When it comes to watchdogs, I’ve always thought bigger is better. Something the size of Barney the Dinosaur except with much more bite.
So what’s this about a Chihuahua making the Top 10 list for watchdogs? And a poodle? Aren’t poodles just for folks who want their pets in silly looking costumes?
Not so, says Stanley Coren, who teaches psychology at the University of British Columbia in Canada and is author of “The Intelligence of Dogs.”
In an American-Canadian survey of top dog trainers, Coren has come up with a list of the best watchdogs and the best guard dogs for the home.
If you’re like me, you didn’t know there was a difference between the two. Turns out it’s huge.
A watchdog is one you want to alert you if there’s a stranger in the house--like someone with your VCR under an arm just before dawn. A guard dog is one you expect to have the burglar knocked to the ground, then is sitting on the culprit’s chest when the police arrive.
Dolores Keyes, general manager of the Coastal Animal Services Center in San Clemente, puts it this way: “A watchdog is like one of the family. A guard dog is there to perform a specific task.”
If you’re trying to decide between the two, Coren and the experts I interviewed all recommend the watchdog.
“You want a guard dog to attack a burglar but not your Aunt Lilly on her first visit,” Keyes said. “Don’t go for a guard dog unless you are serious about training it.”
Those of you devoted to your dogs may not want to hear this, but Canada’s Coren recommends against guard dogs because too often dogs just aren’t, well, very intelligent.
“Dogs don’t have the intelligence at times to decipher what is a true threat and what is not a true threat,” he states in his book.
So if it’s a watchdog you’re after, who tops the list in Coren’s survey?
The Rottweiler. But it also ranks third on the top guard dog list, depending on training.
The Rottweiler appears fierce enough and barks loud enough that it would scare off most burglars. But many surveyed by Coren added Rottweilers to the guard dog list because, he says, “they have the bite strength of 2,000 pounds per square inch, a lethal weapon.”
Rottweilers usually make the news around here when they’ve bitten a child. But Rottweilers have a heroic history as working dogs. They were used in World War II to carry machine gun carts and were smart enough to lie close to the ground so gunners could fire the machine guns over their heads.
But dog trainer Paul Goduti of Orange, owner of Canine Co-Operation, warns that Rottweilers don’t work well in the home unless they can socialize as puppies with both people and other dogs.
“It’s like a police officer,” Goduti said. “A police officer who doesn’t like people wouldn’t be very effective. The same for a Rottweiler.”
Others on the watchdog list, in order from the top: German shepherd, Scottish terrier, West Highland white terrier, miniature schnauzer, Yorkshire terrier, Cairn terrier, Chihuahua, Airedale and the poodle, either standard or miniature.
The terriers, the Chihuahua and the poodles certainly didn’t make the list on their strength.
“You want a dog that’s a yapper,” said Rich Dressler, a professional dog trainer from Orange, “a dog that’s a good burglar alarm, someone who will just alert you, ‘Hey, something’s up.’ ”
Terriers are known for loyalty to their owners and can become excited at anything that might threaten its tranquil environment. In general, the small dogs on the list are preferable to some because besides being a watchdog, they will cuddle and sit on your lap. And they won’t scare off Aunt Lilly.
Another reason most of these dogs made the Top 10: They’re terrific smellers.
“Most of them can smell an intruder when he’s in the front yard,” Goduti said. “They’re barking their heads off before he’s even through the door.”
If you feel compelled to go for a guard dog, however, and you’re willing to train it, here’s the Top 10, in order: bull mastiff, Doberman pinscher, Rottweiler, komondor, puli, giant schnauzer, German shepherd, Rhodesian ridgeback, Kuvasz and American Staffordshire terrier.
But several experts told me that not all dogs of this type will suit your needs. It depends on their ancestry. Goduti said if the police were to bring him 10 German shepherds to train as police dogs, probably six of them would wash out for lack of good breeding.
“Don’t buy any protection dog without getting at least two opinions about it first,” Goduti said.
Keep in mind Coren’s Top 10s were a survey of experts, not necessarily a scientific list. When a German shepherd trainer from Virginia learned about Coren’s list, he called the bull mastiff “a big goofball.”
Whether you disagree about which would make the best protection dogs, at least heed advice about which dogs won’t do you any good at all. Unfortunately, my own personal favorite, the bloodhound, tops the list.
Coren says about the only way a bloodhound will stop a burglar is if you “have it sleep across the doorway and a burglar trips over it.”
Other softies, in order of the worst: Newfoundland, Saint Bernard, basset hound, and yes, the bulldog.
Which shows how little I know. I’ve always been afraid of bulldogs. Not enough stamina or even interest in strangers, I’m told.
The Labrador retriever didn’t make Coren’s Worst 10 list. But that was the dog almost everyone I interviewed mentioned first as the worst watchdog.
“Labradors just love everybody, even burglars,” Dressler said. “They don’t recognize a threat.”
The best line I heard on Labs comes from Joan Watsky, owner of Sit and Stay Dog Training in Rutherford, N.J.: “A Labrador will welcome in the burglars and then show them what they forgot.”
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Put Up Your Paws!
Trying to figure out what kind of dog would do the best job of protecting your home? A large St. Bernard, maybe? Think again: according to dog experts, you’re better off with a poodle. Experts differentiate between two types of “protective” dogs: guard dogs that will attack if there’s an intruder and watch dogs that alert you when there’s a problem. The very worst watchdog, according to local experts? The Labrador Retriever.
TOP WATCH DOGS:
2. German shepherd
3. Scottish terrier
4. West Highland white terrier
5. Miniature schnauzer
6. Yorkshire terrier
7. Cairn terrier
9. Airedale terrier
WORST WATCH DOGS
3. St. Bernard
4. Basset hound
TOP GUARD DOGS:
1. Bull mastiff
2. Doberman pinscher
6. Giant Schnauzer
7. German shepard
8. Rhodesian Ridgeback
10. American Staffordshire Terrier
Source: Dr. Stanley Coren, author of “The Intelligence of Dogs.” Based on survey of top dog-training experts.