and socialization, especially if it will live with other pets or children. Learn the myths and truths about pit bulls.

Giant Schnauzer Or Riesenschnauzer Dog Outdoorbruev/Getty Images

Giant schnauzer

This bearded behemoth lives to protect its family and home, according to the AKC. It has the size and strength to be good at it, and has the added benefit of being resistant to pain, WagWalking.com says. This breed likes constant attention, however, and has an extremely high need for both mental and physical stimulation. It can become destructive when those needs aren’t met. The giant schnauzer tends to chase pets that are smaller than it (basically all of them) so it’s best when it’s the only animal in the home.

Appenzeller Sennenhund. The dog is standing in the park on the Winter. Portrait of a Appenzeller Mountain DogVincent Scherer/Getty Images

Appenzeller sennenhund

Hailing from Switzerland, these medium-sized mountain dogs are cheerful, smart, and energetic. Despite their mostly friendly demeanor, Appenzellers are naturally wary of strangers and definitely are not pushovers. They’re actually fearless, according to the AKC, and can’t be deterred from protecting their families, even if a big juicy steak is in the offing as a distraction. Appenzellers do better in colder climates and need a lot of space, so apartment living is out. If this sounds like too much work for you, you’ll want to know the best low-maintenance dogs for busy people.

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Beauceron

You might not know it by looking at them, but Beaucerons, which strongly resemble Doberman pinschers, are actually the largest of all the French sheepdogs, according to the American Beauceron Club. Fans of this breed claim the dogs are sensitive and smart. With their calm demeanor and a confident, fearless attitude, too, Beaucerons can be terrific guard dogs. They will require firm training, however, to prevent them from dominating their families. Learn about 13 other of the world’s biggest dog breeds.

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Belgian Malinois

Long used in police work, this dog breed achieved a moment of fame when one named Cairo helped Navy SEAL Team 6 take down Osama bin Laden in 2011. Another Belgian Malinois named Conan was honored in 2019 after the dog was injured during a raid on an ISIS leader in Iraq. Similar in appearance to the German Shepherd, the Malinois is strong, intelligent, and loyal, making it a great choice for a guard dog. However, it can also be territorial and jealous, according to the American Belgian Malinois Club. For that reason, families should be prepared to commit a substantial amount of time to training. Learn about some of the other bravest dogs in history.

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Black Russian terrier

This massive dog was bred as a kind of “superdog” for the Russian army in the 1930s, according to the AKC. A team of scientists used genes from 17 breeds to develop this friendly-looking but aloof and fiercely protective dog to patrol its borders. Weighing up to 140 pounds, and with a shock of shaggy black fur covering its eyes, nose, and mouth, a BRT could inadvertently knock over smaller children. It also needs strong human leadership, or it may dominate certain family members, according to Petful.com. Read more about why you might want to consider a big dog.

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Chesapeake Bay retriever

The AKC’s DiNardo says this is the most naturally protective of the sporting dogs. Though it’s sensitive and devoted to family, a Chessie is not nearly as effusive toward strangers as other retriever breeds and can be stubborn. Bred to retrieve waterfowl, this dog likes to be active and, specifically, to hunt, so it’s not a good choice for sedentary families. Modern Dog magazine says this doggo will shed a lot, too, and its waterproof coat has a tendency to be a bit smelly. Find out the product that finally solved one pup’s shedding problem.

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Boxer

A medium-sized dog, the boxer is affectionate, playful, patient, and all-around great with kids. They’re brawny and athletic, and look intimidating, even if they’re not actually aggressive. With training, however, they can be great watchdogs. They have high energy levels, though, and need frequent exercise. Boxers are more prone to certain health conditions than other breeds, including mast cell tumors, ulcerative colitis, and heart disease, according to Petful.com. Find out if a boxer is the right dog for you.

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Cane Corso

This name translated from Latin means “bodyguard dog,” and it has been bred to be devoted to its family. Also known as an Italian Mastiff, this breed is enormous, often weighing more than 100 pounds. Its short, stiff coat lends to its imposing appearance and, indeed, this breed can be aggressive with strangers. It’s said to be impervious to pain, as even electric fences won’t deter it, Petful.com notes. But with its family, the cane Corso is affectionate. For these reasons, the cane Corso is one of the best guard dog breeds, though not for first-time dog owners. Training is imperative to prevent the dog from “owning” its family.

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Bouvier des Flandres

Don’t let the friendly appearance and gentle demeanor of these fluffballs fool you. With muscular bodies that weigh up to 110 pounds, Bouviers are powerful and courageous, in addition to being super-smart. Thankfully, they’re also pretty laid back and loving when they’re just hanging out with the family, and will only become aggressive when a threat is imminent. They don’t shed a lot, but their fur can trap dirt and their beards can drip water, Orvis cautions.

