How To Choose A Personal Protection Dog

How do I choose a personal protection dog for me or my family?

This is a valid question with a seemingly simple answer: Know what level of K9 protection you want and need, examine your lifestyle, and then marry the two. Easy enough, so why would I want to write about it?

Many inquiries we receive actually start out with what breed of dog we would recommend. This makes sense as all breeds have certain general characteristics. However, arguing over breed preferences is similarly futile to arguing over which handgun is best. What matters more is recognizing there can be significant temperament variability within each breed, depending on breeding line(s), and because dogs are a product of nature and nurture there can be variability even between litter mates.

Now consider your lifestyle, for example are there small children, how much time do you have, how much continuous dog training are you willing to invest, where and how do you live, and the list keeps growing. Lastly, what degree of protection do you want: A simple deterrence or a high-level man stopper, or somewhere in between? How about liability and insurance? Soon you realize there are many more than just two dials to turn, and if you turn one dial all the others actually turn as well. Most people are also emotionally drawn to certain breeds and not to others. How can you arrive at one final conclusion with so many permutations at play?

Strive For Balance

The best answer to this question is to strive for balance rather than seeking any given extreme or perfectionism. At the end of the day, you are looking for peace of mind, instead of adding stress to your already busy life. You want to be within that 'sweet spot' where most but not necessarily all you want is there, with the least amount of predictable issues. I may go out on a limb and say that many of us will fail doing so on our own, not because we aren't smart enough but because we can't see ourselves and humans have a great tendency to view facts through their own clouded lenses. We actually have quite a few happy and satisfied customers with dogs they initially did not consider.

Common Types Of Dogs In Civilian Life

Just to cover the basics, there are three major types of dogs in the setting of civilian life: (1) pet/companion dogs, (2) guard dogs, and (3) family/personal protection dogs.

Most companion dogs will more likely than not bark defensively at strangers approaching “their” territory, following animal instinct. This may deter some burglars as it raises attention, but any effect on an intruder or on violent crime is negligible with a family pet, regardless how big the dog and how mighty the bark. What matters is the size of fight in a dog, rather than the size of the dog in a fight. Once you watch a few videos of a simulated break-in, or strangers approaching people walking their dog, you realize that most dogs don't make good protectors at all. This is not surprising as it takes careful foundation training and stepwise progression to have a dog act steadfast under pressure. This characteristic is not inherent to most dogs and has to be developed and trained. Bluff dogs end up with hurt owners.

In contrast, guard dogs are basically trained to keep any intruder out of a defined property/territory, except the handler or the owner. Guard dogs are trained to protect property aggressively and are usually not kept with the family or in the home. These dogs will be a strong crime deterrent but also present a considerable liability risk if not 100% controlled at all times.

A personal protection dog is essentially a family dog that is trained and geared towards protecting the members of its 'pack'. A huge part of its training is control work, for the dog is only allowed to react without your command if you are physically threatened. The level of advanced obedience these dogs possess allows them to be a constant part of your life such as the beach, a picnic in a park, jogging, or walking with you and the baby stroller.

Understanding Protection Work

Protection work is not simply teaching the dog to bite, instead it takes many hours of proof training amongst distractions to solidly teach a dog the appropriate response to any life situation, be it horseplay amongst the kids or a real threat by a criminal. In addition, there are numerous tactical aspects of offensive and defensive training that most civilian dog trainers are not aware of. Dogs must be conditioned to react appropriately if you want to depend on them for protection.

Be aware that dogs with a naturally strong protective instinct, i.e. most herding, working and terrier breeds, if left untrained, may decide on their own when you need protecting; more often than not, inappropriately. The vast majority of dogs are not naturally forward aggressive, and they will typically only bite as a last resort. Most dogs instinctively recognize and understand the difference between a friendly person on the street and the threat of a potential attacker, but it is the conditioned response how to work against a threat that makes a personal protection dog. Such dog will usually live in the home with the owner/family, be extensively socialized and oblivious to environmental stimuli, have a clear and balanced temperament and thoroughly understand the difference between neutral situations and a threat, and respond as directed by the owner. Achieving this level of training requires time, dedication and skill and relies on appropriate dog selection, correct foundation work and upbringing.

A police K9 could be considered the ultimate personal protection dog but it will require an aggregate of at least 1,000 training hours in order to be certified. Most families will not need this level of comprehensive protection and apprehension training, but even wanting a reliable, basic level personal protection dog requires time and commitment. On the upside, you will have a 100% loyal companion that can never be turned against you.

Dog Breeds To Consider

Before we cover some of the more common breeds to consider, one important and often overlooked fact needs to be examined: Do you know why most law enforcement and military K9s today descend from strong European working lines? Many current U.S working dog lines have been significantly 'diluted' over the past decades by emphasizing show and beauty over performance and health, to the detriment of the breed. It doesn't mean that U.S. lines are all inferior, but it reinforces the point of having reliable professional help for selecting the appropriate protection dog for your family.

The German Shepherd is a prime example for the above sad tendency, turning the task of finding a good one into quite a challenge. Well-bred GSD are bold, confident, fearless and extremely intelligent, while showing a calm demeanor in the family household. You need to love dog hair as the breed is shedding almost constantly.

Our personal favorite breed for a family/personal protection dog is the Belgian Malinois because of its temperament, very healthy disposition, comparatively long lifespan, physical strength and courage, loyalty, trainability and toughness. Well-bred Malinois with the proper upbringing and training are extremely social and can easily be turned 'on' or 'off' by its handler. These qualities come however with the absolute requirement of providing plenty of physical exercise and mental stimulus, and ideally periodic refresher training with a seasoned K9 handler/trainer. Very similar in many ways is the Dutch Shepherd.

Most Mastiff breeds, including Cane Corso, have generally less need for physical exercise and are well known for their physical strength, protection instincts, courageousness, and docile family loyalty. Their size and comparatively short live span needs to be considered.

The Doberman is yet another traditional German breed, named after Friedrich Dobermann (yes, two 'n') from the small German town of Apolda (only 20 miles from where one of the NEK9 team members grew up!). Mr. Dobermann was a tax collector in the 19th century and needed a strong and intimidating dog for excursions into shady parts of town. Because of breeding tendencies towards more aggression in the past, finding a Doberman with balanced temperament can be difficult. Cropping ears and docking tails are not everyone's deal and the European Union has been banning these practices for quite a number of years now. Their short coat also makes them less adaptable in colder climates.

Rottweilers are relentless protectors of their pack, originally bred to protect cattle. They can be aloof with strangers until properly introduced, and generally need a strong handler.

Giant Schnauzers can be intimidating and dominant, they certainly are powerful dogs in need of strict training. This breed requires near constant attention, but their extreme family loyalty makes them excellent protection dogs in the right setting.

There are several other breeds including the Rhodesian Ridgeback, the Akita, and the Staffordshire Terrier (often confused with the Pit Bull) that have strong protective instincts and most definitely need careful selection, a strong handler and strict training.

More important than choice of breed in having a protection dog is the realization of added responsibility. While all of the above breeds are known to make good family pets, they are still animals with primal instincts. They are by definition very powerful dogs and it is the human responsibility to ensure the safety of family members, guests, and neighbors and the public through proper selection, socialization, control and training.

Our team at North Edge K9 is comprised of active police K9 handlers, trainers and breeders with decades of street experience. We are available to help you finding the perfect family/personal protection dog and assist in all your training needs. E-mail us at for more information.