We’ve all seen movies or videos on the internet where a dog acts as the sole protector of the home and its owners. These dogs are vicious, loyal, and tenacious. Similar animals work in real-life jobs for military, police, and other law enforcement agencies across the globe. Many people believe these animals are a good option for home security—which we’ve proved to be false

How do you train dogs to protect you at home? And should you? Is a vicious dog that’s capable of attacking and injuring an intruder actually the type of dog you want even if there seems to benefits? Let’s explore: 

The Basics

There’s a difference between guard dogs and attack dogs—animals that are trained to alert the home of suspicious activity, and animals that are trained to fight off intruders. Some animals instinctively defend a homeowner, but this is rare. Most dogs simply alert the home through barking.

According to US Army Field Manual-740, an attack dog can not make friends with anyone but its primary owner. In many instances, attack dogs are trained through tactics like coercion, and pain. A number of police departments, military, and K9 units don’t train their dogs with positive reinforcement, though this trend is slowly beginning to change.

Dogs that are hyper-aggressive and capable of defending an owner might seem useful, but the tactics used to get them to such a state mean that they likely aren’t properly socialized. They likely aren’t able to be around strangers, children, or people other than their proper owners. This is not exactly the type of dog that you’ll want running around in your house.

You want an animal that will alert you of suspicious activity and legitimate threats, but you want the dog to be properly socialized and able to be a part of a family unit.

Dogs are obedient animals by nature. They seek out a “master” in a social hierarchy, as long as the master in command does so with trust and no abuse. Throughout your dog training—always remain in control, doing so by spending time with your dog and making training an enjoyable activity. An improperly trained dog is more of a liability than a helper. Remember: Whenever you do decide to train your dog, don’t cut corners. Do it the right way.

Which Dogs, When to Start 

So, “how does you start training an animal to defend a home?,” you might ask. Start with a young animal. Puppies are the easiest to train. Know that the process will take time and patience. Same as a young child, you can’t put too much pressure on a puppy at a young age. Too much pressure and rules to follow can lead to a stressed out puppy and ironically accomplish the opposite effect of what you set out for—the puppy loses confidence and motivation.

The best animals to choose are larger dogs, notably German Shepherds, Doberman Pinschers, Belgian Sheepdogs, Bulldogs, and Collies. Small animals can do the job of alerting you of a threat by barking, but they won’t have the physical prowess to do anything about a threat.

The Proper Steps to Dog Training

Step One: Start by socializing the dog. Teach them what is normal and what isn’t. This includes strangers, intruder situations, and other events with humans and dogs.

You don’t want a dog to be fearful of interactions, and you want them to understand what a legitimate threat looks like. But make sure to prohibit or limit negative exposure. Dogs with too much negative exposure can cause them to be fearful, shy, or bite when they are afraid.

Step Two: Enroll your puppy in obedience classes and teach them basic obedience protocol. A well trained dog will be obedient at all times, and this ensures that the owner remains in control. The best way to achieve this goal is through positive reinforcement. Give them treats and celebrate when they perform well. They’ll have fun and feel like they are connecting with an owner.

Part of obedience training means that dogs should be able to stop barking on command. If they can’t do this properly, they’ll end up barking at everything and everybody all of the time. Failure at this command also means that the dog won’t obey other important commands.

Start by teaching the dog how to bark on command, followed by stopping on command. This will aid later training to teach it how to attack on command using code words.

Step Three: If a dog alerts you of a danger at the home, they should be rewarded and encouraged. They should not, however, be rewarded for barking at strangers or other animals in public. Give the dog a tour of the house and the outer perimeters so they understand the outline of allotted territory to do their work.

As the dog gets older you can begin to run mock missions by replicating an intruder entering or invading the home. Praise the dog for barking and catching the perpetrator, but don’t allow them to chase after a fleeing suspect.

Pro tip: If you choose the mock mission model, don’t choose a friend or family member that will frequent the house. The animal will associate them as a bad guy.

Things to Remember

The most important thing to remember is to give dogs positive reinforcement. Reward them for what is done right and don’t punish them for what is done wrong. You can’t cut corners or take shortcuts on training. NEVER use abusive or negative tactics, that will only raise an improperly trained dog.

If you want further assistance, you can seek out a professional dog trainer, or subsequent literature, classes, and materials that will guide you in training.

Remember: Dogs—especially large ones—are dangerous weapons. Train properly for your safety and the safety of others.

Biggest take away: A dog will never be capable of replacing a home security system. Don’t think your dog can substitute for home security equipment. Use your dog as an additional safety tool.