Doberman Pinscher Male Standing; Profile or Stacked Position, Strong, NobleJamesBrey/Getty Images

Doberman pinscher

One of the best guard dog breeds, the Doberman is a sleek, powerful, fast, and fearless dog. It’s considered the fifth-smartest dog breed in the world, and is alert and loyal in protecting its people. It will also bark a lot. If it needs to, it will take a threat seriously, pinning an intruder against the wall or cornering it until humans take charge, according to InsideDogsWorld. When it’s off duty, the Doberman can be a big-time goofball. It has high energy needs and would make a great running companion. Unfortunately, it is also prone to a host of health conditions, including spinal compression, blood clotting problems, obesity, and skin issues, notes CertaPet. Find out about other smart dogs.

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Estrela Mountain Dog

This dog is loving and devoted toward children and other family members but might choose one individual as its adored person. Intelligent and brave, it won’t hesitate to defend its people or their home, the AKC says. The Estrela is relatively calm in temperament, but definitely needs its space and daily walks. If it’s cooped up in tight surroundings, it might turn destructive. This big galumph of a dog—weighing up to 130 pounds—can be hard to find outside of its home nation of Portugal, according to DogZone.com. Learn about other rare dog breeds.

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German shepherd dog

A classic choice because of his imposing stature and loud bark, the German shepherd is widely seen as one of the best guard dogs. Its loyalty and bravery know no bounds and it is willing to risk its own life for that of its family, the AKC says. It is a natural learner and easy to train, says CanineJournal.com. Sometimes a GSD can take its job a little too seriously, though, and needs to be taught not to pounce on anyone who approaches you or the home, GermanShepherdCentral.net points out. These dogs do shed a lot and like to have a job to do, so consider that before committing to one. Read about GSDs and other breeds that have saved their owners’ lives.

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Anatolian shepherd

These extra-large dogs were bred more than 6,000 years ago to protect livestock, so they’re suspicious and watchful by nature. Given their size—up to 150 pounds—and their loud bark, they’re likely to deter any would-be interlopers. The downside is that they can be overly aggressive with visitors and unknown dogs. And because they are territorial, they need a fair amount of space to “patrol,” so apartment life isn’t for them. They are very loyal and protective of their family but not necessarily obedient except with firm training, advises CertaPet.

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Great Dane

This is the Scooby-Doo breed. Unlike the clumsy Scoob, however, real-life Great Danes are graceful despite their incredible height of about 30 inches, CanineBible.com reports. They’re also courageous and have a deep, scary-sounding bark—not at all like Shaggy’s best friend. It’s this bark, combined with their intimidating size, that makes Great Danes a good choice for a watchdog. However, just like the cartoon dog, they have affectionate, gentle personalities, and probably won’t actually bite an intruder. CCProtectionDogs.com notes that Great Danes are also playful and patient with kids. They tend to have shorter lives—usually about six to ten years—and are prone to heart, bone, and gastrointestinal conditions. Learn about the most common health problems in 14 popular dog breeds.

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Rhodesian ridgeback

This breed’s name comes from the distinctive ridge of fur that grows in the opposite direction of the rest of the dog’s coat and stands up along its spine. The AKC notes this watchful dog was originally bred to help hunt lions, so standing up to suburban threats is no big deal. This breed can be stubborn and domineering, and like all other guard dogs, needs to be trained. Among family, the ridgeback is affectionate, patient, friendly, and loyal, but definitely needs to be taught how to interact with children, Hillspet.com says. See why some dogs, including the Rhodesian ridgeback, are often mistaken for other dogs.

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Rottweiler

Rotties, as they are known to their fans, can be sweet and playful with their families, and are very protective of them. To outsiders, rottweilers may appear aloof, the AKC says. The breed is actually descended from ancient mastiffs and almost went extinct in the late 1800s. A bit smaller than their mastiff cousins, coming in at an average of about 100 pounds when fully grown, Rotties can still play the intimidation card—and back it up with their bite. Because they can inflict severe injury, it’s imperative that rottweilers be socialized and trained early on so that they understand when it is and is not okay to act aggressively. Training can also help prevent their barking from becoming a nuisance. See the Rottie and other cutest dog breeds as puppies.

Dog breed Tibetan MastiffLaures/Getty Images

Tibetan mastiff

The Tibetan mastiff, bred in the Himalayas to guard people as well as livestock, is one of the best guard dogs around. Aloof, mentally sharp, watchful, and a little bit primitive, according to DiNardo, this massive breed is also strong-willed and very territorial. Be aware that if you keep a Tibetan mastiff in your home, it may not allow anyone else to visit. But you can expect it to be mellow and sweet with family members. This dog is also one of the most expensive breeds. Learn about the most and least expensive breeds of dogs.

Laurie Budgar
Laurie Budgar is a certified speech-language pathologist (MS, CCC/SLP) who spent over a decade helping people with brain trauma, stroke, MS and Alzheimer’s regain language, speech, swallowing and cognitive skills. She contributes regularly to RD.com, where she writes about health, pets and travel. Previously, she was the editor at Momentum, the magazine of the National Multiple Sclerosis Society. Under her direction, the magazine won its first-ever Folio awards for best complete issue and best article. She has covered health, nutrition and lifestyle topics for Healthline, Parenting, LIVESTRONG.com, Delicious Living, Natural Solutions and more. She has written about travel destinations and profiled small businesses for AAA Colorado, American Way, the University of Denver and Fortune Small Business.