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Guard dog

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A raggedly dressed man being bitten by a house guard dog. Etching by Thomas Lord Busby, ca. 1826.

A guard dog or watchdog (not to be confused with an attack dog) is a dog used to watch for and guard people or property against unwanted or unexpected human or animal intruders.[1][2]


Roman mosaic of a large chained dog (with cropped ears and docked tail) at the Archaeological Park of Lilybaeum, Marsala, Sicily

The use of dogs as guardians is well known since ancient times. The Romans used to put mosaics (Cave canem mosaics) at the entrance of the houses to warn visitors and intruders of the presence of dangerous dogs at the property.[3]

One of the first dog types used as guardians were the ancestral Mastiff-type landraces of the group known as Livestock guardian dogs which protected livestock against large predators such as wolves, bears and leopards.[4] Orthrus is a famous example of a livestock guardian dog from the Greek mythology known for guarding Geryon's red cattle.

Some ancient guard dogs in more urban areas, such as the extinct bandogges, were chained during the day and released at night[5] to protect properties, camps and villages.


German Shepherd dog guarding property

Both guard dogs and watchdogs bark loudly to alert their owners of an intruder's presence and to scare away the intruder.[6] The watchdog's function ends here; a guard dog is then capable of attacking and/or restraining the intruder.

Livestock guardian dogs are often large enough—100–200 pounds (45–91 kg)—and strong enough to attack and drive away livestock predators.[4] Some smaller breeds (such as Keeshonden and Tibetan Terriers) are excellent watchdogs, but not guard dogs, because they bark loudly to alert their masters of intruders, but are physically small and not given to assertive behavior. Guard dogs will bark to alert their master and to warn off an approaching animal or human threat prior to their interception of the trespasser. They are different from the smaller watchdogs in that they do not continue barking; they take action. Specifically, livestock guardian dogs such as the Kangal use loud alarm barks as a first line of defense against presumed threats; if these do not deter a perceived foe (either human or animal predators), other displays such as bluffing and charging are employed. For livestock guardians, proactive forms of defense such as bites are only used if all other forms of deterrence fail.

The following breeds are the best at watchdog barking:[7]

Guard dog training with Presa canario dog

If the risk is from human intruders, a suitable dog can be simply trained to be aggressive towards unrecognized humans and then tethered or enclosed unsupervised in an area that the owner wishes to protect when he is not around (such as at night); the stereotypical "junkyard dog" is a common example of this. If the purpose of the dog is to protect against human intruders after nightfall, a large, dark-colored dog in a dark house (lights off) would give the dog an advantage over the burglar.[8]

It is claimed that female dogs tend to make better personal guardians than males, due to maternal instincts, but males are considered better for guarding property because of their greater territorial instinct. That may be true in general, but all dogs are individuals.[9]



Many currently prominent guard dogs started as general purpose farm dogs, but gradually developed into guard breeds. Some dog breeds such as the Dobermann and the Dogue Brasileiro were specifically bred to guard.[10][11][unreliable source?]

Guard dogs are not restricted to mastiffs. Other dogs, like some shepherd dogs, Spitz dogs, cattle dogs and some catch dogs are also great guard dogs as well as being useful as multifunctional dogs, acting as attack dogs, personal protection dogs, police dogs, sport dogs such as schutzhund dogs, etc.

Guard dog breeds tend to be territorial, averse to strangers, dominant, and protective and loyal with family. The Fila Brasileiro for example has a reputation for being very intolerant of strangers and guests to the home and property. Other fierce guard dogs include breeds and landraces of the Ovtcharka type and other farm guard dogs such as the Boerboel.

Some breeds who make excellent guards are more commonly having breed specific legislation passed against them, banning them from some communities and whole countries.[12]



The laws regarding ownership and usage of guard dogs vary from country to country.[13][14][1] In England the main legislation relating to the use of guard dogs on commercial premises are contained within the 1975 Guard Dogs Act. The act specifies the requirements of kennels and the need to display guard dog warning signs at the entrance to sites.[15]

See also



  1. ^ a b Department of Economic Development, Jobs. "Guard dogs". agriculture.vic.gov.au. Archived from the original on 17 March 2020. Retrieved 3 May 2019.
  2. ^ "Definition of GUARD DOG". www.merriam-webster.com. Retrieved 3 May 2019.
  3. ^ "Pompeii guard dog mosaic back on show". 27 July 2015. Retrieved 17 July 2019.
  4. ^ a b "Livestock Guardian Dogs and Their Care in Winter". www.omafra.gov.on.ca. Retrieved 3 May 2019.
  5. ^ Beilby, Ralph (1792). A General History of Quadrupeds: The Figures Engraved on Wood. S. Hodgson, R. Beilby, & T. Bewick.
  6. ^ Clayden, Paul (1 May 2011). The Dog Law Handbook. Sweet & Maxwell. ISBN 9780414048188.
  7. ^ Benjamin Hart (21 September 1995), "Analysing breed and gender differences in behaviour", The domestic dog: its evolution, behaviour, and interactions with people, ISBN 9780521425377
  8. ^ Tierney, John (11 June 2011). "For the Executive With Everything, a $230,000 Dog to Protect It". The New York Times. Retrieved 3 May 2019.
  9. ^ Willis, Malcolm B. (1989). Genetics of the Dog. Howell Book House. ISBN 9780876055519.
  10. ^ "DPCA | The Doberman | History". dpca.org. Retrieved 17 July 2019.
  11. ^ "Brazilian Dogo – Facts, Pictures, Puppies, Price, Temperament, Breeders | Animals Adda". Retrieved 17 July 2019.
  12. ^ "A short history of the 'dangerous dog' and why certain breeds are banned". BBC News. 4 January 2018.
  13. ^ "Guard Dogs Act 1975". www.legislation.gov.uk. Retrieved 3 May 2019.
  14. ^ "Permits and Housing of Guard Dogs – 6.10". Town of Rangely. 30 March 2016. Retrieved 3 May 2019.
  15. ^ "Guard Dogs Act 1975". www.legislation.gov.uk. Retrieved 17 August 2019.