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Often called the Apollo of dogs, Great Danes are very large and can present an imposing figure to intruders. However, Great Danes are also known as gentle giants, which suggests considerably less credibility to their potential guarding abilities.
So, which is it – do Great Danes make good guard dogs or not?
Great Danes are often more effective as watch dogs than guard dogs, but they can certainly be trained to perform as guard dogs that will both identify and neutralize threats to their family members. Plus, their massive size and deep bark are often deterrent enough to keep threats at bay.
In this article, we’ll cover Great Dane traits that make them good guard dogs and excellent watch dogs, plus we’ll share how to train your Great Dane to take on the role of a home protector and a few tips for managing your Great Dane once he’s trained as a guard dog.
What’s the Difference Between a Watch Dog and a Guard Dog?
A watch dog’s primary function is to alert his human to a potential threat by barking, while a guard dog will not only identify and announce the threat but also neutralize it – generally by charging, bluffing, growling, or ultimately biting an attacker or intruder if necessary.
Watch dogs are commonly more integrated into the family unit as pets, while guard dogs are more likely to be regarded as a worker, similar to a bodyguard. However, both watch and guard dogs can make loving family pets with proper training and socialization, and Great Danes specifically will need plenty of family interaction and loving to remain happy and healthy.
Great Danes are generally more bark than bite, so they are usually better suited as watch dogs. But, each Great Dane is different and some are very protective of their family members and will fend off intruders if necessary.
Great Dane Traits That Make Them Good Guard Dogs and Excellent Watch Dogs
Great Danes were originally bred as hunting dogs to hold boars, deer, and even bears in place while hunters killed the beasts. However, with the introduction of guns, many hunting dog breeds were repurposed. Great Danes specifically were subsequently used primarily for guarding.
Although much of their hunting and guarding instincts have been bred out, Great Danes still have many characteristics that make them excellent home guardians:
Great Danes are enormous dogs, commonly measuring between 28 and 32 inches at the shoulder and weighing between 100 and 200 pounds. In fact, the Guinness World Record for tallest dog ever is held by Zeus, a Dane who measured an incredible 44 inches tall at the shoulder.
All of this to say, many intruders or attackers will immediately be discouraged by the sight of a gigantic dog. Their appearance can be quite intimidating, especially for those who aren’t used to being around Great Danes.
Their massive, strong bodies are also attached to massive, strong jaws, which I certainly wouldn’t want to tangle with! I mean, these dogs used to take on bears, for crying out loud.
Great Danes also have an exceptionally deep and loud bark. This can serve the double purpose of alerting you to a threat as well as scaring the heck out of an intruder.
Imagine if someone breaks into your home and a giant black Great Dane melts out of the darkness, barking as if to say “Not today, Satan!” I’m obviously no burglar, but if I saw and heard that, I would turn right around.
Their loud bark is particularly useful if you have a large property, since a Great Dane’s warning can be heard over a significant distance, giving you time to react.
The AKC gives Great Danes a 5 out of 5 score for vigilance, calling them “alert home guardians.” Their vigilance means they are more likely than many other breeds to notice and react to real or perceived threats by alerting their human family members.
You might be thinking, “Why would I want a calm guard dog?!”
Well, because a calm dog — like a Great Dane — is less likely to be reactive and aggressive to every possible “threat” (for instance, a falling leaf, a squirrel 100 yards away, the mailman he sees every day, etc.), and instead be more selective with his alerts. This can prevent a boy-who-cried-wolf scenario (or should I say dog-who-cried-intruder?) where your guard dog is constantly alerting you for no real reason and you therefore don’t heed his barking when an actual threat is present.
A calm temperament will also help prevent your Great Dane guard dog from getting carried away with his duties – he’ll likely be more willing to accept your friends and regular visitors without causing a scene, only whipping out his scary bark in actual emergencies.
Do Well With a Job
Great Danes are part of the AKC’s working group of dogs, which they describe as “large and naturally protective.” Check and check. The breed earns a 4 out of 5 for mental stimulation needs, generally requiring a job or activity to thrive. Watching and/or guarding are both excellent tasks for Great Danes, especially when they are trained specifically for these duties and can practice regularly – more on this later.
