Guard Dog vs. Watchdog

I see the terms “watchdog” and “guard dog” used on the web as if they are interchangeable, but they aren’t. There is a difference between a guard dog and a watchdog – a big one.

Kona: Kai Ken - On The Look OutWatchdog: A Watchdog, also called an “Alarm Dog”, is a dog that is used to warn their owner that something is not right, typically by barking. A common example of the use of a watchdog is to warn their owner of an intruder or trespasser. Watchdogs tend to bark a lot. A watchdog should not be expected to engage (bite) a threat, or even to hold their ground, their job is simply to “sound the alarm”. A good watchdog can sound the alarm and stay out of danger until “backup” arrives to take action. Watchdogs come in many different sizes and shapes. A large size, courage, and amazing strength are not necessarily requirements for a watchdog.

JJ - Cane CorsoGuard Dog: A Guard Dog is a dog that is used to guard property or livestock (which includes their family – human, canine, feline, fish, bird…). While guard dogs may “alert” like a watchdog, they are also expected to engage (bite) a threat if needed. Typically a guard dog uses a forceful “display” to drive (scare) a threat away while holding their ground and engaging the threat if the initial display is not enough of a deterrent. A good guard dog should always give a clear warning before moving in for a bite – the display is their first line of defense. Guard dogs typically come in 2 packages: large and thick-coated livestock guardians, and large short-coated bully/mastiff type dogs. With the exception being some of the pinscher (terrier) breeds and some shepherd breeds (like the GSD). Size, strength, tenacity, courage, and a level-headed outlook are import traits of a guard dog.

Throughout history the watchdog has been deployed alongside the larger guard dog. The watchdog would act as the alarm while the guardian would come in to take action. Examples of this type of arrangement can be found from Italy, where the Volpino Italiano worked alongside the Cane Corso and Neapolitan Mastiff, from Tibet where the Lhasa Apso and Tibetan Spaniel worked alongside their large guardian counterparts, the Tibetan Mastiff.

Unlike some Protection and Service Dogs, who sometimes require 100s of hours of training (think “Police Dog” or “Military Dog”), watchdogs and guard dogs do not typically need any training for their job, they perform these roles instinctively and autonomously. Actually, it’s my experience that you spend more time training guardians when NOT to guard than when to guard. Like a guard dog, the best Personal Protection Dogs (PPDs) will have a natural protective instinct too, but with the drive to follow-through. Since PPDs are often deployed in public situation (not private property, like a guard dog) the PPD requires a lot of specialized training to ensure the public’s safety.

There is also another type of security dog they use in any armed guard company: the Personal Protection Dog (PPD). These dogs also work on instinct, but are typically always with their human. They’re rarely expected to sit back at home and guard the property while their owner is gone – instead they would be with their owner as their primary job is to protect their owner from “bad guys”. These dogs require a lot of training in the area of obedience and control, and probably pose the highest liability to the owner. A typical should be expected to engage and eliminate threats – without guidance from their handler. These dogs “read” the situation, and act on instinct to protect their human. These dogs require a lot of socialization so they can best “read” their environment and different scenarios.

33 Replies to “Guard Dog vs. Watchdog”

  1. I am always having to correct people when they say that my Dobermans are great watch dogs when infact the breed does very poorly separated from their humans. I love to take my dogs with me whenever I can and they thrive in this type of life. They are the perfect breed for me as I’m very active and enjoy many outside activities and yet I know that I’m safe with my two dearest friend beside me, even in Oakland California!

  2. It’s nice to hear a distinction that makes a difference.

    A Chihuahua can be a very good choice for a home watch-dog. If you need protection from an animal, the Chihuahua is not the dog of choice.

    It’s getting frequent that you hear of the police raiding the wrong home and shooting the owner’s dog because the guard-dog doesn’t make intruder distinctions.

    I would hope that your sizable watch-dog doesn’t get shot by the police, merely because he/she has a ferocious bark. In that case, I would be for significanct punishment of the officer, and compensatory damages of a significant nature to the owner of the watch-dog.

    I don’t advocate replacing the guard-dog with an AR-15. Surely, there are some sensible options for the home owner or renter. Personally, I had greeted a burglar at the apartment door where I had a lease agreement with a sizable knife. I did not have a watch dog or guard dog at that time (Now I have a large “watch dog” — never had an occasion to make a bofide distinction.).

    1. Incidently, I had a police officer tell me in close quarters a knife may be the better choice. The burglar did not show a weapon, but quickly departed.

