Home Security
September 11, 2004 8:55 PM   Subscribe

I am in the process purchasing a house and want to feel more secure. Security in a concern...

My first goal is to install a pricacy fence around the back yard, which has one side facing the street since we are moving in on a corner. But I also want some kind of security. Is it better (ie. worth it) to get a monitored security system? Or should I just buy some componants from Home Depot and build an audible alarm system?

The systems seem very expensive, and the monitoring costs seem excessive. Suggestions
posted by benjh to Home & Garden (23 answers total)
A lot of the systems you see advertised are plugged by brand name monitoring companies, but once they're installed (and any initial contract expires) you can generally switch to a low-cost alternative. You might not get the same type of response, though (e.g. onsite security).

Monitored is, of course, better than audible. (It's also better to have at least one human layer between you and the notification to the police department, as you may get charged bokoo for false alarms.) But studies show that the most effective security system is the sign out front that says you have one. It's like being the locked back door -- the burglar is going to try to find easier pickings, most likely. If all your neighbors have signs, you'd best get one, too, whether or not it's real.

You could also get a dog.
posted by dhartung at 11:38 PM on September 11, 2004

You mentioned you want to have a dog. Are you opposed to large dogs? For security considerations I recommend a Rottweiler, German Shepherd, or a pair of Chows - breeds that I've also found to make good pets (unlike, say, Dobermans or pit bulls). An excellent intruder detection mechanism, and one that can dissuade them from intruding in the first place.

If, however, you decide you need the benefits of a monitored system, I doubt a dog can be trained to call the cops. In fact, you might want to avoid dogs altogether.
posted by Krrrlson at 11:39 PM on September 11, 2004

Speaking of dogs, boxers are really sweet and loveable, but they have a scary, scary bark. It's really surprising when they bark, because they almost never bark without a good reason. Also, they look really tough; I bet if you put a spiked collar on a boxer and walked it regularly around the neighborhood, you wouldn't have any trouble from the locals...
The males are much bigger than the females, so you might have a look at both depending on your size constraints.
Also, they get so into their people; they're really the sweetest, most loyal dogs I've ever encountered.
posted by willpie at 5:51 AM on September 12, 2004

People massively overestimate how much protecting a dog will do. This can work in your favour, since criminals are just as subject to this misunderstanding as anyone else, and as such dogs can be very effective deterrents. However, the vast majority of dogs of any breed will not actually protect you, most will bark, some may do a "bite and run", but dogs which will actually stand their ground when there is a real risk of physical harm to themselves are extremely rare (people who train dogs for personal protection estimate that only about 5% of dogs of a traditionally "protective" breed are suited to training, and trust me, the average dog owner is in no way capable of safely owning and managing a high-drive dog with bite training). A dog of any size can act well as a deterrent, but remember that someone who's willing to break into a home with a barking dog is prepared to deal with that dog, regardless of size. If the area you live in is really so dangerous that you feel you need a protection dog, I suggest you live somewhere else, or even get a gun and learn how to use it, I'm not a gun advocate, but it's substantially easier to learn how to use and own a gun safely than to learn how to safely own and manage a protection-trained dog. Dogs are wonderful companions, but it's your job to protect them, not the other way around. Get a good burglar alarm with a panic button system, and rely on that to help keep you safe, get a dog as a pet, not a body guard.
posted by biscotti at 8:27 AM on September 12, 2004

For security considerations I recommend a Rottweiler, German Shepherd, or a pair of Chows - breeds that I've also found to make good pets (unlike, say, Dobermans or pit bulls)

That's crazy talk. Dobies and pitties (and related breeds, like Staffordshire terriers) make excellent pets. While pit bulls are (usually) dog-aggressive, they've been bred for a very long time to be biddable by humans (in the bad old days, they had to be human-docile enough to allow handlers to get into the pit to separate the dogs). Dobies have been bred from their inception for biddability and trainability.

For security, it won't make much difference what kind of dog you have, except that you might not want one that sounds very small.

First, the dog isn't going to do much actual defending of anything or anyone. It'll bark its fool head off. It'll probably do a bite-and-run if an intruder pops in. But if the intruder makes it plain that he means to hurt Sir Barks-A-Lot, the dog will almost always find somewhere better to be. A dog that will protect you with some degree of reliability is going to be highly trained and could easily cost upwards of USD10000, and then you'll have a dog that you'll have to treat as a loaded gun.

