Lover or Fighter: Are Golden Retrievers Good Guard Dogs?


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When thinking of guard or protection dogs, it’s safe to say that the Golden Retriever would not be the first dog to spring to mind. Instead, 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?  

In general, Golden Retrievers do not make good guard dogs. Guard dogs are working dogs that undergo highly specialized training for security, police, and military purposes. Golden Retrievers are better suited as service dogs which aligns with their gentle, friendly, and non-aggressive nature.

Keep in mind that there are differences between guard dogs (attack, sentry, and watchdogs) and protection dogs. 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 in a home, but their small size would make them ill-suited to attack 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 protection categories first, including the difference between a guard and protection.

Differences Between a Guard and Protection Dog

While there are differences in how certain entities define each category of security dog, it’s the purpose of their use and level of training that distinguishes them. Unfortunately, however, the terms guard, alarm, attack, and protection dogs are often used interchangeably, muddying the waters and making it confusing to know the difference. 

Guard dogs are working dogs for security purposes. Guard dogs have a job, and they undergo highly specialized security training. Protection dogs are pets in a home that will protect your family, and they do not have security training.

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Guard Dogs

There are three types of guard dogs: sentry, attack, and alarm (or watchdog). Remember, guard dogs are working dogs that have jobs in security.

For example, 3DK9, which trains dogs for guard duties, suggests the following dog as best suited for guard dogs:

  • Rottweilers
  • German Shepherds
  • Giant Schnauzers
  • Doberman

Let’s take a look at each category of a guard dog and what distinguishes one category from the other.

Sentry Dogs

Sentry dogs are trained to protect a specific location. Therefore, the sentry dog’s purpose is singular – to patrol a place or property, similar to a security guard. 

The sentry dog monitors and patrols the premises and alerts its 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 patrolling a premise 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 patrol an estate. 

Attack Dogs

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

Attack 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.

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

The K9 division of police departments is an example of attack dogs. Dogs used by special forces in the military are another example of attack dogs.

These German Shepherds are formidable attack dogs.

Watch or Alarm Dogs

An alarm or watchdog deters suspicious activity by barking and making noise. The purpose of a watchdog is primarily one of an alarm

Intruders or potential thieves 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. So, in that sense, almost any dog that barks at noises could be considered a watchdog of sorts.

Many small breeds of dogs that bark at any noise or when someone rings the doorbell make excellent watchdogs for homes.

In terms of guard dogs, alarm dogs are typically trained for formal purposes such as deterring would-be intruders to a business. However, they can be trained as deterrents in homes as well. The goal is the same – alarm dogs do not take action; they sound the alarm only.

An alarm dog 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.

Protection Dogs

Protection dogs are family dogs that will protect or defend a family. They are instinctually natural guardians. These are the dogs people think about when asking questions like, will a Golden Retriever guard or protect me.

Protection dogs are typically loyal, fearless, vigilant, and have deeply instilled protective instincts. A protective instinct is 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.

The difference is that guard dogs (attack, alarm, and sentry dogs) undergo highly specialized training to do a security job. They are not family pets.

In contrast, protection dogs are raised with and become members of the family. Therefore, protection dogs are family pets.

Obedience training is necessary to ensure a well-balanced protection dog. In addition, 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. Meaning they should not undergo the same training as sentry or attack dogs.

Doing so can make the dog dangerous, and most families are ill-suited to handle such a dog.

If you’re curious if a Golden Retriever is, or can be, a dangerous dog, you might find this article interesting: Dangerous Dogs: Are Golden Retrievers One of Them?

The Giant Schnauzer is a guard dog but can also make a better family protection dog than a Golden Retriever

What Traits Make a Good Guard or Protection Dog?

Certain individual traits and breeds tend to lend themselves better to specific tasks. For example, 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 with the ability to be aggressive
  • 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  

How Suited is the Golden Retriever To a Guard or Protection Dog?

So, let’s see how the Golden Retriever stacks up in each trait and its suitability in each sentry, attack, alarm, and protection dog category.

Sentry Dog

Temperament

Golden Retrievers typically do not have a well instilled protective instinct and are not fearless or vigilant. However, 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 attack dogs or a Rottweiler for a sentry dog because of fearlessness, vigilance, and protective instincts. However, those dogs also have an aggressiveness in their nature, whereas a Golden Retriever does not.

