Are Your Dogs Part of Your Home-Defense Plan?

home defense dogs

U.S. Department of Justice concluded that “On average, burglarized houses are less likely to have dogs than are non-burglarized houses, suggesting that dog ownership is a substantial deterrent.” Photo: author

If you are reading articles here on the Personal Defense Network, you have probably made some home-defense plans. Have you thought about how your pets play into your home-defense plan in the case of an imminent home invasion?

Your pets should definitely be included in your home-defense plan. While your dogs may not be high-level personal-protection dogs, they can still serve as good deterrents for a would-be intruder. In my case, I have two dogs who are like my kids (who am I kidding, they are my kids) and I love them like my two non-furry daughters, so I have formulated a plan that includes them. Obviously, my main priorities are my two daughters and my wife, and they take precedence over the dogs, but the dogs are still part of our home-defense plan and help dictate some of the tactics I choose to think about and potentially use in an imminent home invasion.


First let me make a distinction. This article is for readers who have dogs that serve as companions, not for folks who train or plan on training a dog to bite for protection. While I think having a protection- or bite-trained dog is a great idea, that group is a much smaller and generally insignificant subset group of the larger group of dog owners in the U.S. It is estimated that over 60 million American households have at least one dog.

If you have a dog and make statements to your friends and family such as, “If someone breaks into our home, [insert dog’s name here] will attack them,” you should talk to some dog-training experts so you can re-evaluate those ideas. That thinking is akin to people who carry guns but don’t train and feel the gun is a talisman that wards off evil. But in reality it is just a tool — you are (or are not) the weapon. You won’t rise to the occasion, and neither will your dog.

While I understand that dogs are domesticated animals that can be unpredictable, and it is possible for a loving pet to bite unsolicited, there is a major difference between a dog that will bite and the few dogs that are trained properly and have the confidence to bite and stay latched on while a bad guy is striking the dog, trying to get them to detach. There is also a difference between a dog that bites out of fear and a protection/bite-trained dog. You may not have noticed this, but properly trained bite dogs enjoy what they do (i.e., biting). They wag their tails because they are working toward getting a reward, like a ball. It is a common misunderstanding that these dogs are mean, and even some dog people are scared of them because they think bite dogs are unstable. This couldn’t be further from the truth. Bite dogs are some of the most well-adjusted, albeit high energy and confident, dogs in existence.

bite dog

Vast majority of dogs do not have the drive, confidence, and nerves required to be personal-protection dogs. Photo: Fuzzypants Photography

Many years ago, I took my Dogo Argentino, Capone, to my good friend, Nick White, owner of Off-Leash K9 Training. I asked him about getting Capone protection trained when we were done with the Basic and Advanced training package. I will never forget his response: “Will your dog stay latched on when someone reaches back and punches him in the face as hard as he physically can? The vast majority of dogs, probably 98 to 99%, do not have the drive, confidence, and nerves it takes to be a personal-protection dog. Most pet dogs that may bite out of fear, prey drive, or aggression would mostly crumble with a combative person.” His point was well received and, as I went through the training with my dog, I continued to learn more about this. While Capone turned into an obedient off-leash machine, bite work was not for him.


Another modality to understand is that of the officer(s) responding to your 911 call that someone is in your home. Let’s play a little visualization game and imagine you work for your local PD and are responding to an armed break-in call from a homeowner. You pull up in the driveway, enter through a front door that has been kicked in, and the only things you know are the homeowners are barricaded in an upstairs bedroom and an armed criminal is in the home. As you enter the doorway, a dog emerges from the kitchen area barking and growling.

Let me preface the next few sentences with the understanding that the dog may not be aggressive at all and the barking could represent several different things. But in that moment, whose life matters more? Yours or the dog’s? The dog may or may not be harmless. Let’s say you continue to go through your SOPs for room entry and clearing and disregard the dog, at which time the dog charges and starts to bite you. As you are fighting off the dog, the intruder enters the room, sees you (an LEO), raises his gun at you, and starts firing. Go back and think about that question again: “In that moment, whose life matters more? Yours or the dog’s?”

Many jurisdictions have policies and/or SOPs in place for situations like this, and they state to shoot the dog. I am not here to argue that policy, just to help you and your family – dogs and other pets included — lead a safer life. While many jurisdictions are actively seeking to learn more about this topic and revise their polices, as well as creating and/or revising the use-of-force continuums for dealing with dogs, it is important to understand the following: “If an officer is in reasonable fear of serious bodily injury or death, then deadly force is warranted, even if no other force options have been employed.”

