Bringing a family dog home means looking for a dog that is going to both be a companion to your family and also protect both them and your house. In essence, you’re looking for a guard dog.
Unfortunately, Golden Retrievers are not good guard dogs. They are personable and gentle dogs by nature and they have other modes of protecting themselves rather than being aggressive. However, Golden Retrievers are great watchdogs.
Below, you’ll learn more about whether or not Golden Retrievers make good guard dogs, the reasons why or why not, and how to properly train your Golden to protect its turf.
You can find more information on guard dogs versus watchdogs as well as the traits of a good guard dog, and the good and bad parts of your Golden as a guard dog. If you do decide you want your Golden Retriever to be a guard dog, you can also take a look at some training tips for them, as well as some general reminders for your Golden as a guard dog in the long term.
Watchdogs vs guard dogs: What’s the difference?
Are you confused about the difference between watchdogs and guard dogs? Most people are at first, as there are some supposed experts in the business that use them as synonyms. However, there is a significant difference between watchdogs and guard dogs, and knowing which you are looking for can help you decide whether a Golden Retriever is right for your household or not.
Watchdogs take on the role of, well, watching. They will keep an eye on your household members (including your other pets) and your property, too. They often will situate themselves where they can see everyone and everything at a bit of a distance just so that nothing can slip past them undetected.
When something that they think is a threat approaches their household, they will alert you to that. This is often done by growling, barking and often standing up to let them know that they are intimidating and should be taken seriously as a threat — but that’s it. Watchdogs are there to let you know there is a problem, not to actually deal with the problem.
Guard dogs, in contrast, take on the job actually guarding and protecting. Not only will this dog keep an eye on everything like a watchdog, but he’ll also check out his territory regularly to make sure that there are no strange smells or anything out of the ordinary. Anything that seems strange, he will follow it to its source and then either consider it a threat or not.
When he sees that something is a threat, he will rise up, bark and snarl and otherwise use those same defensive jobs like above. But, rather than just making a lot of noise, he’ll also act on it.
Guard dogs will physically attack and ward off the threat by biting and lunging and other actions that can result in injury to the threat. Guard dogs won’t wait for a human to intervene to protect their turf, they will do it instead and watch to make sure that the threat does leave.
What traits make a good guard dog?
It can be challenging to figure out whether or not Golden Retrievers fit in the description of a watchdog or a guard dog. To make it easier, here are the best traits that a dog should have in order to be a guard dog for his family and property.
He should be large and intimidating looking
There’s a reason that there are no such things as chihuahua guard dogs. Sure, they can be vicious and bite like no one’s business, but they can easily be managed by putting them in a pillowcase. Not exactly a good thing for guarding.
Guard dogs should be large enough that they are hard to contain and also intimidating enough that, combined with their trained behaviors, they are intimidating enough to deter some of the less sure threats.
He should be fearless and agile
A guard dog should also be unafraid. After all, if your pooch is running to you with his tail between his legs every time a siren sounds on the next street over, he’s not going to be very effective as a guard dog! They should be brave even when faced with another aggressive dog or weapons.
Guard dogs are also agile. Not only does this mean they can move quickly and on-demand, but it also means they are harder to subdue and capture if someone were to enter your house specifically with the intention of quieting the dog.
He will need to be loyal and protective
Most dogs are loyal and protective of their households. A guard dog should be especially-so, as this loyalty and protective instinct is going to be what spurs him into action and keeps him focused even when bribed or frightened by loud noises and powerful intruders.
He should be watchful and always alert
A dog on the job is a dog focused. If your pooch is always asleep or distracted by Mom or Dad cooking dinner, he won’t be as good on the job. A guard dog should be able to ignore distractions and always be alert with everything that is going on. Being a guard dog is a hard job!
What makes Golden Retrievers an ideal guard dog?
If you’re liking the sounds of training your Golden Retriever to be a guard dog, you’ll find that they do have some traits that are in line with those that the best guard dogs have. Golden Retrievers are…
Incredibly loyal and family-centred
One of the most impressive parts of a Golden is that they are family dogs through and through. They love their family (animal and human) more than anything in the entire world and will stop at nothing to do whatever it takes to be with them. This loyalty and family love is, of course, what makes them so dedicated when there is a threat.
Smart, obedient and watchful
Goldens are also very smart and observant dogs. They love being a part of everything going on and you won’t find them snoozing in the corner in the middle of the action. They expect to be included in everything, too, so nothing will get past them.