Second, an intruder who goes into a house with a dog barking (or at least more an obviously-tiny dog yipping) is probably going to be prepared/armed to deal with anything from a border collie to a rottweiler.

All you want is enough dog to persuade Mr. Burglar to go to a different house, which is not much dog at all.

If you're thinking of getting a dog for security, don't. Get a dog because, and only because, you want to live with a dog.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 8:34 AM on September 12, 2004

posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 8:35 AM on September 12, 2004

I also meant to add that breeds people generally consider to be "protective", like Rottweilers, Dobermans, Pit Bulls, etc. are simply not suitable breeds for novice owners - they're wonderful dogs in the right home, but they are not for everyone, and they are especially not for the inexperienced. A big reason that we see so many people being injured or killed by these breeds is the fact that they've become so popular, especially among people who have no real idea how to properly raise a dog, or who feel that "a dog is a dog" and do not understand the amount of extra effort and knowledge which is required to own such a breed responsibly. You have lots of room for mistakes with some of the softer breeds, but you have little room for mistakes with big, intelligent, strong-minded breeds.
posted by biscotti at 8:39 AM on September 12, 2004

However, the vast majority of dogs of any breed will not actually protect you, most will bark, some may do a "bite and run", but dogs which will actually stand their ground when there is a real risk of physical harm to themselves are extremely rare...

I don't think anyone actually expects the dog to fight off intruders, but it should do just as well as DIY audible alarm system (as far as I understand, such systems do not provide automatic police notification) in terms of alerting you to an intruder.

Fact of the matter is, if your burglar is so determined to break into your particular house that he is prepared to deal with a dog, he may well be determined enough to risk an alarm.

P.S. Of the "scarier" breeds, I've found Rottweilers to be surprisingly gentle and friendly. Whether you like to be knocked off your feet by 100 pounds of friendliness is another matter.

P.P.S. I feel partly responsible for this whole canine threadjacking thing. I hope someone comes in here and talks about actual alarm systems.
posted by Krrrlson at 8:54 AM on September 12, 2004

I lived in a place with an audible security system, and I used to set it off fairly regularly by forgetting it was armed or going in a different door. Everytime it went off, I could feel its effectiveness slipping away. When's the last time you rushed to the scene of a sounding car alarm?

But it was loud and it certainly would've scared me away if I were trying to break in.

I've known people who have security system signs in their front flowerbed, but without a functioning security system installed. This is certainly a cheap alternative, but it's hard to know whether or not it's effective. Kinda like judging the quality of the airbags in your car.

(Sorry to continue the dog threadjacking, but someone said "Boxer"...)

I have two Boxer dogs guarding my couches and armchairs all day long, and they occasionally make intimidating noises at the front window. I've noticed that this is enough to make shady people nervous, which is a nice side benefit.

However, these dogs are here because we love them. I'll echo the earlier comments: Please don't get a dog unless you want a dog as a companion and member of the family. To do otherwise is asking for trouble, both for you and the dog.

To tie two of my comments together: If you've been planning on getting a dog as a pet, you could think about buying a cheap "Beware of Dog" sign. The combination of such a sign and a dog on the premises would likely make your home an undesirable target.

Other cheap security options include exterior motion sensor lights and making friends with the neighbors, both of which have their own practical benefits.
posted by jmcmurry at 9:30 AM on September 12, 2004

I don't think anyone actually expects the dog to fight off intruders, but it should do just as well as DIY audible alarm system

Yeah, but then a little Chi-hooah-hooah* or Lhasa Apso will do as well as a Rottie. Probably better, because they'll bark at the drop of a hat, and damn will their high-pitched barking get right inside your skull and make your teeth hurt.

One fun trick with any dog is to train it so that something like "Easy... easy... back down" is a cue for the dog to bark even louder, snarl, etc.

*as we all know, named after the great golfer Chy Chy Rodri-gweez
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 10:00 AM on September 12, 2004

I recently house-sat a home with a monitored alarm system, including motion sensors, and it was surprisingly reassuring to know it was there, and that there were panic buttons around. I'd get one of those if I was really concerned about where I lived, depending on cost (mind you, if I were that worried about where I lived, I'd likely be looking for a better area to live in, rather than a security system). But good-quality locks, motion-sensitive lights, and a phone in every room is probably a good low-cost option.

