A resource for consumers, locksmiths, and security professionals.
Posted On by Ralph Goodman
There are many age-old debates in security, but none are more adorable than this one. I am of course talking about dogs vs. security systems. For this debate, there will be a lot of things that we will need to examine. The price point of each of these protective measures may be exclusionary for some individuals. The history of security effectiveness will need to be explored. How much it takes to understand the protection, and ultimately how easy it is to use will play a role. Finally, the question of reliability will need to be addressed. But before all of that, there are some ground rules to cover.
I will state for the record that I am an animal lover, but I will try to be as logical and clinical as I can in this discussion, so as to remove any emotional bias. When I am talking about dogs, I am referring to ones that have been properly trained and have a guard dog temperament. Just as I am assuming that anyone who wants an alarm is not going to buy an air conditioner at the last minute, I will give those looking for a dog the benefit of the doubt. If you are just looking for “a dog” then you already do not have the right mindset to properly train them or choose a dog that will deliver better home security. However, I will not be representing dogs with the presumption that they are the most idealized version of their species.
Similarly, I will treat security systems as if they perform with an average level of effectiveness. I will also only be talking about monitor monthly subscription based security systems. This is because alarms that exclusively make noise are clearly inferior to dogs. They provide far less protection and vary too widely in quality. A monitored security system is a much fairer comparison, as they’re the response that will be elicited does not require the presence of the homeowner or intervention of a neighbor. The presence of a menacing dog is far more equivalent to the threat of police intervention and lends itself more to a debate of which may be superior.
The exact price of a dog is hard to measure, but there are several sites that try. The one thing that is universally agreed upon is that the first year of having the dog will be the most expensive. In the highest projections this first-year cost could be as much as $10,350 dollars, but as low as $511. From there, the price will drop to $9,532 or $287 a year respectively. Approximately every 14 years you will have to pay the first year price again.
One of the most important things is that cutting costs with your pet will not hurt your security. With a security system, if the price is a concern, you are going to get certain benefits and have to accept disadvantages. Any feelings that your dog is going to dislike you or get jealous of another animal’s lifestyle is just projection. As long as you show your pet love and care, you can live with them very cheaply. I am unaware of any security company that offers the same relationship.
The price of security systems are set, but there will be a range based on the available options. That is to say, just as you could pay less for a dog, you could pay less for an alarm. The lowest cost security system that still delivers notable security is Protect America’s $19.99 a month plan. That comes to $239.88 a year. Outside of that plan, there are other cheap security systems that have initial costs for equipment. For example, the Scout Alarm system can cost as little as $9.99 a month, but the panels, sensors, remotes, etc., all have additional costs.
On the wilder end of these costs, getting a plan with a company like Insite will start you at their lowest price of $7,000 a month. That is a pretty wide range. A fair average for security systems is $600 to $1200 for installation with a $30 monthly cost. So with your average system, you will be making a relatively sizable first investment followed by a $360 yearly payment. That is pretty similar to the yearly cost of a dog after the first year, and the initial investment for parts will bring us the rest of the way to equal. But it costs you nothing to spend more time training your dog, where increased security plans are costly.
After the first or second false alarm (depending on your local laws), the homeowner can be fined. This fine will vary, and in some cases, it will only apply if the Police officer stops to investigate (parking or pulling into the driveway). That does mean that the officer will not investigate the claim thoroughly if there are multiple false alarms. This may be the real cost of false alarms.
Insurance companies offer incentives for those using home security systems, monitored or not. The average reduction in cost is anywhere from 15% on the lower end to 20% at the highest end. With the lowest annual cost of insurance, as of 2016, being $534 (Idaho) and the highest being $1,991 (Florida), an alarm owner could save anywhere from $80.10 to $398.20 a year.
Dogs do not come with any type of insurance incentive. And you will have to work to keep your pet safe from others and their own actions. They can also cost you money if they bite a person. This can even result in a criminal trial and potential jail time. In the case of homeowners worrying about criminals suing if your dog attacks them, this should not be a concern. Unless the dog is exceptionally ferocious, this type of case will be thrown out of court. When it comes to dog bite lawsuits, about 2% of the cases end with the victim receiving money for their medical bills. It is sad to say, but even if your dog does harm someone, it is very unlikely to affect you financially.
There was a study that showed a correlation between “density of alarms” and a decrease in burglaries. This would mean that the more people using alarms in your neighborhood the better, but this is not a result that an individual could achieve with their alarm alone. There is a popularly cited study that was conducted in Greenwich Connecticut, which found that an alarm system brought down the average cost of stolen property by $2,077 when compared to burglaries that took place in homes without alarm systems. This same study found that contributing factors (such as proximity to major thoroughfares) that led to burglaries, where 1 to 3 times more likely to negatively affect homes with no alarms.