Basically, if left to their own devices with nothing to do, Great Danes are more likely to get into mischief. But, if they feel that they are “on the job,” especially when left at home alone, Danes will generally exhibit better behavior.
Loving With Family But Often Reserved With Strangers
Great Danes scored a 5 out of 5 for lovey-doveyness with family but only a 3 out of 5 for openness to strangers, which is actually a good trait for a guard dog. They aren’t so reserved as to make socializing impossible (i.e. having friends your dog doesn’t know over to your house), but they have a healthy bit of skepticism for people they don’t know.
As you can see in this video, the Great Dane sniffs out the intruder at first but doesn’t immediately sound the alarm. However, when the homeowner sees the intruder and screams, the Dane leaps into action, ushering the intruder briskly out the door with his teeth.
This is also perhaps why Great Danes aren’t the best possible option for a guard dog though since if no one had been home to see the guy and scream, the dog might have just minded his own business and let the man steal whatever he’d come for. However, in this instance, he saved the day!
How to Train Your Great Dane to be a Guard Dog
Unfortunately, Great Danes aren’t the brightest crayons in the box. I’m just being honest here.
Other common guard dog breeds like Dobermans, Rottweilers, and German Shepherds all fall into dog intelligence expert Stanley Coren’s “brightest dogs” category, members of which he describes as understanding new commands in fewer than 5 repetitions and obeying on the first command 95% or more of the time.
Great Danes, on the other hand, rely more on brawn than brains, coming in at 48th on the list. And, in fact, there are several multi-way ties so Danes are actually outranked by 87 other breeds. They fall under the “average working/obedience intelligence” category, generally taking 25-40 repetitions of a new command to understand and obeying on the first command only about 50% of the time.
Now, this isn’t to say that Great Danes are untrainable – they certainly are. It’s just going to take a bit more time and patience. That being said, here are a few steps to take when training your Great Dane to be a guard dog:
Early and Often Socialization
Socialization is crucial for Great Danes, both in regular obedience/behavior training as well as guard dog training. Since Danes are protective by nature, they can sometimes develop aggression towards other dogs and people, which isn’t the goal. Rather, you want your Great Dane to be able to tell the difference between a neutral stranger and a threat. I know, it’s a big ask for a dog.
So, starting as early as you can, socialize your Great Dane extensively with a wide variety of people – all races, genders, ages, etc. Great Danes tend to attract a fair bit of attention wherever they go, so this can easily be achieved by going to a public place and asking interested strangers to give your dog a treat to help him practice his meet-and-greet skills.
It’s a great idea to attach a command to this action, like “say hi” or something similar. This way, if someone approaches your home and your Great Dane mistakenly registers them as a threat, you can call him off, then give the “say hi” command so your dog knows the person is a friend.
With proper socialization, your Great Dane will develop a positive association with strangers, which will make it easier to train him later to differentiate between the friendly neighbor and the burglar.
If you are simply training your Great Dane to be a watch dog and to alert you if they see or hear anything suspicious, there’s not a great deal of risk involved. You can train him specifically to bark on command by placing him in a situation where you know he will bark (in sight of a squirrel, for example), giving him a verbal command to bark, and rewarding him with a treat when he does so. Most Great Danes do have a protective instinct and will naturally bark when they feel that something is amiss.
On the other hand, if you are training your Great Dane to guard your home and potentially neutralize a threat with his teeth, you want to be absolutely sure that he will follow your commands to avoid any mishaps.
As such, a super-solid sit, stay, and recall are extremely important. You’ll need to train your Great Dane to react defensively if a threat arises, but to turn off the behavior when you arrive on scene to handle the situation. Or, in an even more nuanced scenario, to physically defend you if you are unable to manage things. A professional guard dog trainer is your best resource if you wish to train your Great Dane to handle advanced situations like these.
However, you can train your Great Dane to scare off intruders by rewarding him when he alerts you to someone approaching your home, and then calling him to you and rewarding him for standing down. Again, the sight and sound of a riled-up Great Dane is often enough to deter nefarious characters.
