How to Prevent, Reduce and Stop Territorial Aggression in Dogs
Territorial aggression may be a prized attribute for owners looking for a good guard dog, but it can ultimately have a lot of downsides. While it is an innate quality in certain dog breeds such as German Shepherds, Akitas, or Rottweilers, a territorial and aggressive dog can ultimately turn out to be a big liability. Hence, the series of lawsuits, specific dog breed legislations, and so forth that come along with owning a very territorial dog.
Protecting territory is in a natural canine instinct. In the wild, canines tend to claim territory and will defend it through intimidating barks if other dogs or animals get too close. This is an instinctive way to protect mates, young puppies and dens where the dogs sleep.
Today, this instinctive nature has remained unchanged in the dog, therefore it is used to the owner's advantage to protect personal property. The typical cliche of a mailman or gas-meter guy being barked at or chased is a classic. Often, a fear component is at the base of what seems like territorial behavior. However, the territorial response can be greatly diminished with proper socialization and some changes.
While it is true that some dog breeds were genetically selected to be good guard dogs or watch dogs (think the many small dogs who bark at the minimal sound), in many cases, dogs can be taught to be less territorial.
Of course, this is best if it is accomplished from a young age, since once mature, most dogs tend to develop territorial tendencies such as urine marking, barking at strangers and generally becoming more aloof towards people approaching their property.
How to Reduce Territorial Aggression in Dogs
Following are some helpful tips on how to stop territorial aggression in dogs. Note: if you own an aggressive territorial dog, do not try anything on your own, rather, enroll a dog behavior professional.
Choose the Right Breed
As already mentioned there are dog breeds that make better guard dogs or watch dogs than others and this is because they have been selected for their guarding or watch dog qualities.
While even some guard dogs may be taught to be less territorial, the guarding instinct may still remain up to a certain extent unless you work heavily on training and socializing. If you do not want a dog that may potentially protect your property, it is best to skip the guarding/watch dog breeds and look for other breeds that are less apt to this job.
Socialize Your Dog
Socialize your dog heavily, enroll in classes, teach your dog that people are not a threat that needs to be sent away. Have your mailman deliver treats every time he passes by. Have friends and neighbors stop by and give treats. Let your dog learn that people coming to the property means great things happen.
Provide Gentle Guidance
Because as a dog owner it is your responsibility to providing gentle guidance to your dog, you want to make sure you are in charge of certain areas of the home and it's not your dog's responsibility.
- Prevent your dog from charging at the window, fence or door.
- Stay in front of the window or door when you recognize a trigger and feed your dog treats the moment he recognizes it before he has a chance to react. You can find more on this exercise among these dog impulse control games.
- Limit access to areas where your dog tends to engage in territorial behaviors and you cannot provide guidance.
Make It Clear That You Are the Decision-Maker
Make it clear to your dog that you will be the one that will decide if that stranger coming into your house will be your friend or foe. Your dog should look up to you for advice on how to behave in the presence of that stranger that entered your property and not take the decision in his hands, or better, paws.
Claim the Door
If your dog flies up to the door when a guest is knocking, tell him to stay aside. This will help your dog understand that you are the one that takes care of your guests. You should be able to open the door undisturbed and your dog should leave you ample space to open the door. A good method is to teach the dog the stay command or tell your dog to "go to your mat" even when the door is knocked or a bell is rung. Practice this with guests.
Thank and Plead to Shush
Some dogs can be quite good barkers when somebody is near or in their territory. If you do not want a territorial dog, you do not need to punish or yell at your dog for barking. Rather, simply thank your dog for the bark, inspect your place for any intruders and tell your dog ''that's enough'' after you acknowledge all is safe. Pop a treat for complying. A dog that gives a warning bark or two is a good thing, and should be acknowledged, you never know what could happen.
Watch Your Feelings
You may hide your feelings of fear towards that guy with that ''something that you do not trust'' but very likely your real feeling will be delivered with no problem, all the way down the leash. The truth is that dogs are very in tune with their owners and they can easily feel feelings of anger, fear or anguish.
When dogs feel you are uncomfortable they may take what looks like a protective role—but most likely it's fear, causing them to growl and act defensively towards that person. So remember to keep your cool or keep your dog away from situations that do not make you comfortable.
Keep Your Dog Contained
A dog that is left in an un-fenced area tends to believe that they own quite a large area and may become territorial even out of the property limits. It is best to fence off your property so your dog has some sort of boundary to remind him that this is his place and so he'll stay out of trouble. Better off, prevent your dog from rehearsing the territorial behavior by keeping him inside and outside only when he's with you..
Invite Strangers Over
Try to invite people that your dog has not met onto your property and show your dog that they are friendly. A good way to start is by having friends pass by your property and toss a few treats when the dog is not barking at them. Then invite them over and let them toss treats as well every time the dog does not act territorial. Use the treat and retreat game.
There are people who own dogs that literally love the mailman because they have told the mailman to ''deliver'' the dog some goodies every time he brings the mail. For more on this read Why Dogs Hate the Mailman.
As seen, there are various ways to prevent or at least reduce some territorial aggression in dogs. While a dog that fiercely bares its teeth and growls at strangers may be a liability, a dog that emits one or two warning barks may be a good thing and should be acknowledged with a ''thank you''.
Note: If your dog is territorial/aggressive consult with a dog behavior professional. By reading this article you accept this disclaimer.
"You need to provide your dog some rules. The dog is acting out of the mistaken belief that it’s up to him to control who comes into the house and who doesn’t. So the rule might be that when someone comes to the door, that’s the cue for the dog “to sit, or go in another room, or whatever you decide."— Dr. Borns-Weil, veterinary behaviorist
This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. It is not meant to substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, or formal and individualized advice from a veterinary medical professional. Animals exhibiting signs and symptoms of distress should be seen by a veterinarian immediately.
© 2009 Adrienne Farricelli