The Greenwich study ultimately concluded that a home without an alarm was “18.9 percent” more likely to be burglarized than a home with a system installed. This 18.9% is compared to the 13.8% likelihood of a burglary occurring at all. Which is to say, a home without an alarm is 18.9% more likely to fall into that 13.8%. In terms of sample size, I would hesitate to say that the findings of this study are representative of the Connecticut, and they can certainly not be extrapolated to the USA. The study mentioned above was also conducted and paid for by the Alarm Industry Research and Educational Foundation (AIREF).
David F. Austin conducted a study about the effectiveness of dogs as criminal deterrents and found some very shocking evidence. Based on interviews with inmates and law enforcement officers, he concluded that 95% of criminals would be scared off by the presence of an unfriendly dog. In terms of what was most likely to scare them away from a house, the presence of any dog was just below the residents being home. Another interview with property criminals revealed that almost every means of advanced protection was somewhat effective in deterring them. Though the precaution ranked most effectively was a monitored security system. The fact that a study on dogs concedes the effectiveness of security systems seems to lend more credence to the superiority of these systems. But with that said, both studies are too small and narrow in focus for large-scale claims.
As far as the learning curve goes, for both dogs and security systems, it comes down to getting into a routine. When you enter and exit your home, you must arm your security system. If you run out of dog food, you need to go to the store. And a few times a day you need to put that food in a bowl. However, the routine for your dog can get very demanding based on your living situation and the breed of the dog. Without a fenced in backyard that your pet can freely access, your dog will need to be taken out to use the restroom. Furthermore, it will need love, attention, and physical exercise, all of which you will need to provide.
The biggest learning curve for dog owners is training. As I said in the Ground Rules section above, it is being taken for granted that the dog will serve as a security measure. That means that you will have chosen a dog that you believe offers a benefit to your safety. This will be based on the size, temperament, and vocal nature of the dog. In any case, you will now need to properly train them to respond to strangers with hostility, but be able to calm them in the presence of authorized visitors. In my extensive experience with dogs (I have lived with them and trained them my entire life) a dog that has been properly selected immediately has the instinct to protect. The real training is to get them to be calm when you need them to be.
Opposed to the alarm where you must learn how to arm and disarm it, a natural guard dog is always armed. The only thing to learn is the disarming process. For most, it is as simple as putting a leash on them. That calms most dogs who are in the presence of strangers. Still, an alarm will have a much less demanding learning curve.
With alarms, they work if everyone is using them responsibly. Those who get locked out frequently, and need to call a locksmith or break in, will struggle with an alarm. Certainly, alarms do not fit with every type of personality. If you forget passwords or have to leave the house and come back a few times before you can really get going, then the alarm will not make your life easier.
In terms of the user that is never home, the best option will most likely be the alarm system. A dog must be given meals, attention, and exercise. Not being around is not an option, unless you have a support staff to perform your necessary functions.
A dog does eliminate the issue of human error. When your dog is guarding the home, there is nothing that you can do to mess that up… Unless you let the dog out… Which would mean there is an open entrance into your home. If your dog gets out of your house, then you are not taking home security seriously and are sure to have issues that an alarm will not fix. But I digress. Putting aside the ability to care for another living thing, which almost every person is biologically hardwired to do, there is no chance of a person interfering with the effectiveness of a guard dog.
When alarm companies poke fun at the idea of using a dog for security, they often make a claim of unreliability. However, alarms have issues with reliability as well. Power outages, internet issues, and phone line malfunctions can leave a security system neutered. In the case of very severe power outages, a battery based failsafe will most likely run out of energy.
In regards to alarms that call out to the Police, studies have shown that response time for these types of calls can take 30 to 45 minutes in large cities. In small rural areas, the best that can be hoped for is six to eight minutes. This issue is due to the estimate that 80% of all alarm calls are false alarms, coupled with the very low priority that burglaries have for law enforcement.
The issue of reliability for a guard dog really comes down to one thing. What if they are not in the house? When you take your dog on a trip with you, or even for a walk, the house does not have its alarm stand in. Taking your dog outside is a must, and walks are inevitable, if not mandatory. Other than this, a guard dog is very reliable. It is not going to be stolen or cower in a corner, but it does need to be present.
There is a chance that your pet could be harmed in the process of a burglary, but it takes a very particular type of person to want/be able to hurt an animal. Most people are not going to risk the altercation, and more still will not have the mental ability to go through with any violence against a dog. If someone breaking in is willing to harm your animal, then there is much more to worry about.
I am not sure that this one is as clear as most people would like it to be. Ultimately it is up to a person’s lifestyle and personal ability. There are plenty of people who are not cut out to be pet owners, and there are certainly a lot of people that cannot use their alarms effectively. In terms of investment, dogs take the win because they provide the same level of security no matter where you fall in the price bracket. An alarm gives you a break on your insurance, so there is a win for alarms. In terms of their measured statistically effectiveness, the studies favored alarms, but the data was too spotty to decide a clear winner. There is certainly more to learn when you are getting and training a dog, but I would certainly say they are more user-friendly than a security system. When it comes to reliability there is another wash, with large issues on both sides. Just get a home security system and a dog, and you should be fine.