Loyalty is one of the most desirable traits in any dog, but the level of loyalty demonstrated by different breeds and individuals varies greatly.
My Rottie is amazingly loyal, but I once had a chow mix who wouldn’t have cared if I never came home. He once slipped his leash and disappeared for days – I was astonished when he showed up on the front porch one morning. Of course, it is possible that he wanted to be a really loyal dog, he just didn’t like me.
How Do You Define Loyalty in a Dog?
Merriam-Webster defines the word loyal as unswerving in allegiance. But with respect to dogs, loyalty is probably best thought of as being gravitationally attracted to their pack. Sometimes this can apply more strongly to one member of the pack than others, but other pooches love the entire family more-or-less equally.
Loyalty shouldn’t be confused with separation anxiety, although the two can occur alongside each other. A loyal dog may tolerate their owner’s absence, but she’ll always be ready to join his side, no matter what else is happening. Other “loyal dogs,” however, may tear apart their home if their owner goes to the corner market – this behavior is closer to separation anxiety, and it isn’t healthy for your pooch!
While loyal dogs are often hyper-focused on their person, many are also quite friendly with everyone they meet. But their owner or family will always be at the forefront of their minds, and they’ll quickly demonstrate such through eye contact, body language and behavior.
Encouraging Loyalty in any Breed
Just about any dog can display profound loyalty, including every breed or combination thereof. However, some breeds tend to develop a stronger bond with their owners than others. We’ll detail some of the most notoriously loyal breeds below.
But first, let’s discuss some of the things you can do to help foster loyalty in any dog. A few of the most important tactics and strategies include:
Provide Your Pup with Plenty of Praise
This is not only important during training sessions, but also on a day-to-day basis. Some spontaneous love and affection can go a long way toward deepening the bond you share with your pet and eliciting the loyalty lurking inside most dogs.
Positive reinforcement training, which focuses on rewarding good behavior rather than punishing bad behavior, is a great training strategy to build loyalty and trust between dog and owner. When your dog associates you with good things, rather than bad scary things, your pup is bound to feel bonded to you.
Spend Lots of Time Bonding with Your Pet
The more time and attention you give most dogs, the more loyal they will tend to be. Be sure to establish proper boundaries, and give your pup some alone time whenever she needs it, but try to incorporate her in as much of your life as possible.
Some cities are much more dog friendly than others. For example, in Austin Texas, you can take your dog just about anywhere – from lunch at a café to the bar! Try to know where the dog-friendly establishments are in your town and frequent them regularly so that your dog can spend quality time with you.
Ensure That Your Dog Gets Lots of Exercise
There’s nothing specific about exercise that will make your pup more loyal, but exercise and mental stimulation go a long way toward bringing out the best in most dogs. However, you’ll need to keep your dog’s safety and health in mind when doing so. Know the appropriate amount of exercise your dog needs. Don’t force short-faced breeds to exercise strenuously, and take it easy on young, old or physically challenged pups.
Getting involved in team challenges, like canicross or bikejoring, is a great way to get exercise while bonding with your dog. Regular training is also a powerful way to strengthen the canine/human bond – consider trying agility training or truffle hunting!
Unique training opportunities also give your dog the chance to harness certain skills connected to your dog’s breed (for example, encouraging Retrievers to fetch or herding dogs to herd).
Many dogs are much happier with “jobs,” so think about your dog’s skill set and how you might be able to build on those natural talents. You might even consider shooting for the Canine Good Citizen certification. This kind of training will keep your dog’s mind sharp, alleviate boredom, and build loyalty between you and your canine.
Hand Feed Your Dog
Some trainers are big proponents of hand-feeding your dog to build bonding. This kind of eating intimacy can go a long way to developing trust and loyalty.
Some of the Common Traits of Really Loyal Breeds
Perhaps not surprisingly, many of the most loyal dog breeds feature a similar set of traits and histories. Some of the most noteworthy include:
- Intelligence – Dogs do not need to be intelligent to be loyal, but many of the most intelligent breeds are also among the most loyal and vice versa.
- Protective Instincts – Many loyal breeds have a well-developed protective streak. This may manifest as protective barking at strangers or even placing themselves between you and a perceived threat.
- Sensitivity – Sensitive breeds are often among the most loving and loyal. However, this sensitivity requires that you treat these dogs delicately while still being firm during training. This can be a tricky tight-rope to walk with some of the more dominating sensitive breeds.
- Historically Designed to Work Alongside Humans – Breeders often sought to enhance the loyalty of breeds that were designed to work closely with people, while this trait was not as important for those designed to work on their own. Traditionally, these breeds would include herders, hunting dogs, mushing dogs, etc. This even applies to toy breeds and other lap dogs, for whom “work” consists of sitting on your lap, being cute.
