The 5 Best Guard Dog Breeds

We review the best guard dog breeds, as well as how to properly train, socialize and parent guard dogs.

A German Shepherd Dog playing.
A German Shepherd Dog playing. Photography by smikeymikey1 / Shutterstock.

Guard dog breeds are bred to have a natural drive to protect. Let’s learn the backgrounds of some guard dog breeds, as well as the proper ways to train, socialize and parent a pup from one of these guard dog breeds.

First, some background on training, socializing and parenting guard dog breeds

German Shepherd Dog Anya with Lynn Hayner's grandson.
German Shepherd Dogs are natural guard dogs, but, like any guard dogs, you can train them to graciously meet and welcome newcomers of all ages. Photography courtesy Lynn M. Hayner.

I’ve always had German Shepherd Dogs (GSDs), one of the most popular guard dog breeds with a natural drive to guard and protect. Anja, my current puppy, is only 6 months old, but when she’s full grown I expect her to watch my back. I also, however, expect her to graciously meet friends, calmly meet children when I give seminars and treat newcomers with composure.

I’m often asked if I’m training my dogs to be suspicious. Far from it! First of all, Anja’s drive to protect is characteristic of a well-bred GSD. And by well-bred, I mean a dog from professional, conscientious breeders who develop their lines for temperament as well as health.

Secondly, quite the opposite of encouraging suspicion, I expose Anja to many people and situations to nurture her discernment. An abundance of exposure to positive situations and people will help her distinguish good from bad in the future.

To understand socializing any protective or typically guard dog breeds, consider this analogy: Suppose you’ve never had apple pie, but over time someone brings you a delicious (but differing recipe) piece of apple pie daily. Eventually, someone brings you a sub-par piece of apple pie, the quality of which you’re only able to discern because of all the prior experience. Similarly, while later on Anja will know good from bad, she doesn’t as a puppy. The more exposure I give her, the more clarity and strength of conviction she will have (concerning any real threat) as an adult.

Living with guard dog breeds

While it’s awesome to own these devoted, protective or typically guard dog breeds, it’s also an enormous responsibility.

Dogs with a genetic predisposition to protect need experienced owners who have the time and knowledge to help the dogs be all that they can be. Potential owners should look for the top breeding programs that produce healthy and genetically sound dogs.

Now, let’s talk about five naturally protective or guard dog breeds:

1. Belgian Malinois

Belgian Malinois. Photography by cynoclub / Shutterstock.
The Belgian Malinois is among the most elite of guard dogs. Photography by cynoclub / Shutterstock.

We consider ourselves among the elite working breeds — no wonder we’re chosen to assist the elite U.S. Navy SEALs. The military counts on us for their toughest missions. We’re famous for our keen intelligence and outstanding athleticism. Our forefathers were developed in the city of Malines in Belgium as tough field and farm dogs. We were bred with the temperament and strength to guard, not simply herd, livestock.

Now keep in mind that some guard dog breeds, such as the Border Collie, herd but don’t necessarily protect. And other breeds, such as the livestock guardians (for example, the Great Pyrenees) protect but don’t herd. We’re among the guard dogs breeds that were developed for both. Today, our protective disposition means we’re game to take care of our family and home. Families interested in sharing their lives with us should look to professional breeders who emphasize good nerves, confidence and stability in their dogs.

2. Doberman Pinscher

Doberman Pinscher Grand Champion Protocal’s Veni Vidi Vici at the 2012 Westminster Dog Show. Photography by Debby Wong / Shutterstock.

We were developed by Friedrich Louis Dobermann, a German tax collector hassled by robbers one time too many. Dobermann developed us for a twofold purpose: protection and companionship. Recognizing this guard dog breed’s working abilities and loyalty, Europeans soon employed us in military and police work. We also served in WWII as sentries and messengers for the U.S Marine Corps in the Pacific.

