Lover or Fighter: Are Golden Retrievers Good Guard Dogs?


When thinking of guard, protection, or watchdogs, it’s safe to say that the Golden Retriever would not be the first dog to spring to mind. Most people would most likely list the German Shepherd, Rottweiler, or Doberman Pinscher as common choices.

Some might laugh and comment that the Golden Retriever is more inclined to lick an intruder to death than attack him. 

But that raises an intriguing question; are Golden Retrievers good guard dogs?  

Golden Retrievers do not make good guard dogs. While they may try to protect you in certain situations, the breed’s instinct is not one of vigilance, fearlessness, or a natural guardian. The Golden Retriever’s size, trainability, and loud bark make it better suited as a watchdog.  

Keep in mind that there are differences between guard, protection, and watchdogs. They are not the same thing, and people often confuse those terms. What they are really asking is, will my Golden Retriever protect or defend me.

But to determine that, we first need to assess what traits may make a particular dog better suited for defense or protection over another dog.

For example, some small dogs that bark incessantly may be well-suited to being a watch or alarm dog, but their small size would make them ill-suited to guard or protection dogs. 

In assessing a Golden Retriever’s ability to qualify as a guard dog, we first must know what traits lend themselves well to that purpose.  We also need to clarify the differences between the various types of protection categories first.

Differences Between a Sentry, Guard, Protection, and Watchdog

While there are differences in how certain entities define each category of security dog, the purpose of their use and level of training is what distinguishes them. However, the words “guard, protection, and watchdogs” are often interchanged, muddying the waters and making it confusing to know the difference. 

Sentry Dogs

Sentry dogs are trained to protect a specific location. The sentry dog’s purpose is singular – to guard a place or property. 

The sentry dog monitors and patrols the premises and alerts their handlers or owners to suspicious activity or an intruder. Should the intruder enter the area, then sentry dogs will attack.

The sentry dog is tasked with the patrol of premises and always has training. It’s their job, after all. 

Sentry dogs are the dogs you see on tv that patrol junkyards, impound lots, or other businesses.  Zeus and Apollo on Magnum PI are examples of sentry dogs used to guard an estate. 

Guard Dogs

The defining factor or trait for guard dogs is that they are trained to act only upon a command from their owners or handlers. Guard dogs are very specialized and highly trained, extremely loyal and obedient, and only react when commanded. 

Guard dogs are the swiss-army knives of security dogs. Unlike sentry dogs, their purpose goes beyond just protecting property. But, they certainly can undertake patrol duties if required.

Guard dogs are more multi-functional and offer a suite of protective services. Tasks could range from guarding to attacking upon command, alarm barking, working with the SEALs, or even tracking.

The K9 division of police departments are examples of guard dogs. Dogs used by special forces in the military are another example of guard dogs.

These German Shepard’s are guard dogs.

Protection Dogs

Protection dogs are family dogs that will protect or defend a family. They are instinctually natural guardians. More often than not, these are the dogs people are thinking about when asking questions like, will a Golden Retriever guard or defend me.

Protection dogs are typically very loyal, fearless, vigilant, and have a deeply instilled protective instinct. 

A protective instinct is one where a dog possesses an instinct to protect its family and home. The dog knows how to assess a threat and when to fight in defense of family and home.

Some popular breeds of protection dogs are the same ones used for guard and sentry services, such as German Shepard’s, Doberman Pinschers, Rottweiler’s, and Giant Schnauzers.

The difference is that a guard and sentry dog undergo training to do a job. They are not family pets. Protection dogs are raised with and become members of the family. Protection dogs are family pets.

Obedience training is necessary to ensure a well-balanced protection dog. Owners should socialize a protection dog with children, people, and other pets.

Still, the protection dogs should not undergo training to do what comes naturally. Doing so can make the dog dangerous, and most families are ill-suited to handle such a dog.

If you’re curious as to if a Golden Retriever is, or can be, a dangerous dog, then you might find this article interesting:

Dangerous Dogs: Are Golden Retrievers One of Them?

