People get dogs for a variety of reasons. Some want a lap warmer, while others want a companion for their kids.
Still others are looking for a running companion, and a few want their dog to perform some type of work- or hunting-related task.
Many people choose to get a dog for protection. In exchange for a warm place to sleep, a belly kept full, and some regular haunch scratching, these owners expect their dog to protect them from nefarious types.
For most owners, what they really want is a scary-looking dog — a pup that can keep strangers or unwanted guests away. Below, we’ll share some of the scariest dog breeds around!
Protection Dogs Vs. Dogs That Provide Protection
True protection dogs are exquisitely trained (read: expensive) four-footers, who can be taught to physically intervene against an attacker.
Such dogs are trained to use all of the tools at their disposal (strong jaws, bone-crushing teeth, and powerful neck muscles) to stop an attack; some even received specialized training and learn how to restrain assailants until help arrives.
These kinds of dogs are used by K9 police officers, military units, potential kidnapping targets and others who may expect potential danger around every turn. But most people do not need or want such a powerful and potentially dangerous companion at their side – most simply need a dog as a form of deterrence.
Videos like the one below show just how well-trained true protection dogs can be, but this isn’t what most owners have in mind when they’re considering a dog for added security.
Just about any big dog will make the average criminal think twice – many bad guys will even avoid confrontations with small dogs, given their predilection to bark incessantly at any perceived threat.
Because of this, most average people are probably better served by acquiring an intimidating or scary-looking dog breed, who has been trained in basic obedience and little more.
The Scariest Dog Breed: What Makes a Dog Scary or Intimidating?
Few trouble makers are going to try to identify your dog’s breed while sizing you up as a potential target. Rather, they are likely to note a few key characteristics when deciding his or her next move.
Most intimidating dogs exhibit the following characteristics:
In this case, bigger is definitively better. Most scary dog breeds are, in fact, big ‘ol pups.
A 50-pound pit bull can be incredibly intimidating, while exposing his teeth, emitting one of the scariest barks in the world, and lunging at you. But a 200-pound Great Dane barely has to look at you to tighten your sphincter.
Some empirical data demonstrates that black dogs are more intimidating than those of other colors. The reasons for this aren’t entirely clear, but it may have something to do with the use of Rottweilers, Doberman pinchers, German pinchers, and similar, predominately black breeds in security, guarding, and attack contexts.
However, it is important to remember that this is only one component of the overall intimidation factor of a given breed. Is a 175-pound Great Pyrenees more intimidating than a 95-pound Doberman? It depends on the mind of the person giving you the willies.
Things like a blocky head, large mouth, and broad shoulders tend to make a dog look more intimidating.
Consider, for example, pit bulls – one of the smallest breeds to make our list below. Part of the reason these dogs appear so intimidating (aside from the myths surrounding the breed) is the combination of their square heads, big ‘ol mouths, and shoulders that look strong enough to do one-armed pushups.
A dog with a rough and tough bark will be enough to make any potential intruder turn tail and run. Generally, the bigger the dog, the deeper the bark. This means that mastiffs, Danes, and other giant breeds tend to make some of the most menacing sounds.
Have you ever noticed how an 8-pound Chihuahua can make a 200-pound grown man jump back? That’s the power of bluff, bluster, and swagger. And while a Chihuahua who weighs as much as a gallon of milk can occasionally intimidate jumpy foes, a 95-pound Rottweiler could probably intimidate a rhinoceros.
By contrast, the biggest black Lab that ever lived would be more likely to lick your face than get his hackles up. The same could be said of numerous other, non-intimidating breeds.
The Scariest Dog Breeds: Dogs That Will Terrify Intruders
While this list is obviously subjective, we’ve done our best to cover a variety of scary dog breeds. We broke this list down into two different sections.
The first group includes the most intimidating common breeds – those you could find at a pet store or from any number of local breeders.
The second section covers intimidating breeds which are not seen as frequently. Although you can often find puppies of these breeds for sale, you’ll likely have to go to greater lengths (and pay more money) to do so.
IMPORTANT NOTE: Many of the breeds listed below are banned in some areas (unfortunately, this includes many that make great family pets). Accordingly, you’ll always want to check out the legal environment for your area before adding one of these dogs to your family.
Common and Intimidating Dog Breeds
These are the most intimidating pups that are relatively common — you are probably already quite familiar with them. Check ’em out!
1. American Pit Bull Terrier
The block-headed pit bull, pit bull mixes, and similar-looking bully breeds are feared far and wide. Most criminals will assume that any 50- to 70-pound dog that looks vaguely pit-like should be given a wide berth.
