I’m curious to know what breeds of dogs are recommended by SurvivalBlog readers. I’d like to hear your opinion on the ideal the “All-Around Retreat Dog” breed–one that is a good watch dog with a strong sense of territory, loyalty to its masters, distrustful and vociferous when intruders approach, large enough to be taken seriously by intruders, protective when confronted by bears or mountain lions, and alert to poisonous snakes. Ideally, it would also be versatile enough for other responsibilities such as guarding livestock and perhaps killing mice and rats. Secondarily, it would be advantageous to have the same dog be suitable for small game hunting, waterfowl retrieving, and upland game hunting. Yes, I know that meeting all of those requirements is asking a lot. Which breeds come close to meeting all of these needs? I’ll mention three different breeds in this post. But I suspect that you’ll have some other breed suggestions, and/or some more observations about my favorite breeds.
Before I go on, I should mention that I’ve noticed that many people casually use the terms watch dog and guard dog interchangeably. In fact they are two different things: A watch dog is watchful, alert, territorial, and will bark whenever something is amiss. A guard dog, in contrast, has all of the watch dog traits, and it is willing/able to actually attack an intruding human.
Those of you that have read my novel (“Patriots”) will recall that I highlighted the Rhodesian Ridgeback breed. This member of the hound family was originally bred in Africa for hunting lions. The Ridgeback has some unusual characteristics: They are known for their propensity for tree-climbing. They are also known for their excellent sense of smell and tracking/trailing ability. They have an unusual band of fur that runs up their spine that has a “grain” that runs in the opposite direction as the rest of the fur on their backs. (Hence the name “Ridgeback.”) They are known as fearless hunters, and highly territorial guard dogs. The drawbacks to the breed are that they tend to be “one man dogs” and do not always bond well with all of the members of a family. They also have tendencies toward both congenital hip dysplasia and less often, dermoid sinus. So make sure you get a written health guarantee from the breeder on both of those points.
There are several other varieties of hounds that might be suitable as an “all-in-one” breed for a retreat dog. Hounds tend to be intelligent but unfortunately they also tend to wander.
I’ve never owned one, but the original Standard (full size) Poodle is highly recommended as an exceptionally versatile breed: retriever, pointer, companion, and watch dog, all in one. The “Pudel” was originally bred in central Europe as bird hunting dog. If you keep their fur uniformly trimmed short they won’t look prissy like their kleine Toy Poodle cousins. In fact, with a short “hunting” haircut most folks won’t even recognize the dog as a Poodle.
The Airedale is the largest breed in the Terrier family. Airedales are another breed known for their versatility. One particular attribute is their tremendous loyalty. One of our neighbors in our old stomping grounds–up in the wilds of north-central Idaho had a much-celebrated Airedale named Lochsa Louie. Louie was famous for defending the children of his owners from mountain lion and bear attacks. Louie eventually died of wounds received in one such incident and was soon replaced by Lochsa Louie II, who came from the same breeder. (There was copious newspaper ink spilled on this dog. Louie was so famous that they named a saloon after him. Or was it was the other way around?)
Before you select a dog breed, you should check your library for a copy of the book “The Right Dog for You” by Daniel F. Tortora. Inexpensive used copies of this book is also available from Amazon.com. This book is excellent because it rates the various breeds in sixteen temperament “dimensions” including:
Dominance/Submissiveness to humans
Dominance/Submissiveness other dogs
Watch Dog Ability
Guard Dog Ability
BTW, it is not always best to select the most intelligent breeds. This is because the most intelligent dog breeds tend to try to solve problems. If left alone, for example, they will often become escape artists–finding clever ways to climb over fences, open gate latches, or dig tunnels under fences.
Lastly, don’t forget to consider the types of weeds and grasses that are common at your retreat. If there are lots of foxtails and other weeds that get caught is dog’s coat then you should probably consider a short-haired breed.