The terms watchdog and guard dog are often used interchangeably, but they’re actually two very different duties. If you want to train a dog to perform a particular job or adopt a dog that might be good as a watch or guard dog, it’s important to know the difference between the two.

Guard Dog vs Watchdog

Alertness to Strangers or Unusual Sounds

Watchdogs are generally very alert to any changes in their environment. They can be hyper-vigilant and will listen for unusual noises, movements that are out of the ordinary, or strangers in their home or neighborhood. Watch dogs will alert their owners to any perceived threats by barking. This barking can often scare away intruders.

Once they have alerted someone to the threat, however, these dogs expect their owners or other family dogs to take care of the situation. Watchdogs generally won’t take action to chase away an intruder, whether that intruder is a person who wishes you harm or a neighborhood cat that has crossed into your yard.

Guard dogs, on the other hand, are alert but don’t generally display the extreme vigilance of watchdogs. They may only bark at an intruder when that person enters their territory or gets too close. Other guard dogs won’t bark at all unless they’re commanded to.

watchdog standing in snow

Intervention in Dangerous Situations

Guard dogs excel at intervening in dangerous situations. Once they have been alerted to a dangerous situation, such as an intruder, they’ll bark to give a warning. If this warning doesn’t work and the guard dog feels that they, their territory, or their family members are in danger, guard dogs will often take an offensive role.

Many guard dogs are trained to protect their owners and will attack intruders. If a guard dog is forced to attack an intruder, the dog’s owner should intervene as quickly as possible to save the dog from injury.

Guard dogs can be used to guard a home or business, but they’re also often used in farming situations. A dog might be used to guard a flock of sheep or cattle from predators such as coyotes, wolves, or big cats.

guard dogs standing outside of garage door

Appearance

Almost any type of dog can be a watchdog, as their appearance isn’t important. However, it’s usually smaller dogs that make the best watchdogs. These dogs are always aware of their surroundings, but they don’t pose a threat like larger dogs do.

The appearance of a guard dog is important. These dogs need to look big and powerful enough to scare away an intruder. If the intruder attacks, the dog must be large enough to defend its home or owner. Large, muscular dogs make the best guard dogs. Sometimes, the appearance of a guard dog is enough to scare away whatever threat is encroaching on the dog’s territory.

aggressive guard dog

Training

When training a watchdog, you’ll first need to come up with a list of things you want your dog to bark at. This can include strangers, strange cars, or animals. The dog should be praised when it alerts to something on the list but discouraged when they bark at something that isn’t on the list. It’s also important that a watchdog is taught to stop barking on command.

Many watchdogs are trained to give only one or two barks to alert their owners. This type of training lets you know that someone who doesn’t belong is approaching, but it helps keep the noise level down and helps to calm the dog.

Guard dogs, on the other, should be trained to bark on command. If you can tell your dog to bark when an intruder approaches, you may be able to scare the intruder away. Most guard dogs also have a command that tells them to keep the intruder occupied if necessary. Many guard dog breeds will already have natural instincts that press them to act if an intruder comes too close.

When training a guard dog, you must also have a command that tells the dog to stand down. A guard dog will often consider anyone it doesn’t know a threat, but the perceived threat could be a mail carrier, delivery person, or a friend the dog has never met. Giving the dog a command to stand down will tell the dog that this person isn’t a threat.

trainer with a guard dog

The Best Dog Breeds For Watch Dogs

Dog breeds that are alert and enjoy barking make great watchdogs. This can include chihuahuas, terriers, Pomeranians, poodles, and dachshunds. Any dog can be trained to bark at intruders, but not every dog will be alert to the smallest sounds, and some dogs may even ignore intruders.

daschund puppy in grass

The Best Breeds for Guard Dogs

Traditionally, large or threatening dogs, such as rottweilers, German shepherds, pit bulls, Great Danes, bull mastiffs, and Cane Corsos, are most often used as guard dogs. The name Cane Corso, for example, actually translates to ‘bodyguard-dog.’ Guard dogs should be loyal, obedient, intelligent, and protective of their territory and anyone they consider their pack.

great dane in a field

Breeds That Excel at Both Watch and Guard Dog Duties

Some dog breeds, such as Dobermans and boxers, are great as both watchdogs and guard dogs. These dogs are aware enough to alert their owners to a threat. They’ll attempt to scare away the intruder by barking. If that doesn’t work, however, their large size and impressive appearance can make intruders think twice, and if they need to act, these dogs generally won’t hesitate to defend their territory or family.

boxer dog in grass

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