In Brown vs. Battle Creek Police Department, December 2016, the United States Court of Appeals, 6th Circuit Court ruled and agreed with a lower court ruling, siding with the police officers. “The standard we set out today is that a police officer’s use of deadly force against a dog while executing a warrant to search a home for illegal drug activity is reasonable under the Fourth Amendment when, given the totality of the circumstances and viewed from the perspective of an objectively reasonable officer, the dog poses an imminent threat to the officer’s safety,” Judge Eric Clay wrote in the court’s opinion.

Furthermore, BCPD had the following relevant policy in effect at the time of the incident in question: “Vicious Dog, defined: An animal of the Canis familiaris species which, when either unmuzzled or unleashed, or when not confined to the premises of the owner, menaces a person in a manner which an ordinary and reasonable person would conclude to be an apparent attitude of attack.” (R. 61-3, Policy on Response to Resistance and Firearms, Page ID# 1−2.)

These polices and rulings are important information to understand and will help you place your dogs in your family’s home-defense plan. The intention of this article is to get you thinking about how to make your family, including pets, safer. Since I cannot cover all the possibilities, I describe one of the plausible responses to a home invasion in the scenario below. What are your plausible scenarios and responses?


Before we get to the scenario, let’s review the fundamentals of home-defense tactics that you have likely read about here on PDN and that we teach in our Fundamentals of Home-Defense Handguns course.

home defense fundamentalsWith these fundamental home-defense tactics in mind, let me explain my scenario and plan regarding a home invasion that would occur at night while my family is at home and upstairs and/or in bed. I describe it in detail to encourage you to make your home-defense plans in equal detail, and then practice them.


We live in a three-story home on a private wooded 1.25-acre lot. Entry is made through the middle floor of the home. All three bedrooms are on the third floor and accessed by one stairwell in the front of the home. At the top of the stairs, two doors are on the left. Those are our daughters’ rooms — our youngest is first on the left, then our oldest. Across from our oldest daughter’s room is the master bedroom doorway, and working back toward the stairwell is a shared bathroom entry door. Entering that door to the bathroom, there is a door on the left that leads into the master bedroom. So the bathroom can be accessed from the hallway and/or through the master bedroom. (Yes, I know what you’re thinking… there is only one bathroom and I live with three females. )

We keep the bathroom door in the master bedroom shut, so our oldest can use the bathroom at night and not disturb my wife and me, or the sleeping dogs.

In the case of a home invasion, our plan involves splitting up the responsibilities while keeping in mind the natural maternal instinct to run toward the kids. Of course we have in place many resistive layers the bad actor would have to get through and/or set off to gain access, including a security system with door/window contacts and horn, motion-activated lights both inside and out, a motion-activated chime when anyone gets within 25 feet of our door or garage, and the attentiveness and alertness of our dogs.

home invasion

Design your home-defense plan around your home’s strengths and weaknesses. Photo: author

Obviously the context is different than a surprise attack on the street. Not to say it can’t happen, but we have taken steps to limit those possibilities when in the home. By the time the bad actor gains access to the home and can penetrate those layers, hopefully we have been alerted well before someone could climb the stairs to our location.


At the point when one of those layers alerts us someone is trying to gain unauthorized access to our home or we hear the front door being kicked in, we would put the following plan into action. I would retrieve one of our defensive pistols from a quick-access safe on the nightstand and then usher the dogs into the bathroom, while making sure to lock the hallway door from the inside and shut the other bathroom door from the master bedroom.

My wife would go to the bedroom of our youngest daughter, closest to the stairs, to grab her from her crib. She would then enter the hallway, turn left and go into our oldest daughter’s room. She would wake her and get her in the corner of her room and barricade 90 degrees off line from the point of entry to the room. Based on the practice runs we have done, I would be exiting the master bedroom into the hallway and going straight across into the same room moments later. I would lock the door behind me and take a defensive stance in front of my family, again 90 degrees off line from the point of entry and at least two arms’ length from the door.

Depending on the status of the kids, either my wife or I (whoever is less task loaded at the time) would call 911. Ideally it would be my wife, since I would need to have most of my attention on the door and taking in the sounds coming from other parts of the house. But the reality is, with two children under the age of five, it may not be possible, since she would have to keep them quiet and barricaded in place behind me. We have both practiced the 911 call and prescribe to the WWADD mentioned earlier.

home floor plan

Understand your home’s layout, its deficiencies, and the best place to barricade.
(Click on image to enlarge.)