Of course, anyone who’s ever owned a pit knows that they are typically little bundles of tail-wagging, face-licking love; they’re not an aggressive breed as sensationalistic media headlines would have you believe. In fact, when raised in a loving family situation, they are among the friendliest dogs you could want.
However, they are typically very protective of their home and family, and will gladly put on a ferocious display to deter those who come too close.
It is important to note that while many pit bulls are very protective, many professionals consider pit bulls to be too friendly to be used for proper protection work. Nevertheless, a pit bull running around your house will likely keep prowlers away.
Akitas aren’t the biggest dogs in the world – most weigh about 90 to 100 pounds. However, the combination of their large head and shoulders-forward posture can make them look quite menacing.
Akitas are instinctually driven to guard and protect their families. In fact, this is one of the primary purposes for which the breed was developed – protecting nobles and other VIPs during the feudal period of Japan (they were also used to hunt large game, such as boar).
Despite their fearless and sometimes protective nature, Akitas are often loving family dogs. However, Akitas are not one of the easier breeds to train, so they are not a good choice for inexperienced owners. They need consistent, firm, respectful obedience training and regular socialization from an early age.
Rottweilers always appear on these types of lists, and it is easy to see why. They’ve got all the hallmarks of an intimidating breed: They’re pretty big, clad primarily in black fur, have incredibly muscular bodies, and are often suspicious of strangers.
But Rottweilers aren’t only intimidating – they also make incredible pets, who are sensitive, loving, and loyal companions. However, they don’t like being far from their owners, so they aren’t great family pets for those who spend a lot of time away from the home.
Additionally, they are amazingly intelligent and head-strong dogs, who require an owner who can lead them in a confident, yet loving manner.
Generally speaking, this ancient breed is not a great choice for inexperienced owners. However, females can be a bit easier for novices to control.
4. Doberman Pinscher
Dobermans are big dogs, but their ability to scare would-be-troublemakers exceeds their size.
Rarely exceeding 100 pounds in weight, Dobermans look bigger than they really are, thanks to their height (big males may stand 28 inches high at the shoulder), long necks, and (sometimes) cropped ears. Additionally, Dobermans tend to adopt a pretty impressive posture when facing something they deem a threat.
But underneath this impressive exterior, most Dobermans are as loving as the sweetest Lab and probably just as committed to their owners, too. They share a number of similarities with Rotties, as they are also smart, sensitive, and incredibly loyal.
This well-known working breed isn’t the ideal choice for first-time dog owners, but Dobermans are probably better than many other breeds on this list for novices. In any case, they’ll need firm training, obedience classes, and plenty of socialization, beginning at a young age.
5. German Shepherd
Historically, German shepherds were one of the most common breeds to be used in military and police contexts (although they’ve largely been supplanted by Belgian Malinois in recent years). They’ve excelled in these roles thanks to their intelligence, fearless nature, and powerful presence.
German shepherds occasionally approach the 100-pound mark, but most are closer to 80 or 90 pounds. They often appear larger than this, thanks to their thick, long fur. They also have large ears, which further increase their apparent size.
Their protective instincts are easy to see, and a big German shepherd is surely one of the most intimidating breeds to encounter in a proverbial dark alley.
Although they are loyal companions who are one of the easier breeds to train, German shepherds are not ideal for homes that harbor allergy sufferers. Shepherds shed by the fistful, and they’ll quickly bury your belongings in an archeological layer of hair.
6. Great Pyrenees
One unusual, somewhat paradoxical breed on our list is the great Pyrenees. These dogs often grow very large (some males exceed 150 pounds) and they have a very protective nature.
However, they also look like big teddy bears (which is actually by design, as it helps the sheep they’re often tasked with guarding to feel comfortable with their canine companions). They’re coated in long, fluffy hair and they have roundish faces with cute ears.
However, the net impression of great Pyrenees can be quite intimidating, especially to those who are not comfortable with dogs. Great Pyrenees were not only developed to chaperone sheep or goats, but also protect their charges from wolves or other predators – by physical means if need be.
The great Pyrenees is one of the gentlest breeds on our list with respect to their families, but they aren’t a good choice for all owners. While they can make great family pets, Pyrs do not adapt well to apartment life, and they are Olympic-caliber shedders. They can also be somewhat difficult to train and march to the beat of their own drum.
7. Great Dane
Great Danes are absolutely huge dogs (big individuals may reach 200 pounds and stand nearly 3-feet-tall at the shoulder), who are able to intimidate many people by virtue of their imposing appearance alone (and their powerful bark certainly helps). Like so many of the other breeds on our list, Great Danes may look frightening, but they are the quintessential “gentle giant” breed.
