What Are the Best Dog Breeds for Survival? It Depends on the Job

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The doomsday clock has been at 100 seconds to midnight for a few years. Food is being stored, equipment is being stashed, and people are gearing up to fight for their lives for the inevitable apocalypse. And there’s one prep you may not have thought of.

A faithful, skilled, and well-trained canine companion could be the reason you survive another day. Humans have domesticated animals forever knowing that animals can do things humans can’t, saving time and energy. In a survival situation, both of these factors become precious.

Here are some of the best jobs for dogs during a survival situation and the breeds that excel at them…

Watchdog Breeds

Tibetan terrier

Watchdogs are good at their jobs because they can sense things that people can’t and never will. Traits like a sensitive nose or seeing in the dark go a long way when you are trying to find something out of place in the dead of night.  

When they sense an unwanted presence, they alert their owners so the owner can take care of the problem. This works with many kinds of intruders and keeps people safe from threats they weren’t even aware were there. 

Additionally, almost any kind of dog can be trained to do this, though it tends to be a job geared toward smaller dogs. Here are some breeds known for being good watchdogs:

  • Chihuahuas
  • Cairn Terriers
  • Dachshund
  • Tibetan Terrier

Guard/Attack Dogs Breeds


A guard dog is a dog that will actively defend its home against intruders instead of just sounding an alarm. 

Attack dogs will go a step further and attack on the command of their owner. Examples of effective attack dogs include:

  • Akita
  • German Shepherd
  • Mastiff
  • Doberman Pinscher

This can be dangerous, though. It is highly recommended to get professional help when training these skills in a dog. A poorly trained attack dog could mean someone getting seriously hurt or worse. 

These dogs are trained to be dangerous, and it is a disservice to them to go about it without the proper care. 

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Drafting Dog Breeds

St. Bernard

Big, lumbering, working dogs will haul stuff all day with the right incentive. The following dogs typically make excellent drafting dogs: 

  • Newfoundland
  • Saint Bernard
  • Bernese Mountain Dog
  • Greater Swiss Mountain Dog

The job of these dogs is to be attached either to a cart or have saddle bags loaded onto them, and they literally carry their weight. These dogs are especially useful for people who have to leave their shelters. It would be impossible to carry all of their stuff, but horses are much harder to maintain in a survival situation. 

Herding Dog Breeds

Australian cattle dog

One of the most important commodities you will have during these times is your food supply. If this comes from a herd of animals, it would be disastrous if the herd got up and walked away. Some herding breeds are:

  • Australian Shepherds
  • Border Collies
  • Australian Cattle Dog
  • Collie

Herding dogs are trained to keep the animals not only together but in one spot. The good thing about this group of dogs is that they are still widely utilized by ranchers. It is much easier to find a skilled herding dog than it is a reliable attack dog. 

Hunting/Retrieving Dog Breeds

English cocker spaniel

Hunting/retrieving dogs are another group of dogs that are still widely utilized today. These dogs are grouped by categories. These categories are then included in the breed’s name. For example, a Labrador Retriever and a Bluetick Hound are both dogs that fit into this category. 

  • Spaniels flush game out of undergrowth to make catching and/or shooting them easier. 
  • Retrievers do just as their name suggests and retrieve downed game. 
  • Setters/Pointers locate game for the hunter, almost always birds. 
  • Hounds track game by scent. 

They are disciplined dogs that are trained to point out prey, chase it, bring back the carcass, rile up a flock of birds, or do any number of things related to hunting. These dogs would be extremely valuable in a time where your ability to hunt can determine if your family eats or not. 

What dogs can be left alone the longest?

Assuming you are coming back, then the dog will just need a source of food, water, and shelter. The dog will probably not be able to survive indefinitely on its own. Even though they retain some wild traits, they were raised with people. 

Herding dogs and working dogs can survive alone the longest. This is because these dogs tend to be very fast, or very large, and very smart with heavy prey drives. Dogs who can hunt will last the longest.

Breeds like Border Collies and Australian Kelpies have been bred to make quick turns and evasive maneuvers for centuries, allowing them to easily hunt and catch even fast creatures like rabbits. 