"Beware of Dog" signs apparently carry some liability in some places, you may want to check this - as I understand it (and IANAL), if you have this sign, and your dog bites someone, you are liable for even more damages than you might have been otherwise, since the sign is taken as implying that you knew you had a dangerous dog.

(back to the hijack for one more know-it-all moment: Rotties are great, if they're bred properly, raised properly, socialized properly, and have ongoing training, however, the ones who are big teddy bears, sweet as they are, are not truly representative of the breed as it should be (or they got that way with a lot of work by the owner), and it's often this type of Rottie which inspires people who really shouldn't, to get one - they think all Rotties are like this, and they certainly are not, they are intelligent and strong-minded dogs who can get very pushy and have the potential to be very dangerous, and they are really not just Labs in black and tan coats (not that Labs are all that nice anymore, mind you)...okay, enough derailment from me)
posted by biscotti at 10:04 AM on September 12, 2004

"People massively overestimate how much protecting a dog will do." (biscotti) - Perhaps, but a guy who is running for the position of sheriff in my county - in a hotly contested race - was going door to door and got bitten on the arm quite badly by a Doberman. His wound required 36 stitches.

There is a German Shepherd along my street that used to menace my wife and I when we'd walk our (small) dog - it would lunge sometimes, and bust right through it's "electronic fence" .

One day, it came running right at me and I decided "OK, this is it. The dog's going for my throat. I'll sacrifice a leg instead." So, prepared for man-on-dog combat (but not in the amorous sense of "man on dog" which caught Rick Santorum's prurient interest) I stuck out my foot - right in front of the dog's face as it ran up to me. This confused it, and it stopped.

It was a youngish Shepherd, a little unsure of itself, and this probably helped to save me from a mauling.

Then, I used my "dog master" voice to tell it, in stern tones, to go away. It backed up a little anyway - but then started stalking us up the street. So, I started picking up chunks of asphalt and heaving them at the damn creature. Eventually, it backed off, but I think that was due more to the fact that we had moved beyond it's sense of a "defensive perimeter" than to the chunks of asphalt flying at it's head.

Then, the dog's owner drove up in her minivan and asked "Was my dog bothering you ? I'm so sorry!" I suddenly felt a strong desire to urinate on the side of her car.

I started carrying a big solid rock in my pocket so I could get in one really good shot at the dog's head as it attacked me. I good hit might just stun it.

One day, the dog disappeared. It wasn't me, I swear.


German Shepherds, and Dobermans too, were bred to have powerful protective instincts.

In general, though, I think biscotti's right.


You can also, now, quite easily set up a system which emits loud and threatening dog barking sounds from inside your house as someone, approaching, triggers a motion sensor.

Just pull the drapes and - voila! - instant savage dog.

Post some "beware of dog" signs, per Dhartung's suggestion.


Or, in a minimalist and spookily menacing approach, have a sign shop custom produce signs for you which read :"Warning : ATTACK TRAINED DOGS on premises. You will not hear them. We have had their VOCAL CORDS REMOVED."
posted by troutfishing at 10:10 AM on September 12, 2004 [1 favorite]

So, back to alarm systems.......well, I like integrating the two approaches - so that one's alarm system triggers, also, a hysterical sounding, menacing dog recording which savagely barks and growl at potential intruders. You'd need a large number of different tracks of the same dogs for authenticity. They'd be randomized or - if you have enough tracks - they could just play it as a long loop.
posted by troutfishing at 10:15 AM on September 12, 2004

And they have bees in their mouths, and when they bark, they shoot bees.
posted by Krrrlson at 10:15 AM on September 12, 2004

And the bees are carrying vicious ticks, ticks with Lyme Disease. And the Lyme Ticks are dusted with Anthrax Bacillus.....