A statue, “Always Faithful,” in Guam memorializes Dobes that served our country. Today, we’re one of the most popular guard dog breeds, alerting our families to new happenings and standing between our loved ones and danger if needed. Now for a caveat: We’re a tad mushier with our families than stereotypes indicate. But after all, it is our loyalty and love with family that motivates our protection drive. We care for those we cherish.

3. Cane Corso

Cane Corso.
Cane Corsos come from early warrior dogs. Photography ©DevidDO | iStock / Getty Images Plus.

We descended from early warrior dogs, developing into a multipurpose guardian, hunter and outstanding Italian farm dog. Whether controlling cattle herds, hunting boars or guarding flocks of sheep, we served our families with unwavering dedication. Today, we continue to take our security role seriously. We’re self-assured and rather aloof (but not overly reactive) with strangers, but wholly devoted to family.

All of that sounds like the perfect makings for one of the top guard dog breeds, right? Well, don’t underestimate the work it takes to own a breed like us. To help us realize our potential, we’ll need ongoing socialization and obedience training. Fortunately, we like to work. Do you?

4. Neapolitan Mastiff

Neapolitan Mastiff.
Neapolitan Mastiffs are guard dogs with an alarming (or, we think adorable!) appearance to ward off trespassers. Photography by Shutterstock.

Enormous and magnificently powerful, we’re recognized by our wrinkles and huge heads. We have both an impressive size and imposing attitude. In reality, we were bred for an arguably alarming ugliness to ward off trespassers. Our forefather was the ancient Molossus, a dog with the courage to take on lions and tigers. Our family tree also includes Roman war dogs.

In Italy, we were bred for estate and home guarding. One of our nicknames was the big dog of the little man. These days, we continue to take our guard dog duties seriously. We’re steady, loyal and vigilant, but relatively silent while on duty.

5. German Shepherd Dog

A German Shepherd dog barking over a fence.
German Shepherd Dogs are natural guard dogs that excel in police and service work, search and rescue, and therapy. Photography by jody/shutterstock.

Planning to breed specifically for intelligence and utility, Captain Max von Stephanitz began developing us from sheepdogs in late 19th-century Germany. Strong, smart and motivated for hard work, we guarded, protected and carried messages in the wars. We also excel in police work, service (such as guiding the sight impaired), search and rescue, and therapy work.

Today, we continue in all of these working roles, but we’re one of the guard dog breeds that takes our family watch-dog role seriously. Born with a feeling of responsibility and extraordinary intelligence, we’ll need extensive training to learn how to manage our drives and abilities in the human world. With the right training, I’ll make you proud as a friend and defender.

Tell us: Do you have any guard dog breeds?

Thumbnail: Photography by smikeymikey1 / Shutterstock. 

This piece was originally published in 2018.

Why read breed profiles?

Dog breed profiles help everyone, whether you have a mixed breed or purebred dog, to better understand and improve the quality of your dog’s life. If you have a mixed breed dog, read up on all of the breed profiles that make up your dog. Not sure what breed your dog is? There are a number of easy DNA tests out there to help your find out.

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60 thoughts on “The 5 Best Guard Dog Breeds”

  1. I love Dobermans and trained 2 . One for a service for my MH/MR legally blind son. No one messed with my son and she was a rescue herself who picked my son. Loved my Min Pins who did Agility and joined in their Agility training too. Precious was rescued from being put down and Was an Excellent Service Dog too she died in 1996. She died from cancer. Another dog was a 9/11 rescue from an AKC Judge was a Dalmation NYC ‘s Rescued Angel. Angel was trained by me and my son @ YCDTC. In Lewisberry ,Pa Earned her AKC ÇGC ,Agility and TGI Service Dog. Another doberman was Lucy ,also a rescue dog . Great guard dog for the house but not for
    a Service dog .Lucy also died from cancer. Mary Ann Lutz

  2. You missed out on Rhodesian Ridgebacks! They were need specifically to protect with a prey drive that also allowed them to bay large cats including lions. “Keep the lion at bay” is basically a Ridgeback’s motto. No one coming into my house and no one stealing anyone from my family with my two Ridgebacks standing at the front door.

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