How to Prevent, Reduce and Stop Territorial Aggression in Dogs

Adrienne is a certified dog trainer, behavior consultant, former veterinarian assistant, and author of "Brain Training for 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 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 partially unchanged in the dog, therefore it is used to the owner's advantage to protect personal property. The typical cliché 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. Please 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. For example, Rottweilers are considered territorial dogs, but in the right hands and training, they can turn into the dogs of your dreams.

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. An example? Siberian huskies have a reputation for making lousy guard dogs.

Socialize Your Dog

Socialize your dog, 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.

However, consider that, sometimes, what may look like territoriality is instead something else. A dog too happy to see people may develop what's known as barrier frustration, which often resembles a lot territoriality in its manifestation (barking, growling, lunging) when instead it's a dog eager to meet/greet, but frustrated because a fence, gate, window or other barrier prevents him to. Once free of any barrier, these go on to meet and greet people happily.

Prevent Rehearsal of Territorial Behavior

The more a dog engages in a behavior, the more it puts roots. You'll therefore have to take steps to prevent rehearsal of the problematic behavior. These tips will therefore good for management purposes and teach your dog that guarding the home is no longer your dog's responsibility.

  • Prevent your dog from charging at the window, fence or door.
  • Limit access to areas where your dog tends to engage in territorial behaviors and you cannot provide guidance. You can do this by allowing your dog to spend time in a room that is farthest from the window or confine him to an area away from the window blocked off by a baby-gate. As the saying goes, "out of sight, out of mind!"
  • Block visuals. You can do so by applying some opaque window film to your windows so to prevent your dog from seeing outside.

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.

Stay in front of the window or door when you recognize a trigger and feed your dog treats before he has a chance to react. You can find more on this exercise among these dog impulse control games.

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 Say That's Enough!

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 perceive their 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. On top of this, there are many risks with having off-leash dogs. 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. Here is an example of behavior modification done on a dog barking when somebody enters the room.

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

© 2009 Adrienne Farricelli

onyango Henry on January 31, 2020:

I have liked you comments and will adhere to them.

Adrienne Farricelli (author) on August 10, 2015:

This article has several links on behavior modification strategies, some of them are outlined in this hub:

"Look at that and come back" is helpful, but your dog must be under threshold which may not be easy if your dog's highly aroused.. You may need the help of a behavior professional to help you out. I am afraid you are looking for a quick fix. Consider that changing behavior takes time and the longer the dog was allowed to rehearse it the longer it will take.

Jason on August 10, 2015:

still looking for solutions to fence aggression. get a different breed?

Adrienne Farricelli (author) on October 07, 2011:

If he ''always wants to do his will'' he sounds like he needs some obedience training first. Have him take a class, and then once he is better manageable, you can try the above tips. He needs to be able to listen to your commands and be under control or you may have a huge liability on your hands. I would suggest having a trainer show you how to fit a ''gentle leader'' and then work on commands and finally work on some counter conditioning where guests bring good things as treats and should no longer be perceived as threats. Here is a behavior modification guide that you would have to apply when people enter your home;

NNNN on October 07, 2011:

I have a Komondor, and i'm having problems. I can't invite anyone over because he is very territorial. He doesn't bite, but he jumps and intimidates, and I'm afraid he could have other reactions. The problem is that the tips given here are difficult to apply because he is huge, and he always want's to do his will. Any idea how to control this problem?

Arkovaca from Austin, TX. on December 01, 2009:

I have a blue heeler that is very territorial, though she is very smart, and learns quickly. Nevertheless, I'm ever reading helpful training techniques. This was a well done, informative piece. Many thanks!

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CBD for Dogs With Aggression: Why and How It Works

CBD for dogs with aggression might be an unexpected remedy for a behavior problem that has plagued countless dogs (and their owners) over the past decades. Statistics show an increase in bite-related hospitalizations, even fatalities.

Being the owner of an aggressive dog is a very stressful experience because of the ever-present, lingering fear that your dog might seriously hurt another person or another dog. This, of course, does not mean that you love your dog any less. You want to help him become a safer member of society and gain a calmer state of mind.

As CBD oil is rising in popularity and taking the world by storm, the pet industry is welcoming a variety of CBD-based products on the market. Many dog owners are now wondering if this is just another hype or something that could actually help their sick, anxious, and aggressive dog. Can CBD truly be helpful for canine aggression?

How To Correct A Possessive Dog

As your puppy becomes an adult dog, he will probably pack on a few pounds, sprout a few inches, and cool some of that frenetic energy. You may also notice an increase in possessive tendencies — what started as possessiveness of toys has escalated to a possessive attitude towards food, territory, and family members.

While this behavior stems from a natural instinct to express anxiety or fear over a perceived threat, it can lead to serious problems in the future — possessive dogs may eventually resort to growling, snapping, and even biting to keep other humans and animals away.

So it’s crucial to address the behavior in its early stages, making it clear that you’re the Pack Leader. Here are a few tips on how to prevent and correct possessive behaviors:

Introduce the promise of good things
One tactic for putting a stop to protective tendencies in a dog is to teach him that good things happen when other humans or animals approach their food or belongings from a young age.

Use your hands to fill your dog’s bowl with food at mealtimes, so the puppy learns that when others come near their feeding bowl, something positive will occur. You can also bring a high value treat toward the bowl with your hand while the dog is eating.

Reward patience and good behavior
You can help your dog develop self-control, respect, and good behaviors by teaching your pup that food, treats, and toys must be earned.

Before serving meals, handing over treats, or giving up toys, have your dog perform a task, such as sitting or lying down. This lets your dog know it is not okay to take whatever he wants, and he must work for food and rewards.