Krrrlson - You know, the "Barking Dog" system isn't something I made up. It's an actual mass-marketed consumer product :


"The perfect kit to simulate an angry dog barking. Use with included motion detector. When someone trips motion detector, dog barks, and lights can turn on at any delay after bark!.... Its ingenious design allows you to trigger a frightening dog bark by motion or keychain remote.  Now, we've improved the barking dog alarm with the enhancements that our customers have always wanted -- computerized control of the dog! You can now use ActiveHome to control it, even program Macros that make the dog bark.  This new dog is intelligent, not to mention loud, mean and frightening to strangers. That's real power! We gave it a name that reflects its improved abilities. Introducing Robo-Dog™! "

Listen to RoboDog, click on picture for .wav sound file!
posted by troutfishing at 10:56 AM on September 12, 2004

Disclosure - I am in no way affiliated with ROBO-DOG, nor do I have any interest, financial or otherwise, in ROBO-DOG.

Also, that .wav barking dog file wouldn't scare off a flabby six year old boy scout weaned on twinkies and Coke.
posted by troutfishing at 11:00 AM on September 12, 2004

troutfishing: note that I didn't say that dogs didn't/wouldn't bite (obviously they do), but that people overestimate how much protecting a dog will do when the dog's life or limb is on the line. An unsocialized/badly treated/whatever dog (like the dogs in your example) biting a stranger when the stranger is likely not overtly threatening the dog is a whole different kettle of fish from a dog defending its owner while being actively threatened. A vicious dog is not necessarily a protective dog.

Many dogs were bred to have powerful protective instincts, this does not mean that those instincts will carry through in a real-life situation, nor does it mean that they are present in every dog, especially given the way irresponsible people breed dogs these days.
posted by biscotti at 11:55 AM on September 12, 2004

If you're interested in having an alarm system installed, and you feel you need the security, don't go cheap.

My family has always had an ADT alarm system installed in our homes. There are two big reasons. One is fire protection. The IR sensors and smoke detectors are wired into a system like this, and that means that the fire department will get there faster. The second is, of course, security. The family was in and out all day and often one person was home alone. We could set the alarm to 'home', and certain doors would work and others would set off the alarm.

There were two or three other features that we thought were nice. One was the audible alert when an external door was opened. Since you couldn't see all of the doors from one place in the house, it was a good 'heads up' that someone had just entered the house. Another was the 'hostage code' ... if someone puts a gun to your head as you're unlocking the door and tells you to shut off the alarm, we had a code that would silence the alarm but immediately summon the appropriate response from the police department. And, of course, the aforementioned panic buttons, which were easier to remember in one area that didn't have 911 installed yet when we lived there.

Unless you're a) Not planning on having kids, b) a trained marksman, military, or survivalist, or c) are otherwise able to keep it unlocked and loaded ... don't bother getting a gun. As much as I am pro-gun ... most people are more likely to hurt yourself with it than to fend off an intruder. A combination of a baseball bat with a lead core and some pepper spray would be a much safer alternative if you're THAT worried.

I have a friend that raises and trains ABPT's, or American Pit Bull Terriers. These dogs look like they want to scrape your face off and eat it for lunch, but they're quite honestly the most friendly dogs, short of a Golden Retreiver, that I've ever met. I'm sure they could be made mean (any dog could be), but I know it wasn't in the nature of the dogs I met through him. Don't bother with getting a dog with your primary reason as defense; I can't see how one would help prevent a theft or home invasion by anyone other than a very inexperienced criminal.
posted by SpecialK at 1:22 PM on September 12, 2004

Keep in mind that your insurance company may give you a discount if you have a remotely-monitored alarm, and that the alarm system, itself, should add to the value of your home.

Congratulations on your purchase, BTW.
posted by electro at 3:00 PM on September 12, 2004

Looks like an "Ask Slashdot" thread has just gone up asking pretty much the same question, lots of comments.
posted by bobo123 at 3:19 PM on September 12, 2004

Krrrlson - You know, the "Barking Dog" system isn't something I made up. It's an actual mass-marketed consumer product...

I know, I just felt like demonstrating my lack of original thought by making a Simpsons reference in response to your "attack dogs" sign idea.
posted by Krrrlson at 4:29 PM on September 12, 2004

Just FYI, but a lot of companies will discount your homeowner's insurance premium if you have a security system. Our discount is greater than the cost of the system, so everybody's happy. Even if you just break even, why not?
posted by padraigin at 7:31 PM on September 12, 2004

Our monitored ADT system paid for itself by preventing two break-ins last year.
posted by Dean King at 7:39 AM on September 13, 2004

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