  3. Extremely informative and accurate definitions and differences between “watch dogs” and “guard dogs” that I sincerely hope “uninformed” potential dog owners will take to heart. Having spent over fifty years enjoying the unequalled loyalty, unconditional love, and unmatched devotion that our wonderful canine creatures, unmatched in all the animal kingdom, I firmly believe that we need to fully educate ourselves in our attempts to repay our wonderful companions and to give them every opportunity for success as they devote their very lives to love and please us. The “man’s best friend” reputation our dogs have so affectively and consistently earned for themselves, in my humble opinion, requires us to do all we can to set our dogs up for success, and we simply cannot do that without educating ourselves in every way possible. I strongly believe that all current or potential dog owners and lovers should educate themselves in dog phsycology. We owe that to them, and understanding how they think and process information and training would go a long way in preventing situations that that could set a dog up for failure and eliminate many incidents that more educated dog owners could have prevented from ever even happening. I cannot stress enough how much that has helped me in the many years that I have spent training many different breeds of dogs. Thank you for providing such a knowledgable distinction of these two totally different types of dogs.

  4. Brad, I really appreciate this post and the clear distinctions that you’ve outlined. I’ve been looking for an ideal dog for over 3 years and this has really help me to identify the type of dog I require. Presa Canario, Boerboel, Dogo Argentino… do you feel either of these make good guard dogs? I’m not looking for a PPD or a watch dog. I live alone and require a guard dog to look over my home the 60 hours a week when no one is there. Any direction would be greatly appreciated. I have an alarm, cameras, security door and have had my home broken into twice in 3 years. I’ve got to do something.

    1. A Presa Canario is probably the best bet since they’re less “velcro” than a Boerboel. The Boerboel would stress when you’re not there. Dogo are territorial, but I do not at all consider them guard dogs.

      1. Brad, thank you for your input. I really respect your insight on the subject and your opinion. Are there any other large dog breeds that you feel I should consider? Heavy shedding dogs are out of the question but aside from that I’m open.

        1. Consider an Akita, Rottweiller or German Shepherd…an Akita is said to be a natural guard dog with no training necessary. My previous dog, a Rottweiller would not let anyone leave the house w/o our permission. I now have an Akita, she is still a pup, 4 months old, but I selected her for the purpose of having a guard dog that will guard almost soley on instinct. These would be my top choices to protect against other humans

    2. I’ve had 3 cane corsos. Great dogs. I’m on my 7 th Neapolitan mastiff. Neos are the best guard dog that I’ve ever had. It’s the centuries of breeding into the Neo that have made it what it is today.

  5. I have been researching various breeds..I like the Anatolian Shepherd, Bouvier des Flanders,
    Kuvasz,German Shepherd and Doberman Pincher..I need a dog that will GUARD my house the Seven-Eight hours that I am at work…I run three times a week and have no problems exercising a dog daily, oftentimes twice a day…I really like the Anatolian, but have read that they can sometimes be aggressive because When they are not guarding a flock, they become frustrated…I have a large yard , I think (60×120), so I am hoping this is adequate enough space…Any recommendations?

    1. The cane corso is an amazing massive dog for gaurding. I have a black male cane corso and he’s a beast. What makes him perfect is that this breed will adapt to your lifestyle rather than the other way round. They are never aggressive to their family(handler) they are always devoted to protect you, stand by you in times of need and guard your house. They are calm, love to maintain order and are very easy to train/handel. A girls bestfriend for sure

      I also had a GSD ( police dog).The GSD is a great guard dog with a heart of gold, but if you don’t have any experience with this breed they can be a little hard to train/handel.

      Do your research before getting one because there is nothing worst than getting you buddy but you don’t know how to handel him/her or he /she appears to be to much work.

      I hope I could have been of some help.

      1. Just check with the competent authorities in your area/state/country before getting a guard dog as some guardian breed are banned in some countries (e.g. Cane Corso is banned in Australia)

  6. dear Ozzie, did that police officer tell you that now days there are usually more than one burglar breaking into homes?, why do they shoot so many people before they know what they have, gun vs knife that’s not my job to figure out what they came with, and I do have three Rottweilers and one AR-15 I don’t play with my family’s life

  7. Nice informative speech, i enjoyed this.

    At the point when I consider watch Dog guard, I consider Rottweilers. They have a significant impediment impact on thieves….

  8. Thank you for sharing and explaining the difference between a guard dog and a watch dog. Your article is very interesting. Would dogs like Pit bulls, German Shepherds and Rottweilers be considered guard dogs? I think both types of dogs would be useful.

  9. Dogs are regularly more applicable than the precautionary framework that you feel is related to the gate crusher. When the Dog warns you about an intruder when you enter your home, a doorway cake will alert you for a long time before you get inside the gatekeeper.

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