People often confuse guard dogs and watchdogs, thinking that they are the same thing.

The truth is that there is a significant difference between a watchdog and a guard dog: watchdogs only observe, that is, they watch and act as a kind of alarm, warning their owner about suspicious activities.

Guard dogs watch, can chase, attack, and even subdue intruders and wild animals. In this article, we will make a comparison between a watchdog and a guard dog to highlight how they differ, and if you are planning to buy a dog, which type you should choose.

If you plan to adopt a dog for security purposes, then you should be able to clearly distinguish between guard dogs and watchdogs, as each type has a specific set of characteristics that you need to be aware of in order to train them properly.

To the question many ask, guard dog or watchdog – who does the job better? The truth is that they both do, but each has its own specialty.

Using these terms interchangeably is almost like saying that a doorman or a receptionist does the same job as a security guard.

However, the doorman’s job is limited to screening visitors, providing courtesy service, and accepting deliveries, and most likely he is not armed.

The security guard, on the other hand, may have a more prominent role, may be armed, and may even have the ability to arrest. So let’s look at what differentiates being a watchdog or a guard dog.

Difference Between Guard Dog And Watch Dog

Guard Dogs

A guard dog is a dog used to protect property or livestock (including their families – humans, canines, felines, fish, birds ).

While guard dogs may be as “alert” as watchdogs, they are also expected to engage threats (bite) when necessary. Typically, guard dogs use a strong “display” to repel (scare) a threat while holding their ground, or engage the threat if the initial display is not a sufficient deterrent.

These dogs will also bark loudly, but they also have the ability to attack and restrain people or other animals.

They may initially bark and if the barking does not drive the intruder away, they may take action and move to Plan B. A typical example is a junkyard dog that is left on night patrol and has the ability to disable an intruder.

A good guard dog should always give a clear warning before coming forward to bite – display is its first line of defense.

Guard dogs usually come in two packages: large, thick-haired livestock guardians, and large, short-haired bully/mastiff-type dogs.

The exceptions are some pine (terrier) breeds and some shepherd breeds (such as German Shepherd Dog). Size, strength, toughness, courage and calmness of mind are important characteristics of a guard dog.

There are two main types of guard dogs: the short-haired Tibetan mastiff-like breeds and the multi-haired livestock guard dogs, which, as the name implies, were selectively bred to attack and repel predators, including large animals like wolves, away from livestock. These are large, strong specimens, sometimes weighing about 100 to 200 pounds.

What dog breeds make good guard dogs?

Doberman Pinschers, Rottweilers, German Shepherds, American Bulldogs, Bouviers, Swiss Mountain Dogs and Giant Schnauzers all make excellent guardians. Many of these dogs were bred as versatile breeds that are well suited for the role of guardians.

On the other hand, some breeds were originally bred for hunting, but their intimidating appearance and instinct to protect property make them good guardian candidates. Examples of this include the Akita, Weimaraner and Rhodesian Ridgeback.

Other serious guardian breeds include the Anatolian Shepherd, Kangar, Akbash, Tibetan Mastiff, Kuvasi, Central Asian Shepherd, Komondor, and Caucasian Shepherd. Let’s not forget the indifferent Fila Brasileiro, Dogo Argentino, Tosa Inu and Canary Dog as well.

Generally speaking, physical appearance plays a big role. While size does matter when it comes to deterrence, the reputation of the breed is also important.

For example, one study showed that burglars consider dark-colored dogs to be the most dangerous. Dog owners also sometimes crop their dogs’ ears to make them look more intimidating.

Guard dogs may have different guarding styles. Some will initially bark, while others may quietly immobilize an intruder.

Rottweilers, for example, are known for their “wait and see” attitude, reacting only when they think it is necessary. Mastiffs, on the other hand, may lunge at a burglar and stay put until their owner tells them to.


A watchdog, also known as an “alarm dog,” is a dog that is used to warn its owner that something is wrong, usually by barking. A common example of the use of watchdogs is to warn their owners of intruders or break-ins.

Watchdogs tend to bark a lot. Watchdogs should not be expected to engage threats (bite) or even hold their ground; their job is simply to “sound the alarm”. A good watchdog can sound the alarm and stay out of danger until “back-up” arrives to take action.

Watchdogs come in many different sizes and shapes. Large size, courage and amazing strength are not necessarily requirements for a watchdog.

The primary function of these dogs is to be vigilant and alert to anything that is perceived to be out of the ordinary. A good watchdog should be discerning of what is considered usual and what is not.

In this case, hypervigilance is not a good trait, as the dog may overreact to things that are not really relevant to the owner. Often, hypervigilant behavior is based on fear and may be seen in dogs that have not been adequately socialized.

The main characteristic of a watchdog is the ability to bark loudly. Size really doesn’t matter in this case; in fact, some smaller breeds tend to make some of the best watchdogs.

Many terriers, Chihuahuas, larger poodles, Dachshunds and Shih Tzus are exciting breeds that have the potential to be good watchdogs.

Throughout history, watchdogs have been placed next to large guard dogs. The watchdog would act as an alarm, while the guardian would come in and take action.

Examples of this arrangement can be found in Italy, where Volpino Italiano works with Cane Corso and Neapolitan Mastiff, and in Tibet, where Lhasa Apso and Tiban Spiel work with their large guard dog, Tiban Mastiff.


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