Working dogs are large by nature. An Alaskan Malamute or a Doberman Pinscher has the strength to overcome many different types of prey.

Dogs who have both natural attributes will have a clear advantage. A Belgian Malinois has a high likelihood of being able to survive on its own for an extended period of time. 

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A few final thoughts on survival dogs…

In a survival situation, the dog would need a job that it not only knows how to do but that you need to be done. Trying to get a herding dog to draft is possible, but it wouldn’t be a good use of your time or its skill. Understanding what you need from the dog and what it can deliver is the biggest decision you can make when outfitting your friend and bug-out buddy with their new title. 

While we hope it never comes down to using these skills, we want our dogs to be able to survive with us if the need ever arises.

What do you think the best dog breeds are for survival? What jobs do you hope to fill with dogs when the SHTF? Let us know what you think in the comments below.

About Robert Thomas

Robert is a freelance writer who enjoys spending time training the dogs around him.

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  • And don’t forget about Livestock Guardian Dogs! 🙂 We recently added those, hopefully to protect our poultry and meat animals from both 4 leeged and 2 legged dangers.

    A fun follow up article would be stories of how Prepper’s dogs have already been helpful or protected people or items. I know we have a few stories!

    • I did the same. At this point, though, I’m afraid that if anyone who didn’t belong on my property came onto my property, my two enormous, 6-month-old Great Pyrenees x Romanian Carpathian Shepherd pups would just roll over for tummy rubs.

    • I love LGDs too! I’ve had a Pyrenees and a Pyrenees/Akbash cross for 7 years now. They’re awesome. They let me know whenever something different is going on. They’re goofballs around me, terrifying to anyone that threatens me because they are both over 100 lbs. They also keep raccoons, cats, and eagles away from my chickens. Best dogs ever.

      • Another LGD fan here! Our Great Pyrenees Thor kept our livestock safe for years until he retired and he’s been living out his golden years as my pet. He is a teddy bear toward me and my daughter, gentle with well-meaning strangers when we’re walking, and on full-alert with anyone who is remotely threatening. Just because of his sheer size (140 pounds) and deep bark, nobody wants to cross him so he’s a great deterrent.

  • Thank you for this helpful post. I have a German Shepherd-Standard Poodle mix and he is a hyper-alert guard dog – very intelligent and quick to learn. I completely agree that they have to be trained young because I really didn’t train him in a specialized way in line with his natural guard tendencies because I was a first time dog owner and didn’t understand the need to do much beyond basic recall and sit-stay-down basics. I wish I had because he’s definitely stranger aggressive and protective without discernment. My fault of course, but all of that said I could not recommend any purebred or hybrid German Shepherd more – amazing, loving, clever, super loyal dog with no potentially challenging behaviors like chewing, digging, excessive or inappropriate barking.

  • Livestock Guardian Dogs are in their own category. And within that Carey, each different breed brings its own strengths and weaknesses. I have three, a man Akbash, an Akbash/Pyrenees, and an Armenian Gampr. If I had to choose one it would be the Gampr. She is the smartest of the bunch and the most trainable.
    My digs are all 100-130 lbs each. So feeding them in a survival setting might be difficult. My oldest dog, the Akbash came off a ranch that free ranges goats on wild land. He knows how to hunt rabbits for a snack.
    These dogs are all large enough and gentle enough with their owners to be included in the draft section. They are true guardians of both their livestock and their families. They do not think like any other type of dog and are not motivated to please you-which makes training a challenge. They are partners with the ability and insistence to think for themselves.
    My digs keep coyotes and bears from my property as well as stray dogs and people I don’t personally invite.

    • Feeding the dogs is the main reason I keep a pair of meat rabbits. We don’t eat them but I could feed the dogs with rabbit offspring.
      We also keep bones from large animal butchering – – they get those regularly so they’re all used to raw foods.

      • Yes, this! I have meat rabbits also and recently expanded them to start including them in my dogs food supply. My dogs are not solely in raw yet but they do get portions daily as well as eggs and fresh milk.