For the purposes of this article, it wouldn’t matter if I were forced to defend my family by shooting the perp, or if they never came upstairs, as this article is about the safety of the dogs. Let’s move ahead to when law enforcement arrives on scene and enters the home to do a sweep for perps and to make an arrest. During the “contact” phase discussed above, WWADD was implemented. The fourth letter stands for “description of you.” That means the collective you, including all authorized persons in the home at the time, to possibly include guests, and to undoubtedly include dogs and their location in the home. The 911 call may sound something like this:

  • 911: 911, what’s your emergency?
  • Me/Wife: We have a break in/home invasion at 1234 Street Road, Manassas, Virginia. We are currently armed and barricaded in the northwesternmost bedroom on the top floor of the home, last door on the left in the upstairs hallway with the door locked. We have two friendly family dogs locked in the upstairs bathroom, which is the first door on the right as you get to the top of the stairs. (Describe what family members look like — size/age/clothing, etc.) I believe two perpetrators are in the home and I am not sure if they are armed or not. (If I have had to shoot, I would give a description of the perp.)

Locking the dogs in the bathroom gives responding officers a better chance of success when they enter the home because there is less noise and confusion. Not only does it ensure more safety for the officers by giving them the ability to focus on clearing the home efficiently, but it also hopefully keeps the dogs out of harm’s way from the criminals in the home and from law enforcement. It also makes things slightly less complicated for the family when trying to stay quiet and alert in the barricaded room. Especially considering the perp(s) may try to breech the barricaded location, the last thing you want to do is have a barking dog draw unwanted attention to your exact location, if it is unknown. The longer it takes for the invaders to find you, the more time law enforcement has to respond to your call.

Get educated, get quality training, formulate a plan, and practice it. Make sure you get the whole family involved in your dry runs so everyone knows how to respond, even the dogs. Stay safe, folks!

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30 Responses to “Are Your Dogs Part of Your Home-Defense Plan?”

  1. Christina W Vensel

    Glad you wrote this. I’d like to get a dog, mostly as an alarm of something unusual. Thanks for the info on protecting them as well.

  2. connie

    i’ve always worked at training my furry friends to be silent and not alert the intruder to their presence, just me, once the jerks come in it’s “playtime” and they are free to have them for lunch. however they are also voice trained to disengage on command and depending on the status of the intruders either go to their crates or come to me so they present no threat to Leo’s. presently i have 2 female pits ands a 22 tear old chiweenie whose a real noisermaker all by hinself.

  3. Tracy

    We have dogs for that purpose, as the first line of defense. Having 2 large longhaired German Shepherds, an older Dane and a yappy 3lb Chihuahua as our wonderful alert systems,I’ve always wondered about the chaos that would take place during a home invasion. I never thought about the bathroom or a closet for their safety. Your article shined a light on our home situation. Many thanks.

  4. carlelwoodsr

    Many good points in the article !!
    A few points to add. Keep old cell phones or get a few inactive cell phones, be sure they can hold a charge and keep them charged. Place these cell phones is your retreat – hiding areas to be able to call 911. Even though they are not active you can still call 911 on them. Things happen so fast you may not be able to grab you active phone to take with you into your retreat-hiding place.

  5. Mark Stowell

    Very good information and several things I never thought of, we have a small dog and a Great Pyr/ Anatolian Sheppard mix that normally stays with us in a threat and is very vocal.

  6. retiredcop

    Before my retirement and having to work some nights, I trained a German shepherd to not bark at an intruder, but alert us by growling in a low manner. After that if the intruder persisted the GSD attacked. He did not go for an arm or leg, but the body or his preference was the face or throat. He was raised with our children and my wife, and would have given his life with no cowardice despite the pain to himself. I lost him to cancer at the age of 11, and up to his illness he was a force of nature when he perceived a threat to his family.

  7. mattblum

    Like most people who have companion dogs, I love them like children. However, my assumption is that someone that is serious enough to break into my house is probably going to neutralize the dogs. They will be making a racket. I will know that something is happening. Which by the way will put me in fear of my life. It is my personal hope that I never have to experience that fear or the consequences.

  8. pmkringiv

    Size of the fight in the dog and all that. We have 5 Weenie Dawgs and while they certainly do not strike fear in anyone’s heart they do make A BUNCH of NOISE. That for me is piece of mind for day and night time at my house. When my badger dawgs get to raising cain at whatever is outside we can all tell if they barking at another animal like they are right now as I write or if it’s kids outside or if they are alerting us to something more dangerous as they have more than once.