The bottom line is that your Great Dane must be capable of successful and consistent self-control before you even consider training him as a guard dog. Otherwise, you might end up with an enormous, aggressive, bitey dog who does not tolerate visitors to your home – in other words, a major PITA.
Practice Guarding and Watching Scenarios
Like any other skill or command, your Great Dane will need to practice guarding behavior regularly. Enlist the help of a bold friend that your dog doesn’t know well (or a trainer), and have the person approach your property. When your Dane alerts you to their presence, call him back to you, and then give him the aforementioned “say hi” command (or whatever phrase you chose). Have your visitor give your Dane a treat to reinforce his good behavior.
Training your Great Dane to protect you and your family while you are away from the home, such as if you’re out on a walk, presents another level of sophistication altogether. In this type of scenario, your Dane will need to learn to attack on command and/or when he sees a stranger make an aggressive move. This type of training is best left to very experienced or professional dog trainers, and generally requires the use of a bite sleeve so your Great Dane can actually practice his attack and learn to release on command.
Again, since Great Danes are generally all bark and no bite, this might not be an intuitive behavior for them. That’s good since it means they won’t just bite people willy-nilly, but it can make this type of training a challenge.
Managing Your Great Dane Guard Dog
As I mentioned, Great Danes are very loving towards their families, so they require a great deal of snuggles, playtime, and interaction. If you decide to train your Great Dane to watch or guard, remember that first and foremost, he is a pet. His guarding duties come second, and he should never be chained up in the yard, left alone for extensive amounts of time, or obtained solely for the purpose of guarding. That’s a recipe for creating a neurotic, unhappy, and dangerous dog.
Maintaining a healthy balance between family time and guard training is key to keeping your dog happy and healthy, and for the safety of your family, your dog, and the neighborhood.
Consider the Liability of Having a Great Dane Guard Dog
You know how Bruce Lee said his hands were registered as lethal weapons? Well, you’ll have to consider a similar liability situation with your Great Dane who is trained as a guard dog.
Ensure that your homeowner’s insurance covers potential dog bites. Some insurance companies will charge extra if you own a dog of a certain breed, or if you tell them that your dog is trained to guard.
Additionally, check the laws for where you live in regards to whether you will be held liable if your guard dog ends up biting someone. In some places, the owner is always liable, while in others, the liability might be lifted if the guard dog was provoked (i.e. someone broke into your home).
Unfortunately, dogs have occasionally been taken away from their owners and even euthanized after biting an intruder in a justified situation, because their owners didn’t check the regulations.
You get the idea. Do your research before you start any kind of guard dog training with your Great Dane.
Are Two Great Dane Guard Dogs Better Than One?
They can be! A determined intruder (or especially a group of intruders) may be able to overcome a single Great Dane, but taking on two enormous Danes at once is a much bigger task and deterrent.
You might also consider pairing your Great Dane with a guard dog of another breed – perhaps one that’s more intelligent and has a better success rate with commands. The other dog can then help train your Dane or at least peer pressure him into behaving appropriately.
In almost all cases, however, it’s best to pair your Great Dane with a dog of the opposite gender to prevent any dog aggression or competition. And, it’s a much easier task to get one dog and train him first before adding a second dog to the mix.
Are Great Danes Good as Urban Guard Dogs?
Despite their giant size, Great Danes have relatively moderate exercise needs and can certainly thrive in urban locations and even apartments – just be ready to share your couch with a massive pooch! Young Great Danes should actually be limited to walking and light exercise since their rapidly growing joints are prone to injury, so easy walks in a city setting are perfectly adequate. Plus, Great Danes don’t bark excessively, which means they can be well-suited to living situations where neighbors are close by.
However, keep in mind that some apartment complexes and rental homes will only allow dogs under a certain weight, which Great Danes will surely exceed.
Walking city streets alone can be a nerve-wracking experience, but having a Great Dane guard dog at your side can certainly help alleviate fears!
Great Danes can make excellent watch dogs and good guard dogs, especially with patience, training, and lots of positive reinforcement. A trained Dane can help you feel safer in your home, on city streets, and anywhere you might venture to. However, it’s important to be responsible with managing your dog, secure proper insurance coverage, and research local laws ahead of time.