  • I’ve had Anatolian Shepherds for 15 years and can’t think of a better breed to protect people or livestock. While they are a large breed, (110-130lbs) they are exceptionally docile around familiar people and animals, but a vicious force to be reckoned with for any threat. They are a derivation of the Turkish Kangal which have the greatest bite force of any canine at 740 lbs/inch. (more than twice that of a pitbull)

    • I agree with you Serenabit! As a Kangal owner and breeder, the Kangal is a more rare breed and many have never heard of them. Rarer breeds like these are different from what I call the ‘Americanized dogs’, whose instincts, personalities and temperaments have been watered down over the generations. That’s not a bad thing…it’s just an observation I’ve had over the years from owning a breed that is far more primitive than anything I had ever known before.

      Everyone is passionate about their individual breeds which is a beautiful thing. But not all breeds are meant for everyone and every situation.

      Projecting into potential dark days ahead is a reminder of the responsibility one has to provide for that dog. Like the writer of the article posted, not all breeds would thrive on their own without human intervention with food/water/shelter. But, it IS true that some breeds would make it for an indefinite period of time dependent on the location that they’re at, i.e. rural has access to wildlife that would contribute to feed the dog, lakes, ponds, creeks, streams and rivers would satisfy their need for water. Some breeds are naturally resilient to harsh weather conditions due to the coats the individual breeds have, etc etc etc.

      Caring for our dogs is something I’ve spent time thinking about and preparing for, especially due to the fact that we have a large number of working dogs on our farm. Their presence alone is a form of protection and I’ve always looked at them as my first line of defense. They don’t bark for no reason so if they do, something is up. Outsiders, because of a generic response many people have to large animals and the fear that accompanies that, will hopefully and initially be a deterrent. But, I have also pondered the “what if’s”, because as I stated above, my situation is unique with many dogs over a large piece of land, and the fact that I can’t be everywhere with everyone at every given moment.

      Regardless, there are some of us who are destined to walk into the days ahead with our faithful companions…who always give far more than they receive.

  • I think my pit bull serves many functions: he loves to pull heavy loads, acts instinctively like a Marine on patrol, alerts to let me know exactly who approaches our home, is gentle beyond description, took down a much larger dog who acted iffy with my granddaughter( didn’t hurt it but held it by its throat till the owner came)….I could go on and on and on. Lotsa brains, huge heart, protective spirit, JAWS.

  • We’re an Australian Cattle Dog family. I can’t imagine a more loyal, fiercely protective dog. In the 18 years that we’ve had heelers (3 different dogs, currently have two, our first passed away in 2019 at 16 years old), I’ve found people to be intimidated by them. Their bark, and just their appearance, does the job. We don’t have livestock, but the instinct is strong in them. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve realized I’m being herded in my own house by one of them! Another plus, they’re velcro dogs. You don’t have to worry about them running off away from their people.

  • Great article! We wanted a dog to alert and protect the family, so chose a Belgian Malinois a few years ago. He is good at his job, highly alert and naturally very protective, but took a LOT more training than we were anticipating. Since we trained him ourselves, he is not trained to bite. He is obedient, alerts us if there is a car stopped outside or something breaking into the chicken coop, and acts aggressive and intimidating towards strangers. I think he will be a real asset when society breaks down.

    Some things we didn’t think of or didn’t research enough before getting a dog:

    The super high prey drive is a real challenge on a homestead. If an animal is loose, he wants to help catch it, and has wounded or killed a number of chickens.
    The Malinois breed is extremely athletic and active, which means they burn a ton of calories. In addition to butchering scraps and leftover meat and vegetables, he eats about 40lbs of good quality dry food a month. We can only store so much dog food, so it’s going to be hard to feed him when things get bad.
    Belgian Malinois are expert escape artists. He climbs out of or breaks any pen we try to contain him in except for a dog crate. We are very much tied to home and can’t go on vacation unless he comes with us.

    In conclusion, for our purposes I think we would probably go with a German Shepherd instead if we had to do it again. We do plan on getting a livestock guardian breed such as an Anatolian Shepherd soon, so the Malinois will be with the family at all times and the LGD will be outdoors protecting the property at all times.

