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Known as one of the largest, most imposing breeds in the dog world, the Mastiff has risen to fame in Hollywood, starring in movies such as The Sandlot, Turner and Hooch, and Hotel for Dogs. These large dogs are generally known for being great family pets, bonding heavily with their owners and being overall gentle giants. Though for those with a bit more work for their pet in mind, the Mastiff has also found benefits in its hefty appearance.
Though there is a misconception about what constitutes a dog that does guard work, protection work, attack work, and watch work, most families who are looking for a “guard dog”, want a pet that can keep an eye on things in the home and scare away potential intruders. For that purpose, these methods are meant to assist your dog in becoming the household guardian, rather than a dog that can cause potential harm.
Having a Mastiff as a guard dog means drawing a fine line between what is your dog’s responsibility and what isn’t. Knowledgeable dog owners should expect their Mastiff to be able to patrol the property, alert the owner to potential dangers, and present himself threateningly in order to ward off intruders. Things like attacking, biting, and lunging should not be in this list of behaviors if your dog is also meant to be a family pet. Attack dogs and children rarely mix well.
If you still wish to pursue the path of raising a guard Mastiff, then you’ll want to start working as soon as you bring your dog into your home. The basics of the training can be picked up in about three to six months, but you can always take longer to teach more complex routines and obedience commands if you’d like.
Once you’ve made sure you want to continue with guard work, get together some treats to use as small rewards. You will want your dog to eventually begin to do these behaviors out of habit rather than for a reward, so you won’t want to encourage too much reliance on them. You’ll also want to use a leash during the beginning stages of training to keep him focused and on task. The last thing you’ll need - and most important - is a secure yard, whether it be the front or backyard. The fence should be tall enough to not allow for jumping over, should have a secure door with a lock, and should discourage digging around the bottom of it.
The Obedience Method
Establish a foundation
Teach the obedience basics. You’ll want your Mastiff to be familiar with listening to you at all times.
Determine a release word
Find a word where you can ‘release’ your dog to run around and do as he pleases instead of being focused. This word can be ‘okay’, or ‘all done’. Whatever works for you is good, just be consistent.
Work on control
Your dog should know how to control his weight and power. If he plays too rough, this is a sign that he needs to learn limits. Encourage calmness and play that is not overzealous.
Separate work and play
Even with your release word in place, don’t expect to go from alert-mode to a game of fetch in an instant. Take time in between training sessions and play time to differentiate the activity.
Practice on and off-leash etiquette
Work on ‘heel’ while your dog is on leash and slowly work towards perfecting an off-leash ‘heel’ where he takes his place at your side and walks with you.
The Alert Method
Teach the ‘speak’
If your dog doesn’t bark, alerting might not be for him. Find a time when he is barking and reward while using a verbal command such as ‘speak’, ‘bark’, or any other phrase you choose.
Watch for strangers
Take your Mastiff to a place where he can watch people passing by, whether it’s the front yard or inside the home.
Ask for the command
Ask for a ‘speak’ whenever a stranger passes your property, making sure he notices the person. This barking should continue until you ask for a ‘quiet’.
Offer a treat for responding to both the ‘speak’ command and the ‘quiet’ command.
Practice indoors and outdoors
Ask your dog to ‘speak’ when he sees a stranger both indoors and outdoors. Do this on a regular basis until he forms the habit of doing it even when you’re not immediately nearby.
The Patrol Method
Create your dog’s territory
Determine where your dog will patrol, whether it’s in the front or backyard and ensure the household knows that that is where he will stay when he is keeping an eye on things.
Walk the perimeter
With your Mastiff on-leash, take him for a walk along the edge of the territory you’ve established. Do this several times a day.
Use your alert when necessary
As you’re walking along the perimeter, ask for your dog’s alert whenever someone is nearby.
Establish a habit
This patrolling should be done several times a day. Practice on-leash until you can walk with your dog off-leash as well. Eventually, remove yourself from the equation and allow him to continue this patrol on his own.
Remember that having any kind of dog that exhibits traits that can be seen as aggressive can be an invitation for others to make judgments. If your dog ever causes harm, escapes his territory, or causes an incident, you should be ready to handle the consequences at all times. Be a responsible dog owner and educate others on his training when possible.
By TJ Trevino
Published: 04/13/2018, edited: 01/08/2021