The dog is in no danger of losing its reputation as man's best
friend, but modern burglar alarms are giving Fido a run for his
money in the field of home protection.
Many law enforcement and security professionals view watchdogs
as less effective than electronic security systems. The automated
systems may not be able to play fetch or sit in your lap when you
watch TV, but they can provide 24/7 surveillance at the flip of a
switch. With add-ons like multiple motion sensors and security
cameras, they appeal to homeowners who want to protect their
possessions without the hassles and responsibilities of pet
"I would say your well-installed alarm probably is better than a
dog," says Sgt. John Delaney, a spokesperson for the police
department in Springfield, Mass. "There are people out there who
break into the house and they steal the dog, too. A lot of dogs, if
they are not Dobermans or German Shepherds that go after strangers,
more than likely will cower in a corner. The alarm company will
never cower away."
Tilting the scale toward alarms
Robert Siciliano, a home-security expert with ADT.com and the
owner of a 70-pound German Shepherd, says a well-trained watchdog
can be a very effective deterrent to intruders when used in
conjunction with an electronic alarm system.
"A dog by itself is good, but a dog with an alarm is much
better," he says. "If I had to choose one, I would probably go with
the alarm system."
The insurance industry is also tilting the scales against Fido
through its underwriting practices. Many companies offer discounts
home insurance rates
when customers install electronic alarms, notes Mario Morales,
manager of corporate underwriting for MetLife Auto & Home.
"Alarm system credits are very common in the industry, the
percentage ranging from 5 percent to as much as 25 percent on your
home insurance premium," Morales says. "It depends on the system
you have. There are some where the alarm sounds locally and some
that are actively monitored or hooked up to signal the police and
fire department. At MetLife, our discounts do go up to the 24
No 'doggie discounts' on home insurance quotes
In contrast, MetLife offers no discounts to homeowners with
watchdogs. Insurers worry that large dogs could become liability
risks by biting neighbors and visitors to the home. Depending on
your dog's breed, a pooch might even raise your
If that isn't worrisome enough, some insurers keep lists of
breeds that are perceived as aggressive and that they will not
insure. Here's more on
home insurance for dog owners
When you use a watchdog for home protection, "you are
introducing a liability risk that would not have existed if you
only had an alarm system," Morales explains.
"The bottom line is that a dog bites, an alarm doesn't," says
Peter Moraga, spokesperson for the Insurance Information Network of
California. "Although we don't have any credible statistics about
the difference in burglaries based on if the home is protected by
an alarm versus a dog, insurers feel it's better for homeowners to
get an alarm. Dogs should be for the family's pleasure."
Dog-bite liability cost U.S. insurers about $413 million in
2010, with the average cost of dog-bite claim exceeding $26,000,
Sol Katz, a dog trainer in Florida, says while dogs definitely
have their place in security work, keeping an aggressive animal
that is capable to repelling an intruder can be risky. He compares
it to leaving a loaded gun on the table. "If you are not paying
attention, it could be a lethal weapon."
Cost comparison: Alarm vs. dog
The field of home security is very competitive. Although an
elaborate security system may cost more than $1,000 to install,
some security companies will install a basic system with motion
detectors for free if you sign up for monthly monitoring.
Most basic packages include a keypad for locking and unlocking
the system, an indoor motion detector and several door monitors.
Advanced systems may include video surveillance, flood and fire
detection, and remote-control access to the system. Monitoring
costs are typically about $1 per day, says Shandon Harbour,
president of SDA Security Systems Inc. in San Diego.
Expect a dog to cost more.
According to the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty
to Animals (ASPCA), the average cost of basic food, supplies,
medical care and training for a dog is between $700 and $875 per
Paying a dollar per day for a security system "is a very low
investment, especially if you are getting a discount from your
homeowners insurance," says Harbour. "A dog needs care and feeding,
walks, vet bills. It is another level of responsibility. For those
who travel quite a bit, that is not a realistic solution. You are
taking a dog to a kennel or you are paying a house sitter. If you
put the dog in a kennel, it removes all of your security."
For some canine advocates, watchdogs are well worth all the
trouble and added expense. In addition to loyalty and
companionship, watchdogs have the advantage of being on the scene
when home break-ins occur. You don't have to wait for an alarm
company dispatcher to call the police, says Richard Weinblatt, a
former police officer and police academy instructor who now works
as a consultant in Orlando, Fla.
Experienced burglars know they have several minutes to complete
their robberies before help arrives if they trip an electronic
alarm, he says. If you have a dog in the home, its response is
"I am not saying I don't like burglar alarms," he says. "I would
pick the dog over the alarm if I had to choose between the two, but
I would rather have both."
There are ways to get the benefits of having a watchdog without
actually owning one, says Weinblatt. For a few bucks you can post
"Beware of Dog" signs around your home. Simply planting the idea in
the mind of a burglar that there may be a dog on the other side of
a door or fence often will lead them to choose another home to rob,
"We hear from time to time of home invasions, but the average,
run-of-the-mill burglar, they want to go where there is nobody
home, and that would include Fido."
Another trick is to get a large bowl, paint an intimidating name
on it like "Spike" and leave it on your front porch, along with a
large choke chain. If you desire more realism, there are burglar
alarms that sound like barking dogs. According to its advertising,
The Rex Plus Barking Dog Alarm "barks just like a real German
Shepherd. The startlingly realistic barking is guaranteed to
frighten off any burglar."
Siciliano says he still prefers the real thing. Alarms may be
more effective, but they won't lick your face when you come