  • For some one who is suppose to know what are the best dogs for survival I am surprised you never mentioned hot dogs. They are excellent for survival.

  • Cannot go wrong with German Shepherd. Charlie is 150 Lbs.-not fat-looks like a warg when in protect mode. Also have male Akita and a male Caucasian Shepherd. Both of these are good, but, I feel Charlie is more tuned in to guard role. They, along with my attack weiner dog make a formidable team. I do won stock in Tractor Supply.

  • Disappointed not to see Beagles on your list. Our two are very alert to anyone/anything coming onto our property. And I can tell from their barks if its a human or an animal. I absolutely love Beagles. Dr. Nazi has a lot to answer for.

  • As I get older my dogs (like all my livestock) are getting fewer and smaller. Just writing this I get a little choked up. Ive had great dogs, nary a bad one in the bunch. I’ve had gsd’s almost exclusively for my working dogs, and I miss every single one of them. I’ve even broke, trained and lived with 42 Alaskan Huskies for a world class Iditarod Trail racing kennel when I worked various bush trades in Alaska. Eleven of my puppies know what it is to be praised and loved under the burled arch in Nome. Amazingly athletic and inspiring dogs those huskies.

    Right now I’ve got a very talented little border collie bitch that I’m working up. When this last old brave GSD boy of mine’s time comes (soon) I’m done with that breed. I can’t go through another loss after him. There’s just something about those German Shepherds.

  • Most important to me is a well trained dog and owner. A dog that barks at everything from stray rodent to a pack of Urban Youths can be a serious liability.

    There is something called alert fatigue. Like the little boy that called wolf story pretty soon you’re like a neighbor I knew back in the Army who I heard telling his damn dog to shut up when I was on his doorstep about his car light being on.

    That dog alert was ignored, how many others I wonder.

    If you’re going dark and quiet to avoid trouble known to be nearby (you do have off grid commo right?) a barking dog is an advertisement to trouble that someone is around feeding a dog.

    I prefer a smaller big-hearted well-trained terrier as they are easy to feed compared to larger dogs. One trained to come to me and whimper-growl when something is amiss is very useful. Also, like rust garden pests like rodents are very destructive and a terrier is better than cats because they dig up their nests, destroying them at the source. They can be trained to protect small livestock like chickens and rabbits in their cages.


  • My concern with dogs is their barking. Terriers in particular are noisy little buggers. I would hate to have to muzzle ours but it might end up keeping us alive .

  • We have a pit bull. I know many people don’t like them but they make a great guard dog. They are protective by nature. Big enough to be an effective guard dog but small enough to live in the house. Our 9 year old female has not had any formal training but she will not let you near my wife or grandkids if you get loud.

  • Seriously, no mention of the hands down, greatest survival dog EVER – Dogo Argentina?!? WTH Totally worthless article!!!

  • Three years ago we got an Anatolian female puppy. Had no idea what we were getting and holy cow.. She’s now much bigger than our male German Shepherd. She makes his alertness seem aloof. She’s got a deep male like bark and is ridiculously perimeter protective. She trusts NOBODY except the household family, her scenting is incredible and is fiercely loyal/loving. Very independent and takes a strong personality to train. She’s perfect for SHTF.

  • A dog is my number 1 survival prep. As for the best breeds, there are really too many to list. If your have rural property, one may want to consider what type of dogs pioneers and homesteaders used many years ago, and why these breed types developed. A dog that is a good hunting dog from squirrels to boars, herding livestock, and keeping a cow from rolling you, protecting the livestock and homestead from strangers and other varmints were all important. These breeds still exist, although some are not AKC recognized. One such dog is the Black Mouth Cur, the subject of the book “Old Yeller”. (The movie however did not use a BMC in the starring role.) If you live in the city or neighboring suburbia, this is not an ideal dog to own. They are a working dog (as well as a couch potato), and need to be able to run, track, chase, tree, and protect.
    So the type of dog one chooses must also be suitable for the type of lifestyle and housing you have. If you are lacking space, even a small dog like a Dauchsund can be a great asset as a burglar alarm, and of course a companion.

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