I have to admit to a weakness for black Labradors, since their is one asleep on my sofa as I write this. He is often to be found snoozing on my sofa, but if he feels there is the need to defend his territory, he is up on his feet and barking, quick as a flash. His hackles go up, creating an impressive mohican effect down his back, and his barks are ear-shattering. When he decides that the danger has passed, he gives himself a shake that has a self-congratulatory air about it, and usually settles down for another nap, although he is just as likely to leave the sofa in search of a drink and a snack.
The point is that he has a definite sense of our house being his territory, and part of his role being to defend it. I suspect that he is sometimes barking to attract attention, in a "Hey come over here and play!" spirit, but sometimes he means business. What really drives him into a frenzy is the large agricultural vehicles that daily pass our house. He hates these with a vengeance, and keeps up a volley of barking and growling until they are out of sight. However, he has never once displayed any aggression towards any person. He is always happy to see visitors, or greet people and dogs when we're out.
This has lead me to think that though he might well defend his people if the need arose, I don't think his defensive spirit would be acted upon. Of course, I would not want it to be acted on, and it is impossible to predict what a dog might do in that kind of situation. For all I know his barking is all for show, or merely to alert me to the approach of potential danger. So it was with great interest that I read about black Lab Toby, who has been given an award for bravery, after he deterred a burglar who attempted to break into the family home. His people were asleep upstairs when the knife-wielding criminal arrived.
Brave Toby sustained many cuts, and a punctured lung in the process, but he saw the burglar off. When his master arrived downstairs, Toby was still barking, paws up on the fence, telling that ne-er do well to stay away! And good for him. Apparently he is as gentle as you could want with his family, which includes a young baby, and has always been a well-behaved, welcoming dog. But you see, I believe that dogs only defend us because they love us. You only try to keep safe that which you value and love, and that's what Toby was doing. I'm not in favour of having a dog as a biological burglar alarm, they should first and foremost be a well-loved member of the family, but it is in their nature to put the safety of their pack first. Of course, that's why socialisation is so vital, to allow a dog to learn what is normal, and what is not.
So well done to Toby, and I hope he and his family have many more years together. Wouldn't it be a very different world if every burglar was greeted by a snarling, snapping dog? Ah, well.