In fact, Great Danes are typically sweet, affectionate, and very loving with their families.
But despite their warm-and-fuzzy personalities, Great Danes require proper training and socialization from an early age. Failing to do so can actually be dangerous, given the size of these immense beasts. Because of this, they are rarely appropriate for first-time owners or those who lack the desire to engage in a proper training regimen.
8. Cane Corso
Although cane corsos may stand almost 28 inches tall at the shoulder, they rarely reach the weights of Great Danes or similar breeds; typically, they weigh between 90 and 120 pounds.
Nevertheless, cane corsos are easily some of the most intimidating dogs in the world, and their gaze alone will surely send shivers up the spine of even the most brazen criminal.
Cane corsos demand respect, and they should never be acquired on a whim or without serious thought, consideration, and preparation.
And because the breed has such a muscular body, you’ll need to provide your cane corso with sufficient exercise — these dogs were originally bred to chase and subdue big game, so they won’t be happy without sufficient exercise and stimulation.
Less-Common Dog Breeds that Are Intimidating
You may see one of these breeds at the dog park from time to time, but you’re unlikely to encounter them as commonly as you would German shepherds or any of the previously mentioned breeds.
While any of these can make loving, loyal companions and family pets, all require very effective training and are unsuitable for novice owners.
1. Dogue de Bordeaux
Dogue de Bordeaux are beautiful dogs, but their stocky body, bulky musculature, and large heads make them one of the more intimidating canines available.
While females usually reach about 90 pound or so, most males exceed 100 pounds and stand about 26 or 27 inches high at the shoulder.
DDBs (as they’re often called) are very confident dogs, who rarely back down from a threat. Though loving with their families (including children), DDBs are not what you would call welcoming to strangers. Though they have a short coat, which is easy to take care of, they do produce buckets of drool and have lots of loose skin, which turns off many would-be owners.
If you’re thinking that you’ve seen one of these dogs before, but you can’t put your finger on where, I’ll help you out: Hooch was a Dogue de Bordeaux.
2. Dogo Argentino
Dogo Argentinos look absolutely terrifying, but this prickly appearance actually belies their fun-loving personality.
Described by the AKC as cheerful, humble, and friendly, Dogo Argentinos are big dogs with big muscles, big heads, and big mouths. Everything about them simply screams power and strength, though it is important to understand that they do not have an inherently aggressive nature.
Reaching about 27 inches in height and 100 pounds in weight (females are slightly smaller), Dogo Argentinos — or Argentine mastiffs, as they are also called – are powerful runners who were originally developed to hunt big game. Indeed, many hunters still use them in pursuit of feral pigs.
Dogo Argentinos require a lot of exercise to remain healthy, and they need plenty of attention from their family to avoid depression and the development of destructive behaviors.
Boerboels were originally developed by South African pioneers in the seventeenth century to perform a variety of tasks, including hunting and livestock guarding – they were even expected to be excellent guard dogs who were willing to stand up to predators as formidable as leopards and hyenas. Today, they are primarily companion dogs, albeit ones that easily deter any who would wish to do you harm.
With an athleticism that belies their size and bulk, Boerboels move confidently through the world, meeting challenges head-on.
They do not back down from challenges, and display a fearlessness that is uncommon among other breeds. They are very challenging breeds for novices to train and control, but experienced owners often find them delightful.
Mastiffs (formerly known as English mastiffs) are gigantic dogs that often reach 150 to 170 pounds and stand nearly 3 feet high at the shoulder. Yet despite their immense and intimidating size, they’re typically gentle, laid-back dogs who get along well with most people they encounter.
This doesn’t mean that they aren’t ready to protect their pack when necessary, but they don’t go through life with the suspicious attitude of a cane corso or some others.
Thanks to their calm and confident demeanor, mastiffs are probably the most suitable of the less-common breeds for novice owners, but caution is still warranted. Even the gentlest 170-pound dog can cause serious injuries, and proper training and socialization are necessary to ensure they remain friendly.
5. Perro de Presa Canario
Perro de presa Canarios (aka Canary mastiffs or simply, Presa Canarios — the capitalization practices for this breed are a bit odd) are large, intelligent, and protective dogs, for whom proper training is imperative.
Often tipping the scales at up to 120 pounds, Presa Canarios are a mastiff-family breed, who were originally developed in the Canary Islands. Although affectionate with their families, Presa Canarios are rarely as syrupy sweet as mastiffs or Rottweilers.
Presa Canarios are often very territorial dogs, who do not take kindly to strangers or unfamiliar animals. They do not adapt well to apartment life, and require a moderate amount of exercise to remain healthy and happy. Of all the dogs on our list, this may be the one least suitable for first-time owners.