Watch or Alarm Dogs

Watchdogs alert their owners to suspicious activity by barking and making noise. The purpose of a watchdog is mostly one of an alarm

Intruders or potential thieves to homes prefer anonymity. Their preference is stealth and secrecy, and anything that potentially alerts someone to their activity is not welcome.

And, it’s the very alarm barking of the watchdog that makes them such a good deterrent. In that sense, almost any dog that barks at noises could be considered a watchdog of sorts. Many of the small breeds of dogs that bark at any noise or when someone rings the doorbell make excellent watchdogs.

A watchdog is a four-legged alarm system. Like a home alarm system, a barking dog will sound an alarm, and the warning itself may be enough to deter any would-be intruder.

What Traits Make a Good Sentry, Guard, Protection, or Watchdog?

Certain individual traits and breeds tend to lend themselves better to specific tasks. It’s common to see a Doberman Pinscher as a protection dog, just as it’s more common to see a Golden Retriever as a therapy dog or a Border Collie herding sheep.

The category of traits that makes one dog better than another at being a guard, protection, or watchdog are:

  • Temperament – fearless, vigilant, and a natural, deeply instilled protective instinct
  • Size – large, strong, muscular, fast, and powerful
  • Intelligence/Trainability – highly intelligent, easy to train, and very obedient
  • Barking/Growling – loud bark and growl as an alarm and deterrent  

So, let’s see how the Golden Retriever stacks up in each trait and its suitability in each category of a sentry, guard, protection, and watchdog.

How Suited is the Golden Retriever To a Sentry, Guard, Protection, or Watchdog

Sentry Dog

Temperament

Golden Retrievers typically do not have a well instilled protective instinct and generally are not fearless or vigilant. The breed is a popular choice for a family dog because of its reputation as a friendly, tolerant and trustworthy companion that does well with kids and other pets.

If you’re interested in why a Golden Retriever makes such a good family dog, check out this article:

Golden Retrievers: Are They a Good Family Dog?

A German Shepherd is often chosen for guard services or a Rottweiler for a sentry dog because of their fearlessness, vigilance, and protective instincts. 

Conversely, there’s a reason that Golden Retrievers are a common choice for therapy, scent, or service dogs. It’s because their temperament is uniquely suited for tasks that require a friendly, patient, and calm dog.

Size

Golden Retrievers are medium to large dogs, so their size does make them somewhat formidable in terms of a deterrent. Ranging in size from 55 to 75 pounds, a large female or male Golden Retriever barking or growling will give most people pause. 

However, Golden Retrievers are small on the size scale to effectively subdue an attacker, although not impossible. They also lack the muscularity and power more commonly found in a guard or a sentry dog, e.g., German Shepherd, Doberman, Rottweiler, Bull Mastiff.

Size, muscle, and power matter for guarding and protecting. 

Trainability

Golden Retrievers are top tier smart. According to canine researcher Stanley Coren, top tier dogs learn commands in 5 repetitions and are obedient 95% of the time.

Training an intelligent breed with a strong protective instinct such as a Rottweiler to guard and attack if necessary align with the breed’s instinct, making such training much easier. 

Training a Golden Retriever to attack is not aligned with its nature. Doing so, if even possible, may cause behavioral problems and would not be advised. 

Barking

Golden Retrievers are not frequent barkers and typically bark as necessary. However, they could be trained to bark at noises outside the home because of their high trainability. Combined with their size, this would make them an excellent deterrent to potential intruders. 

The Verdict: Golden Retrievers are poor sentry dogs. Although their size and ability to bark could pose a deterrent, their lack of fearlessness, protective instinct, and vigilance makes them a poor choice. Training a Golden Retriever to be a sentry dog is not aligned with its friendly, patient, and caring personality. 

Sentry dog patrolling the premises of a business

Guard Dog

Temperament

Like the sentry dog, the Golden Retriever is much too friendly to qualify as a guard dog. Guard dogs often must attack and subdue an intruder and must possess the same protective instinct, fearlessness, and vigilance.  

