Your pup may be a beloved family pet, great with the kids, gentle with grandma and restrained when it comes to chewable shoes and furniture. But is your dog able to serve as an effective home security aid as well? According to experts, they can -- but it depends.
"Some breeds and sizes of dogs are better able to provide security than others," said Julie Burgess, a certified dog trainer (CPDT-KA). "For instance, smaller breeds like Chihuahuas, miniature pinschers and miniature schnauzers will be most likely unable to provide serious protection."
Even small dogs may make enough noise to scare away would-be burglars and intruders, though. "Research shows that 'occupancy cues' like dogs are major deterrents in attempts to burglarize homes," said K. Campbell, a certified protection professional. "In fact, the research reveals that dogs of any size are effective. Large dogs pose a physical threat, and small dogs tend to be noisy."
If the only requirement of your dog is that they bark to alert you when a stranger approaches the house, then most dogs will fit the bill, as they will generally make noise when anyone rings the doorbell or wanders around the outside of your house.
"I have heard multiple accounts from burglars who say that all things being equal they will always opt for a house without a dog," says Louis Wood, the owner of a private security firm in San Antonio.
A barking dog, says Wood, regardless of size, may be enough to make the burglar decide to take his business elsewhere -- to a home with no potential pitfalls. "A good mindset for a homeowner to be in is how can I make my house as unappealing to rob as possible," he says.
But the data isn't quite so decisive. In a study published in the journal Society and Animals, researchers at the University of Louisville found that "households with licensed dogs ... enjoyed property crime rates 1.71 percentage points lower than households without licensed dogs" -- a significant difference, though not a dramatic one.
Your family pet may think of you and your family as its "pack," and may jump in if you are attacked. But that doesn't mean it will make an effective security animal.
Small breeds like chihuahuas, schnauzers and miniature pinschers aren't big enough to do damage to a thief, although they can bark to alert you. Happy-go-lucky breeds like labs and golden retrievers typically won't help much, either.
Dog breeds more suited to a security job include larger breeds that have a reputation for being aggressive. But there's a built-in disadvantage to that solution, says Mark Friedlander, director of corporate communications at the Insurance Information Institute. Dogs bred or trained for aggression can be dangerous.
Beyond the risk of visitors or family members being seriously injured, insurance claims related to dog bites and other dog-related injuries cost homeowners $854 million, Friedlander says. "Some insurance companies will not insure homeowners who own certain breeds of dogs categorized as dangerous. Others decide on a case-by-case basis, depending on whether an individual dog, regardless of its breed, has been deemed vicious."
Several states, however, including Illinois, Nevada and New York, have enacted legislation prohibiting insurers from restricting coverage based on dog breed. The New York state law goes a step further, says Friedlander. "It also prohibits insurers from charging additional premium because a dog is considered aggressive."
Best dog breeds for home security
Brandi Hunter Munden, vice president for PR and communications at the American Kennel Club, suggested breeds best suited for security work. "Some breeds have a natural instinct to protect their family as well as their homes," she says. "These breeds tend to be loyal to their owners, brave when faced with danger, intelligent and alert."
Munden's suggestions included the following:
Boxer: This working breed is a guide dog by instinct. They are keen and alert but also need human companionship. They have a patient and protective nature and are simultaneously an effective watchdog, difficult to frighten and reliable in guarding homes.
Bullmastiff: This working breed has a history of being a guard dog. They learn quickly and are fiercely protective. They are an alert and reliable breed and have the courage and confidence of a guardian combined without the aggression of some other breeds.
Cane corso: This working breed can be extremely intimidating. Their appearance is imposing, but they are intelligent and intensely loyal to their owners.
Doberman pinscher: Dobermans are the definition of a "purpose-bred dog." They do not frighten easily, and they stand out as one of the top protection breeds -- often used as military or police dogs. They are courageous and exceptionally loyal.
German shepherd: The German Shepherd was bred to be a versatile and willing worker. They are considered to be one of the most focused and trainable breeds. This herding breed has an instinctively protective nature and they make excellent watchdogs. In addition, they tend to be well-mannered, pleasant home companions.
Rottweiler: This working breed has been used as a police dog and they are often companionable. They have strong protective and territorial instincts which makes them excellent watchdogs. They are calm and extremely loyal.
One important caveat: training
Regardless of the breed you choose, Munden cautions, if you want to use your dog as a security measure in your home, it'll require careful training.
"It is best to hire a professional trainer to teach your dog limits and boundaries," she says. "This will enable them to do their job to protect the home, as well as be a lovable companion."
"Look for dog trainers who offer security training specifically," says dog trainer Burgess. Properly training your dog will take time, effort and skill -- and is best left to someone who has experience working with guard dogs.
The bottom line
All our canine experts confirmed that it's not a great idea to use a dog as your only security method. Sure, they can alert you and, if well-trained, protect you. But they can't call 911, and they can't be left unattended in a home while you're on vacation for two weeks.