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

Service, not guard work, is better aligned to the Golden Retrievers nature

Size

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

However, while Golden Retrievers are not overly small on the size scale, they also lack the muscularity and power more commonly found in guard dogs, 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 solid protective instinct, such as a Rottweiler, to guard and attack if necessary aligns with the breed’s instinct, making such training much more straightforward. 

Training a Golden Retriever to attack or be aggresive is not aligned with its nature. Doing so 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, they would be 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

Attack Dog

Temperament

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

Think of all the dangerous situations a police dog or military dog must endure. But unfortunately, 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 with a German Shepherd and Doberman Pinscher, two dogs commonly used for protective services.

Those dogs range from 50-90 pounds for the German Shepherd and 60-100 pounds for the Doberman, so they are much more formidable in size. However, 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. The Golden Retriever ranks 4th in dog intelligence, the German Shepard ranks 3rd, and the Doberman Pinscher ranks 5th.

Training is easier when aligned with instinct.

The Golden’s is better suited to helping the disabled, the elderly, scent work, search and rescue, or as therapy dogs – tasks that align with its soft, helpful, and gentle nature.

It’s important to fit a dog into a role that aligns with its nature

Barking/Growling

Barking and growling is something that all guard dogs must be capable of doing. The barking should be at the handler’s discretion 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 a Doberman.

The Verdict: Golden Retrievers are not well suited for attack 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.

Alarm or Watch Dog

Temperament

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

The watchdog is a deterrent by barking and sounding the alarm to any 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 helpful. Many smaller dogs that bark and alert their owners make excellent watchdogs.

However, being larger adds a bit more respect to a barking dog. In addition, 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 valuable 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, when there are 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, which is an added deterrent for a watchdog. 

The Verdict: Golden Retrievers have great potential as watchdogs in homes. The Golden’s loud bark, growls, and medium to large size are excellent for alerting homeowners and deterring potential intruders. However, a more intimidating dog breed may be better suited as a deterrent for formal security services, such as for businesses.

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

Protection Dog

Temperament

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

Consider what the American Kennel Club outlines as the breed standard for the Golden Retriever’s temperament:

“Friendly, reliable, and trustworthy. Quarrelsomeness or hostility towards other dogs or people in normal situations, or an unwarranted show of timidity or nervousness, is not in keeping with the Golden Retriever character. Such actions should be penalized according to their significance.”

Source

So, that being said, why would anyone want to train a Golden Retriever to be threatening to strangers, which is contrary to their gentle nature? If protection is your goal for your home and family, then there are better-fitted dogs for that role.

Consider this article in Readers Digest, which lists the 21 Best Guard Dog Breeds for Family Protection. Any of those would be better suited as protection dogs. And notably, you will notice the Golden Retriever is noticeably absent from that list. Why?

Because according to Gina DiNardo, executive secretary at the American Kennel Club (AKC), guard dogs have a protective instinct for their families, honed over hundreds of years, and they will bite or otherwise defend against threats.

And, does that sound like a Golden Retriever to you?

Size

While bigger is better in terms of protection, the Golden Retriever’s medium to large size can be a suitable deterrent. However, 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 intelligent 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?

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

Hold Up. Do you need a dog training program for your Golden Retriever? I bought and compared some of the most popular online dog training programs to determine the best ones. You can read my review and recommendations here: Online Dog Training Programs: These Are The Ones To Buy

Barking/Growling

Barking and growling are warnings and deterrents. It’s a message that says, “I’m here, and you best be mindful of coming in here.”

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 of potential threats, the Golden Retriever’s barking could be helpful.

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

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.

They also 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 lion. 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 a cougar attack.

Or, watch this video on Sadie, another Golden Retriever who fought off an intruder. Although her owner said it was uncharacteristic, Sadie showed “protection dog” behavior. So, it shows that 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. 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. So generalizing a few dogs’ heroic acts or defensive actions 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 reasons, not because they expect the dog to guard the home and protect them from intruders. Instead, it’s because they’re so friendly and loving. 

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 an attack, 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, the Golden Retriever is not the best pick.

No, guard dog, it is not. The Golden Retriever is a lover, not a fighter! Woof-woof!


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