6. Caucasian Shepherd Dog
Caucasian shepherd dogs are flock-guarding behemoths, who look even larger than they really are, thanks to their long, fluffy coats. Originally developed to fend off wolves, these dogs are very territorial and do not accept strangers – including people, dogs and cats — entering their world.
Caucasian shepherd dogs are frequently challenging animals that will test the limits of their owner’s patience and skill. Accordingly, they need firm but loving leadership and consistent training from an early age to ensure they remain trustworthy and safe.
7. Anatolian Shepherd Dog
As leggy as they are loyal, Anatolian shepherds are courageous canines from Turkey, who were originally bred to protect livestock from wolves. Coming in at 29 inches tall at the shoulder and 150 pounds, they’re massive dogs with an independent spirit and reserved nature with strangers. Because of this, early training and socialization are vital. Training can be a challenge, too, as these pups are headstrong.
This breed is not for beginners.
Anatolian shepherds have thick coats designed to insulate them against the harsh mountainous region of their homeland. This dense pelt needs weekly brushing to strip away loose hair, though you’ll need to increase this to a few times a week during shedding season, as these pups undergo an intense “coat blowing” event twice a year that’ll leave your home covered in furry tumbleweeds.
Anatolian shepherd dogs are sometimes called Kangals, though they are two similar-looking yet different Turkish breeds — at least according to the UKC; the AKC considers them the same breed.
While sometimes confused with mastiffs, bullmastiffs are a separate breed with a very distinct look, complete with far blockier heads and broader, shorter muzzles. They actually descended from breeding mastiffs with bulldogs, creating their trademark look.
Bullmastiffs got their start as guard dogs on English game preserves and estates. While not tasked with mauling intruders, they caught and held trespassers, which is terrifying enough when you consider that they weigh up to 130 pounds and stand 27 inches at the shoulder. Their size alone made criminals think twice about entering places they shouldn’t.
Personality-wise, bullmastiffs remain formidable foes with their bravery, loyalty to family, and protective ways. They aren’t big-time barkers, so it’s worth investigating if your bullmastiff utters a sound. As with all guardian breeds, early obedience training and socialization are crucial in building the breed’s confidence and making them easier to handle. Otherwise, you’ll have an out-of-control giant that can quickly become dangerous.
Daily exercise is important for bullmastiffs, but some pups will need encouragement to get moving, preferring to warm the couch instead. Exercise and a proper diet are vital in keeping bullmastiffs healthy, as excessive weight puts unnecessary stress on frames already prone to hip and elbow problems. Other health concerns include hypothyroidism, bloat, and cancer.
9. Chow Chow
Chows are big dogs, coming in at 20 inches tall and a maximum of 70 pounds, but they look much larger thanks to their coat, which comes in rough and smooth varieties. Both coat types require weekly brushing to remove loose fur, with special attention to detangling around the ears, tail, chest, and inner thighs. You’ll also need to thoroughly dry these canines after a bath, as they’re prone to hot spots and skin irritation.
Chow chows are among the most ancient breeds, and they date back thousands of years to China, where they’ve served as companions to royals, guardians, hunting dogs, and even haulers of carts. This work ethic still runs strong in them, demanding moderate physical and mental exercise daily. Use caution in warm weather, however, as they don’t tolerate the heat well.
Chow chows are independent and intelligent, making training them challenging. Early obedience training using positive reinforcement methods is essential in starting them on the right path and building their confidence. Healthy socialization with other dogs and people is also vital, as these pups can be standoffish.
10. Giant Schnauzer
A werewolf-like silhouette, impressive size, and courageous attitude make these canines some of the scariest around. Standing at a maximum of 27.5 inches at the shoulder and weighing up to 85 pounds, giant schnauzers rest squarely in the large breed category and are known to be fiercely territorial. You’ll want to start socializing and training obedience early in puppyhood.
Giant schnauzers are one of the most versatile breeds on our scariest dog breed list, having served as cattle drivers, guardians, police dogs, and military mutts over the years. Paired with the breed’s intelligence, this strong working drive demands a daily outlet through long hikes, dog sports, and other canine enrichment activities.
Grooming these giant guardians can be exhaustive, as they require weekly brushing and regular hand-stripping or clipping to maintain their trademark look. This is by no means a low-maintenance dog, needing a hands-on owner devoted to providing hours of training, grooming, and exercise regularly.
11. Belgian Malinois
While these Belgian brutes are far from the largest dogs on our list at 26 inches tall and up to 80 pounds, they’re certainly capable of being intimidating. Their speed, agility, and exhaustive drive make them fearsome opponents, whether you’re the sheep they’re herding or a perpetrator on the run. They can and will chase you down, circling back for seconds, if necessary.