Think of all the dangerous situations a police dog or military dog must endure. A Golden Retriever’s temperament is not well suited to that role.

Size

As noted before, Golden Retrievers are medium to large dogs. Contrast that; however, with a German Shepherd and Doberman Pinscher, two dogs commonly used for protective services.

Those dogs range in size from 50-90 pounds for the German Shepherd and 60-100 pounds for the Doberman, so they are much more formidable in size. Both breeds are very muscular and powerful too, which is useful should they be required to bring an intruder to the ground. 

Trainability

Golden Retrievers have the kind of intelligence needed for a protection dog. Golden ranks 4th in dog intelligence, the German Shepard is 3rd, and the Doberman Pinscher is 5th.

Like sentry dogs, the Golden Retrievers temperament is not suited to the duties required from a guard dog. The Golden’s intelligence is better suited to helping the disabled, elderly, scent work, or therapy – tasks that align with its soft and gentle nature. Training has to align with instinct.

Barking/Growling

Barking and growling is something that guard dogs must be capable of doing. The barking should be at the discretion of the handler or when appropriate for the task. Owners can teach Golden’s to bark on command, and they often growl if threatened. Still, they are less intimidating than a German Shepherd or Doberman.

The Verdict: Golden Retrievers are not well suited for guard dogs. Their intelligent enough but lack the protectiveness and fearlessness of other equally intelligent dogs, such as a Doberman Pinscher or German Shepard. Goldens also lack the size, power, and muscularity of other breeds more suited to protect, attack, and defend.

Protection Dog

Temperament

As we’ve established already, protection dogs need to be very loyal, fearless, vigilant, and have a deeply instilled protective instinct. While the Golden Retriever is devoted, the breed is typically not fearless and highly protective.

Remember, a protective instinct is when a dog possesses an instinct to protect its family and home. It’s not overtly aggressive but knows how to assess a threat and knows when to protect you from a dangerous situation.

Size

While bigger is better in terms of protection, the Golden Retriever’s medium to large size can be a suitable deterrent. A 75-pound dog is large enough to cause most people issues if it is angry and attacks you.

While the Golden Retriever does not have the muscle, power, or size of other better-suited dogs for protection, it is large enough to defend a person in most cases.

Trainability

There is no question that the Golden Retriever is smart enough. However, training a dog to go against its nature is another matter altogether. Aside from causing behavior issues, it would be challenging to train a dog like the Golden Retriever to defend and attack like a Doberman.

And why would you?

If you need a hammer for driving a nail, would you use a saw? Similarly, if a person wants a protective dog, then why not get the right tool (dog) for the job.

Barking/Growling

Barking and growling are warnings and deterrents. It’s a message that I’m here and be mindful.

Golden Retrievers are not frequent barkers but will bark when necessary and can be trained to do so. They will also growl if they feel threatened. As a warning to potential threats, the Golden Retriever’s barking could be useful.

The Verdict: Golden Retriever’s do not make adequate protection dogs. The Goldens instinct is friendly, tolerant, and not hostile or aggressive. Its natural instincts are at odds with the deeply instilled protective instinct, fearlessness, and vigilance found in dog breeds that are guardians by nature. 

Watch or Alarm Dog

Temperament

In contrast to sentry, guard, and protection dogs, a watchdog’s temperament does not require a protective instinct, fearlessness, or even vigilance.

The watchdog is a deterrent through barking and sounding the alarm to suspicious activity. In that regard, the Golden Retriever is perfectly capable of being an excellent watchdog. 

Size

Size is not a requirement for a watchdog, although it can be useful. Many smaller dogs that bark and alert their owners make excellent watchdogs. However, being larger adds a bit more respect to a barking dog. It may give any potential intruders another reason to move on. 

The Golden Retriever’s medium to large size gives it some level of intimidation, which may be an extra deterrent to some intruders.

