Watchdog or Guard Dog? Understanding the Difference
Watch Dog vs Guard Dogs: They're Not the Same Thing!
There seems to be a lot of confusion these days about the differences between watchdogs vs. guard dogs. Is it right to label a Yorkshire terrier as a guard dog no matter how fierce he is when visitors come over? Are mastiff-like dogs categorized as watchdogs or guard dogs? What makes a dog a good or poor guardian? What traits belong to each category? This article is to help distinguish the difference between these two terms, which are often erroneously used interchangeably as if they both depict the same thing.
Whether you are looking for a dog who will sound the alarm every time an intruder is coming by your house or one who takes the issue more seriously, you'll need to conduct good research in order to get what you want. Before investing in a dog breed, see what that breed was originally bred to do, ask the breeder questions, and keep other traits in consideration. Consider as well that even among breeds, dogs have individual personalities. One of my clients once got a dog of a breed well known for its watchdog qualities, but she ended up discovering that her ducks had much more "watchdog" qualities than her dog!
Watchdog Versus Guard Dog: the Main Differences
Watch dog or a guard dog, who does the job best? The truth is that they both do, but each have their own specialty. Using the term interchangeably is like comparing apples to oranges. It's almost like saying that a door keeper or a receptionist does the same job as a security guard. Yet, the door keeper's job is just limited to screening visitors, providing courtesy service and accepting deliveries, and most of all, he's most likely not armed. The security guard, on the other hand, may have a more prominent role, he may be armed and may even have the ability to arrest. So let's see what sets apart being a watch dog or a guard dog.
These are dogs whose main function is to be vigilant and sound the alarm for anything perceived as unusual. A good watch dog should be discriminative over what is perceived as usual and unusual. Hypervigilance is not a good trait in this case, as the dog may react excessively to things that are not really relevant to the owner. Often hypervigilant behavior is based on fear and may be seen in dogs who haven't been socialized enough.
The main characteristic of a watch dog is the ability to bark loudly. Size in this case doesn't really matter; indeed, some of the smaller breeds are often some of the best watch dogs. Many terriers, chihuahuas, larger poodles, dachshunds and shi tzus are all excitable breeds that have the potential to make good watchdogs.
These dogs bark loudly as well, but they're additionally capable of attacking and restraining people or other animals. They may bark initially and if the bark doesn't work in sending the intruder away, they may take action and move to plan B. A typical example is the junkyard dog left to patrol the area during the night and capable of incapacitating intruders. Yet, despite the intimidating display, whether confronting a human or animal, these dogs shouldn't be left to fend for themselves. In an ideal world, their humans should come to the guard dog's aid and intervene appropriately in a timely manner.
There are two main types of guardian dogs: the short-haired mastiff/like breeds and the hairy livestock guardian dogs, which, as the name implies, were selectively bred to attack drive away predators from livestock, including animals large as wolves. These are large, strong specimens sometimes weighing about 100 to 200 pounds.
Examples of good guardians include: the doberman, Rottweiler, German Shepherd, American Bulldog, Bouvier, Swiss Mountain dog and Giant Schnauzer. Many of these dogs were bred as all-purpose, versatile dogs who fit well into the guardian role. Some breeds, on the other hand, were originally bred for hunting, but their intimidating looks and instincts to protect property made them good guardian candidates. Examples include the Akita, the Weimaraner and the Rhodesian Ridgeback. Other serious guardian breeds include the Anatolian shepherd, the Kangal, the Akbash, the Tibetan Mastiff, the Kuvasz, the Mid-Asian shepherd, the Komondor and the Caucasian shepherd. And let's not forget about the aloof Fila Brasileiro, Dogo Argentino, Tosa Inu and Canary dog.
What dogs make good guard dogs? In general, physical appearance plays a big role. Size does seem to matter when it comes to deterrent qualities and so does the breed's reputation. For instance, a study revealed that burglars considered dark dogs the most dangerous ones. Dog owners at times also crop their dog's ears in an effort to making them look more intimidating.
Guard dogs may have different guardian styles. Some will bark initially, others may quietly immobilize the intruder. For instance, Rottweilers are known for having a "wait and see" attitude and will react only when they deem it is necessary. Mastiffs, may jump on burglars and stay put there until the owner tells them otherwise.
And what about the other breeds? Yes, there are many breeds that make poor watch dogs. These are dogs who are more likely to invite a burglar for some pop-corn and a movie. The Siberian husky, Alaskan malamute and the clownish pug comes to mind. Many of the hounds are also eager to meet and greet newcomers on your property because they have a strong pack drive. Generally, the Bloodhound, Newfoundland and Saint Bernard also have a reputation for being eager to greet people, yet, the latter two may appear quite intimidating due to their size when they're excited to jump and say hello!
Note: These are just general descriptions that aren't written in stone. A watch dog at times may take a more active role and even bite. Some watch dogs may bark and then bite right when the person turns around to leave. Whereas, it may happen that what is perceived as a good guard dog may feel intimidated at times and retreat. Dogs are animals, and as such they can be unpredictable at times.
What's your ideal dog?
A Word of Caution About Guard Dogs
Many guard dogs instinctively protect your territory but most require special training so to help them discriminate between friend or foe. It cannot be emphasized enough the importance of having a reputable professional train your dog to guard your property. The risks of training a guard dog on your own are too high to even give it a try.
Guard dogs aren't safe for inexperienced owners. A well- rounded, balanced temperament is required and these dogs need loads of socialization and training. Many feel that the best way to train a guard dog is to make them suspicious of everyone. Instead, they need to learn that the mailman, guests, friends and neighbors should be tolerated. They shouldn't act reactive when welcomed guests come and go in your property. It's much fairer to train them when not to guard than when to. The truth is, good guard dogs shouldn't be hyper-vigilant. According to Pam Young, "The dog that feels that everything is something to be afraid of and aggressive to is NOT a good guard dog prospect! A guard dog is essentially a loaded gun; if you don’t have control of that gun, you WILL have problems."
There's a very fine line between acting protective and harming some innocent person. As a behavior consultant, I have witnessed too many stories of guard dogs who happen to hurt a child who ends somehow in the yard of Uncle Ben who owns 2 serious guard dogs. If you are concerned about burglars but don't want somebody getting hurt on your property, it's far best to play it safe and invest in good locks and an alarm service instead. Training a guard dog is not something you should do on your own, nor something you should ask the average dog trainer. You will need a trainer who has made of training guard dogs his specialty for many years or decades.
Note: Sometimes, owners believe their dogs have great guarding abilities, but what happens when you leave the home? Will your dog be able to immobilize a burglar? Will the burglar be able to befriend him with some tasty food? Or will he slink away and allow the burglar to take possession of your belongings? It's best not to find out of course, but the video below is quite interesting to watch.
Disclaimer; this article is not a substitute for professional guard dog training.