Often called “Malligators” by owners and breed fanciers, Malinois are known to chatter their teeth and chomp in excitement, a display that can be downright terrifying for those unfamiliar with the breed. These dogs excel in bitework, a fact that’s less than comforting when you consider their speed and infamous bravery.
Belgian Malinois are very eager to please and intelligent, but they bore easily and require a combination of varied routines and rewards to stay on task. Early and ongoing obedience work and vigorous daily physical and mental exercise are critical in keeping these canines content. They are some of the best dogs for running, but canine sports like dock diving, Schutzhund, and agility are also great. Better yet, give them a job, such as chasing geese from ponds or herding livestock. These are not meant to be an everyday pet dog.
12. Irish Wolfhound
Standing at least 31 inches tall and weighing about 120 pounds, the Irish wolfhound is the tallest breed recognized by the AKC. These canines may not have the ferocious reputation of some other dogs on our list, but their size alone is enough to scare the pants off of some people.
Irish wolfhounds began as hunting dogs, accompanying hunters on big game expeditions after wolves and elk. While friendly at home, these dogs were downright lethal when necessary in the field. That said, today, these gentle giants are known to be as affectionate as can be with their people and good with other dogs. Due to their sheer size, they’re a poor match for families with small kids, however.
Irish wolfhounds are intelligent and highly social, preferring a place at their people’s side versus a spot alone. This combination demands daily enrichment at your side; otherwise, your dog may get into serious trouble at home. At such a size, these pups can do a great deal of damage fast!
13. Dutch Shepherd
Rounding out our list is yet another breed prized in police and military work: the Dutch shepherd. Running on seemingly endless energy and drive to please, these are next-level pups in many ways, but their agility is what can make them particularly scary adversaries. Similar to Malinois, these dogs are speed demons who can tackle seemingly any obstacle, from ladders to walls to jumping over cars.
At 24.5 inches tall and up to 75 pounds, Dutch shepherds aren’t the biggest dogs on the block, but they use every bit of their body when working. And work they do, with roles from protection to herding around the world. They’re also as sharp as a tack, loving nothing more than a good challenge here and there. This makes varied, fun training sessions paramount in keeping them on track.
Dutch shepherds are not meant to be household pets for the average family, as they require a great deal of daily physical and mental exercise, preferably around the farm or with a sport like Schutzhund, scent tracking, or agility. They also make excellent jogging, hiking, or bikejoring companions.
Scariest Dog Breeds: FAQ
Still have lingering questions or concerns about the scariest dog breeds? Check out the most commonly asked questions about scary dog breeds and the corresponding answers.
Which dog has the scariest bark?
The scariest dog bark varies by listener. Some people may find the forceful, rapid-fire bark of the German shepherd to be scariest, while others might feel the deep rumbles of a mastiff more terrifying.
Which dog breed is the strongest?
The strongest dog breeds are in the working group, including the St. Bernard, mastiff, Great Dane, and Rottweiler. These doggos are designed to do tough-as-nails jobs, like pulling heavy carts around the farm, protecting livestock against predators, and rescuing humans from peril. They have to be strong!
Other strong breeds include the Newfoundland, Anatolian shepherd, and Caucasian shepherd dog.
What breed are devil dogs?
“Devil dogs” is a term sometimes applied to breeds used as military working dogs with the U.S. armed forces. This includes the Doberman pinscher and German shepherd. Another term often used for these working woofs is “war dogs.”
Today, Belgian Malinois and Dutch shepherds are frequently used in military work alongside German shepherds, with the Doberman far less common on the frontlines. While Dobermans are great at a number of tasks and certainly intimidating, shepherd breeds are simply more agile.
What breed is Cerberus?
Cerberus is a three-headed dog from Greek mythology that guards the underworld’s gates. His breed origin isn’t expressed in legends, and his physical description varies from tale to tale. Some stories even have him with only one or two heads!
What dog bites the hardest?
While there hasn’t been a definitive study comparing the bites of all breeds, certain doggos consistently rank high when tested, such as the Kangal, cane corso, and mastiff. These large-headed, massive mutts have broad jaws that can lead to bite forces above 700 pounds per square inch.
Can you think of any other intimidating or scary looking dog breeds we missed? Which one do you think is the scariest dog breed?
Let us know which ones we’ve forgotten — and which breed you’d pick as an excellent guard dog to keep your family safe — in the comments below.
We’d also love to hear your experiences with any of the breeds detailed above – particularly those on the uncommon list!