Territorial Behavior in Dogs
Learn about causes and corrective actions for territorial dogs.
Signs of Territorial Behavior
- Urinating on things in the yard or during walks
- Barking and charging fence when people or dogs approach or pass
- Stiff body language, hard eyeing of visitors you permit into house or yard
- Low, guttural growl directed toward person or dog approaching/entering property
- Aggression toward a person or dog entering property
- Barking and/or growling at people or dogs from inside owner's vehicle
Causes and Corrective Actions for Territorial Dogs
A dog who constantly worries about his own safety due to being left alone within an electrically fenced area or non-fenced yard where other dogs freely enter and leave the property often displays territorial/reactive behaviors trying to protect himself.
FEAR Corrective Actions: Never leave your dog unattended in an unfenced area. While underground electric fences provide those who live where residential restrictions prohibit a solid fence as a means of confinement, always supervise your dog when outside to ensure his safety and the safety of others. Train a reliable recall using positive methods that allows you to call your dog when you see a potential intruder approaching. Work positive obedience training to increase your dog's confidence and establish yourself as an in-charge leader who can keep your dog safe. Teach a "Leave it" command that tells your dog to stop his current behavior, like barking at an approaching person or dog, and turn attention elsewhere.
Selective breeding has produced many breeds with particularly strong territorial traits, such as flock guardians, that take the job of protecting their territory very seriously.
Despite domestication, many of our canines still retain their ancestor's instinctual need to establish and defend a territory, a behavior that once ensured against food supply depletion and provided a place to raise their young.
Dogs consider the owner's vehicle and, in some cases, anywhere the owner goes as defendable territory, often resulting in overprotective behaviors and territorial aggression toward anyone approaching or coming too close to the vehicle or owner.
GENETICS, INSTINCT, PROTECTIVE Corrective Actions: Strongly territorial breeds demand suitable fencing coupled with positive yet firm obedience training that includes a reliable recall and "Leave it" command to switch dog's attention from territorial responses toward an acceptable behavior like coming when called or playing fetch. Neutering your male or spaying your female often reduces territorial behaviors. If your lifestyle involves children or teenagers who entertain frequent visitors, discourage territorial behaviors early on and allow visitors to hand your dog treats to encourage dog to look kindly on people entering the home and yard — if you remotely suspect your dog might bite, work with a trainer. When your dog goes with you in the car, insist he sit quietly harnessed or in a crate while traveling and use your obedience training during walks to command him to pass people and other dogs quietly and under control rather than barking or pulling on leash.
Lack of Socialization
A dog formerly isolated in a barn or kennel sometimes displays unwarranted territorial aggression in a new home because he doesn't know how else to behave. A dog formerly isolated in a barn or kennel sometimes displays unwarranted territorial aggression in a new home because he doesn't know how else to behave.
LACK OF SOCIALIZATION Corrective Actions: A badly under-socialized dog displaying territorial behaviors requires expert socialization and training best overseen by a professional trainer who will work with counter-conditioning and desensitization methods to help your dog adjust to his new life.
A dog who feels trapped and vulnerable within a small area will defend that territory vehemently, revealing one reason a person should never walk into an unknown dog's kennel.
TRAPPED/VULNERABLE Corrective Actions: If you own a kennel, lock the gate and don't leave your dog kenneled for extended periods. If you own a kennel, lock the gate and don't leave your dog kenneled for extended periods.
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