  9. Fred Fawcett

    I’ve owned dogs all my life. Love my dogs like family. My current friend is a large male German Shepherd. I have no doubt that he’d step up to the plate if an intruder came into the house. He’s the best alarm possible. The sound of a pear or Apple falling off the tree out back is enough to get him from deep sleep to ready for trouble. That said, I don’t want my dog doing anything more than alerting me and giving me the few extra seconds to prepare to respond myself. The last thing I want is my good friend getting injured or worse. You can’t replace a loved one.

  10. steve g shockley

    The house across the street was burglerized,and the house across the alley has been burglarized twice,the last time they used mace on the guy’s dogs.I question putting my pets in harm’s way ,being around the DFW area the cops will shoot anything on 4 legs that barks.

  11. Maria

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  12. Vic vapor

    a lot of thought went into the plan –
    …I would shave some steps and
    keep the dogs with your family,
    and if the bedroom is to be your fortress,
    add a video cam and monitor so you are not sitting there not knowing if someone is preparing to breach your probably unfortified

    • idstraining

      If we crossed the hall with the dogs that could end up taking longer and also prove problematic because they would go towards the sounds and would be loose. Leashing them and moving, again would add time that may not be afforded. With my layout and floorplan, the bathroom containment is the best option.

      We actually recommend that you use an exterior or at a minimum a solid core door with upgraded hardware, minimum 3″ deck screws at hinge screw hole locations and strike plate locations. Having a camera system or at least a wifi camera for that hallway is also an option. In my case those considerations have been thought out and implemented.

      • Vic vapor

        well then,
        you will be standing there stoically and victorious coolly phoning authorities of your plight,
        while your poooor pooches that you made sound like integral members of your family unit
        are relegated to bathroom containment.

    • Paul

      I agree with keeping the dogs with the family members. Perps are going to tend to stay clear of dogs as they won’t want to be bitten. Furthermore, even if the dogs aren’t trained, their bark will deter invaders from wanting to take a chance that the dog may be trained and will tear them a new butt hole if they go into that room.

  13. David

    Very informative. I experienced this once before with a suicidal family member and a dog at home that was not trained but protective of that person. Luckily everything turned out as best could be expected.

  14. Charles Bailey

    Finally, someone telling people to barricade rater than go looking for the perps. Thanks

  15. nancy bennett

    Great information. I think our dog’s size and bark, at the front door or in the back yard, deters unwanted visitors. But I had not fully considered how to handle him if we were indeed invaded. Another good factor to consider and plan. Certainly alerting the responding officers is required.

  16. Gary Vick

    I agree with what you say in your article, but have a suggestion. I would state, “we have a break in/home invasion IN PROGRESS”. As a retired sworn law enforcement officer with over 25 years of experience, I can assure you that the words IN PROGRESS step up the urgency for the responding department and officers.

    • II GUN

      I’m lucky because I possess extensive training in electronic and multi-layer security. Dog’s are in the top deterrent’s to would be criminals. My dog’s are part of my protection alert system. 3 Doberman’s and a Chihuahua (my yapper) and the one that has the most acute hearing of them all. Three entrances, two with solid core exterior doors and more importantly steel security doors. Key locked dead bolts in all four doors. The 3rd is a glass slider rear of the home. Two Doberman’s sleep in front of the sliders, curtain remains 1/2 open at night so the dogs have a view of the rear of the home outside and in. The 3rd Doberman sleeps in front of the side door entry and the Yapper is in my son’s room at night. The weakest point is the slider and why two dogs are staged there at night and would be easily alerted to anyone or thing in the back yard. The neighbor has 13 feral cat’s and occasionally one dummy will climb my 6′ fence and wonder into the backyard. At 3 a.m. (or whenever) I am awakened by vicious barking so my alert system is always active. I have hidden motion yard sensors and motion activated flood lights placed around the yard and home. A bad guy(s) would have to climb or cut a heavy gage 6′ ‘no climb’ fence first to get into my yard and would trip a sensor 1st before even getting close to the house. A bad guy(s) would “really have to want” to break into my home to ignore the many beware of dog & home security system signs and flood lights turning on. There are much easier targets in my area.. If you do not know what security layering is you can google it. It’s not expensive to protect yourself starting from your street and neighbors properties. The most important part of layering is to detect someone’s presence before they even get close to your home which in turn buys you the much needed “time” to prepare for a breach, call 911 etc..