Trainability

The high trainability of a Golden Retriever is a useful trait for a watch or alarm dog.

For example, an owner can train a Golden to bark when someone is outside the door or home, at the doorbell, strange noises, or upon command. An owner can also teach a Golden to stop barking when told to do so.

Barking/Growling

Golden Retrievers have a loud, booming bark, and it’s well suited to sounding an alarm. If a Golden is barking, you will know it. And, so will anyone outside. They may also growl if scared or threatened, and that is an added deterrent for a watchdog. 

The Verdict: Golden Retrievers have great potential as watchdogs. The Golden’s loud bark, growls, and medium to large size are excellent for alerting owners and deterring potential intruders. The Golden’s intelligence also allows for training to bark on command in specific situations. 

Our Golden Bailey watching and later barking at a creepy white van.

So, Will a Golden Retriever Protect You?

Maybe.

But it probably depends more on circumstances. We’ve already established that the Golden Retriever is large enough to be a formidable dog. As well, they become very attached to their owners and are highly intelligent. The breed is exceptionally loyal as well.

Given the right circumstance, the Golden Retriever might protect you. It’s not unheard of for any dog, even small ones, to protect its owners from other dogs, animals, or people. So, Goldens can do the same. 

To prove that point, let’s look at some examples. 

A Golden Retriever called Angel protected and saved its 11-year-old owner from a mountain line. Angel stepped in between an 11-year-old boy and a cougar and saved the boy from the attack. Police credited Angel the Retriever for saving the boy’s life.

To read more about the heroics of Angel, the fantastic Golden Retriever, check out the article here:

Hero dog saves boy, 11, from cougar attack.

Or, watch this video on Sadie, another Golden Retriever who fought off an intruder. Sadie showed “protection dog” behavior, although her owner said it’s uncharacteristic. But, it goes to show in the right circumstances, your Golden Retriever CAN protect you.

Will All Golden Retrievers Protect You?

No.

Keep in mind that although Golden Retrievers are individuals, there are breed-specific behaviors that are generally common across dogs in a breed. The Golden Retriever is a gentle, friendly, and tolerant breed for a reason. They make excellent service and therapy dogs for a reason. It’s their nature.

Of course, some individual Golden Retrievers are more protective than others. After all, they are unique individuals in their own right. But generalizing a heroic act or defensive action of a few dogs to all dogs in the breed is not a fair generalization.

Golden Retrievers will avoid a confrontation in most circumstances. It’s just their good nature. Fearlessness, vigilance, and an ingrained protective instinct (as in assessing a threat and attacking) are not traits they possess to any significant degree.

The Golden Retriever is a love sponge. Friendly, trustworthy, and joyous, with a love of life and people. Great with kids and pets. That is the Golden Retriever.

Most people get a Golden Retriever for those very reasons, not because they expect the dog to guard the home and protect them from intruders. It’s because they’re so friendly and loving. 

This is the face of a lover, not a fighter.

In Conclusion

While the Golden Retriever’s loud barking and size can be well suited to an alarm or watchdog, their friendly, gentle, and loving nature make them a poor pick for a guard, sentry, or protection dog. 

Yes, given the right circumstances, a Golden Retriever can protect you. But, a Golden Retriever is not innately a protective, fearless or vigilant dog. Sure, they may defend you in certain situations, but it’s equally likely they’ll run away. 

In other words, if protection is a goal for your dog, then there are better choices. Other dogs such as the German Shepherd (2nd most popular dog by the way, ahead of the Golden Retriever) and Doberman Pinscher, to name but two, are better suited for protective tasks. 

Suppose you’re looking for a friendly, loving dog who makes a great companion and is terrific with kids and other pets or a therapy, service, or scent dog. In that case, the Golden Retriever may be the right dog for you.

It comes down to picking the right dog for your lifestyle. If protection or guard dog duties are on the top of your list, then the Golden Retriever is not the best pick for you.

No, guard dog, it is not. The Golden Retriever is definitely a lover, not a fighter!

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