The Ten Most Loyal Breeds
Virtually any dog can demonstrate profound loyalty, but many of the most loyal include the following 10 breeds:
German shepherds are famous for their intelligence and dedication to their handlers, and they are easily among the most loyal breeds in the world. This is why they’re desirable as military or police dogs.
They are gentle with and protective of their families, and they can make great family pets. However, GSDs require consistent, firm training and high amounts of exercise to avoid developing behavioral problems. You can see their inherent loyalty anytime you watch a skilled handler working with his or her shepherd.
Called “bright, fun-loving and upbeat,” by the AKC, Brittanys are a gentle, high-energy breed that are always ready to tag along with their favorite person.
A pointing breed, Brittanys are notable for working more closely with their owners than most other gun dogs. These traits translate very well to family life, as long as they are provided with consistent training and plenty of exercise.
Cavalier King Charles Spaniel
Cavalier King Charles Spaniels were designed to be companions, and clearly, breeders were successful in achieving this goal.
Cavalier Spaniels are essentially living shadows, who follow their people around wherever they go, and they’re constantly looking for the appearance of their favorite thing in the world: your lap. Despite being a small, gentle and low-key breed, they still need a fair bit of exercise – a throwback to their sporting ancestry.
What other breed would run all the way home to tell your parents that you fell down a well?
Jokes aside, collies are one of the world’s most loyal breeds, who desire nothing more than to walk alongside their human (while hopefully getting plenty of love and the occasional treat along the way). Collies are also smart dogs, who take to training quite well. They are a pretty good choice for anyone looking for a long-haired and loyal breed.
Akitas often exhibit a stark dichotomy in their attitude toward their family and strangers. Relaxed and loving when in the company of their pack, Akitas are suspicious of strangers, including unfamiliar children and other dogs.
Akitas were initially bred to guard nobles and other VIPs during the feudal period of Japan (roughly 1185 to 1868), and their fierce loyalty was an important trait of the breed. If you need further convincing of the loyalty of Akitas, simply consider the story of Hachiko – the loyal pup that ventured to the train station every day to meet his returning master, even nine years after his owner had died and never returned home one day.
It should be noted that Akitas are quite stubborn and can be difficult to train, so it takes an experienced dog owner to properly train an Akita or an Akita mix. However, once your bond is developed, you’ll have a loyal friend by your side.
Initially designed to work alongside their owner, helping to catch fish and haul nets, labs love to hang out with their person, particularly if there is a job to do.
Labs are supremely friendly dogs, who make wonderful family pets, but they are a bit rambunctious when young, so you’ll need to keep them well-exercised and begin training them at an early age.
Most Goldens are happy to receive love and affection from anyone inclined to offer it, but they always have a strong bond with their owners. In fact, the combination of their loyalty and gentle, friendly nature leads many to use golden retrievers in therapy contexts, whether alleviating anxiety or assisting soldiers who have returned home with PTSD.
Golden retrievers are one of the best all-around breeds in the world, and they make great pets for families that can provide the space and exercise they need. Plus, many seem to have a perpetual grin on their face, making it hard to be sad when hanging out with a Golden!
Bred to live alongside and protect flocks of sheep (their physical appearance even mimics sheep, to further facilitate the bonding process), Great Pyrenees are intensely loyal to their family, whether that family consists of two-footers or four-footers. Great Pyrenees are not only loyal and gentle, they’re fiercely protective of their pack and have the size to make quite an impression.
Like many other loyal breeds, shelties are sensitive and intelligent. They have worked alongside humans in a variety of contexts, including shepherding and guarding crops from thieves.
Most sheltie owners become lifelong devotees to the breed in only a short time, and love their intelligence and loving nature. However, shelties do present a few challenges, especially as it relates to their long coat, which sheds heavily.
Obviously, I’m completely biased when it comes to this breed, so I’ll just quote the AKC’s description of Rottweilers: “loyal, loving, confident guardian.”
Given their intelligence, sensitivity and territorial nature, it should be no surprise that Rottweilers are a particularly loyal breed. They’re loyalty, strength, and at times intimidating demeanor also means they are frequently employed as guard dogs.
Despite these amazing traits, Rotties are headstrong dogs, who will challenge the leadership of their people. Accordingly, they are not very well-suited for first-time dog owners.
Are you the proud mama or papa of a particularly loyal pup? Tell us all about him or her in the comments below. Also, be sure to make the case for the loyal breeds that didn’t make our top ten list. This is a discussion without any definitive answers, so maybe you’ll cause us to change our minds.