Golden Retrievers are also notoriously obedient and will listen to any commands that you give them. These traits mean that your watchful and intelligent dog will be on the lookout and if you ask a dog to attack, he will attack.
Very energetic and agile
This exciting dog breed is also very energetic and exceptionally agile, considering that they are a large dog. This makes them eager to act quickly and evade capture if they were directly attacking an intruder.
What doesn’t make Golden Retrievers an ideal guard dog?
The above traits are all great, but there are some potential downfalls to this family-centered breed that may not make it the best choice as a guard dog. Golden Retrievers can be…
Easily persuaded with treats
Goldens are especially food-motivated, so if your intruder or wrong-doer has some tasty beef jerky or dog treats, they may be swayed if they are offered. This is especially likely if they do it with a nice, calm voice. Not exactly a good thing!
Hesitant to bite
Biologically speaking, Golden Retrievers have very weak bites. Since they know this as dogs, they’ve developed other defence mechanisms such as snarling or barking. They also will be much more likely to become submissive if an intruder or an attack dog comes up and actually calls their bluff. This is something that is hardwired into their “lizard brain” rather than a learned behavior.
How to train a Golden Retriever to be a good guard dog or watchdog
If you want to do what you can to help your Golden overcome his breed-focused weaknesses and be a good guard dog for your home and loved ones, you’ll really need to focus on training and experience.
Train him to resist impulses
Since Goldens are naturally friendly and food-motivated, you’ll need to train him to be wary of strangers — even the ones who speak calmly and quietly — no matter their body language, and also the same resistance and distrust of treats and food. Not only can it be a distraction, but intruders can also give food to dogs that is laced with sedatives, or worse.
Give him proper and thorough training in normal and guard/watchdog commands
While you will need to make sure that he knows the normal commands such as “sit”, “stay”, “come”, etc, you’ll also want to train him commands specific to guard dogs or watchdogs. For instance, barking on demand, attacking an intruder, protecting the children, or even going for help if relevant.
It should go without saying, but you’ll also want to make sure that your pooch is exceptionally obedient even if faced with fear, distinction or, you know, a squirrel.
Help your Golden understand his turf
Since Goldens can’t defend what they don’t know is theirs, you’ll want to help them understand what belongs to them. This is related to their physical territory, but also the people in the household. Does he know to protect all of them or just some? The more he understands as his responsibility, the better he will be able to protect.
Help him see which intruders are good and which are bad
You don’t want him attacking and injuring little kids who skateboard onto your driveway, after all. Help your pooch understand a good threat from a bad one. This really comes down to obedience training. If your pooch doesn’t listen when you say “no” or “easy” and attacks anyway, he’s not obedient enough to be a trustworthy guard dog.
Sure, you want his first response to be guarding first, but only just enough to get your attention. He shouldn’t attack without your direct command of “attack” unless someone is clearly causing you or your loved ones bodily harm.
Make sure you have the right breed for a guard dog
What it all comes down to is that Goldens may not be the best guard dogs. Can you train him to be a proficient guard dog that will protect you and your home? Yes, absolutely. But the question becomes: should you?
All in all, Golden Retrievers are amongst the most laid-back, loving, and good-natured dogs out there. This is what makes them such great family dogs. While they will protect if need be, it’s not the best use of your time or energy to train your Golden as a guard dog. Even though they aim to please you first, attacking someone on command goes against their nature.
If you’re hunting for a dog breed that makes a watchdog, on the other hand, Golden Retrievers are great additions! They love to be watchful and alert and will be very protective of your loved ones. They will get between the intruder and you, for instance, but they will not actually attack unless absolutely forced into it.
Since intimidation is often most of the protection that needs to be done, you’ll find that training your Golden Retriever as a watchdog, instead, is going to be easier, a lot more aligned with their nature, and just as rewarding should the need ever come up.
If you are looking for an actual guard dog instead and don’t want to find that your Golden Retriever fails, you may want to consider the idea of going with an actual guard dog breed. Common ones are German Shepherds, Dobermanns, Rottweilers, Great Danes, and Boxers. These breeds are all great guard dogs and will take to your training better, faster, and easier than a sweet Golden Retriever.
While Golden Retrievers are smart, obedient, loyal and loving, their temperament is much more suited to a watchdog than a guard dog. When planning your new furry addition to your household, this is something to keep in mind as much as possible.