Show ownership
Before giving food, treats, or toys to your dog, ensure she recognizes that you are the owner — not her. One tactic for asserting ownership is to have your dog wait before accessing her food or belongings. Stand over the food bowl or item confidently, and do not allow her to run for it until she has sat and waited patiently for your permission.

Teach “leave” and “give” commands
You can teach a dog to respond to the “leave” command when he has possession of something in his mouth. Hold out a treat, and call out the command “leave” as he lets go of the item and walks towards you. Reward him with the treat for his obedience, and remove the item as quickly as possible.

“Give” is another useful command for combatting possessiveness in your dog. You can teach your dog to give when he has a toy in his mouth. Gently take the toy in your hand without trying to pull it away. With your other hand, show your puppy some treats. When he lets go of the item to take the treats, speak the command “Give”. Reward him with the treat, and let him have the toy back.

When to consult with a trainer
It’s important to remember that the aforementioned tips should only be attempted when your dog is exhibiting mild possessive tendencies. If your dog has escalated the behavior and exhibits signs of aggression, such as growling, snapping, or biting, do not attempt to correct this on your own. Consult with an expert, who will be able to help you determine the root of your dog’s possessive aggression and develop an effective training program to combat it.

What are the things, spots, or persons your dog is possessive over? Tell us in the comments.

8 Tips on How to Stop a Dog From Being Possessive of Owner

Having a protective dog always at our side can help put us at ease, like most owners, but sometimes, we have to learn how to stop a dog from being possessive of owner when their possessiveness becomes too much.

Dogs are a man’s best friend. They are loyal to a fault, and their protective nature is sweet and also comes in handy most times.

But when the dog is already showing signs of being extra possessive that he growls whenever we have to go out of the house without them or when they don’t let us near with other family members or friends, then it’s time to train the dog.

Training on how to stop a dog from being possessive of the owner can be a gradual process, but it’s possible. Especially if their possessive aggression has been going on for a long time, we have to get the training right.

  1. Realize and Understand the Problem

Dogs are protective in nature. They will growl and bark whenever someone comes to the door. More often than not, what happens next is the owner picking up the dog to help it stop growling or barking. But when it doesn’t stop and comes to a point when the dog doesn’t allow anybody near their owners, and growls and barks and might even bite on anybody getting close, they are already showing signs of possessive aggression towards their owners.

It’s a blessing when the dog shows its protective stance during emergency situations, but it’s another matter when they are trying to protect their owners from somebody who isn’t doing anything wrong.

The dog’s excessive protectiveness to their owners can lead to a dangerous situation. Realizing that the dog is already showing signs of possessive aggression is the first way to help them move on from this behavior.

  1. Stop Over-Indulging the Dog

Especially when we give the dogs unlimited attention, they may soon develop possessiveness when we start to give attention to other things or other people. When we always give them what they want and when they realize they don’t have to follow any rules, that develops a habit.

  1. Enforce Rules and Define Who’s in Authority

One of the best tips on how to stop a dog from being possessive of the owner is to practice leadership exercises. Introducing the concept of rules and defining who is in authority is important when training dogs.

Most of the possessive and aggressive behaviors of dogs are a result when they perceive themselves as equals or even more superior to their owners.

As such, it’s important to show them who’s the leader, and it’s not them. We can do this in various ways like making them wait for their food or making them wait for a minutes before taking them for a walk outside. These are simple ways of showing dogs that we are in control, and once they know who is the boss and who makes the call, they will less likely become overprotective.

  1. Exercise the Dog’s Obedience Skills

Dogs who have well-defined obedience skills generally show more respect to their owners. They are more willing to listen and follow commands, and they tend to have high levels of self-control. This skill will be extremely helpful in curbing their possessive aggression.

We can start training dogs by getting them into obedience classes or learning to train them ourselves. We can teach them simple obedience commands like telling them to sit or rollover, among other things.

  1. Enforce Boundaries

Another helpful tip in training how to stop a dog from being possessive of owner is to enforce ground rules and boundaries. Incorporating clear structure and boundaries to dogs is a good place to start curbing their possessive behavior towards their owners.

We can start by not allowing them to sit on the furniture or the bed, at least temporarily. When they try to jump on our lap or on the couch, set them back down on the ground. Oftentimes, the furniture itself, like the bed and couch, triggers their possessiveness, and they may not allow other people or dogs to be on the bed or the couch with their owners. But, they don’t get to decide, the owner does.

  1. Teach the Dog to Cope with Being Alone

Most of the times, dogs become excessively possessive of their owners because they fear of being left. But, they have to be able to cope with being alone when their owners have to go out of the house without them.

Teach them to be okay without their owners. After all, it wouldn’t be healthy for them to stay attached to their owners 24/7. We can train them by giving them some time to be in a separate room or inside their kennel each day. Another thing we can do is tether their leash somewhere far away from us and ignoring them for some time, even if they are barking endlessly.

  1. Encourage Dog to Bond with Other People

Once the dogs have started to curb the possessiveness of their owners, it will further benefit them to gradually help them bond with other people or dogs other than their owner. Being with other people will help the dogs realize that other people are good too, and they don’t have to protect their owners from everyone.

  1. Commit to Solving the Dog’s Possessive Aggression

Realizing that dogs have problems with being extra possessive of owners and training them to get rid of this behavior is just one thing. We have to be able to commit to solving their possessive aggression. It doesn’t come easy.

When they are scared or angry, it takes real courage and commitment to set them down on the ground instead of picking them up and enabling their behavior. Especially when they have shown possessive aggressive behavior for years, training them can be a gradual process. Also, the training process has to be consistent for them to change the behavior they were already used to.

While it’s cute and heartwarming when dogs show their protective nature over their owners, training is necessary, so they don’t get excessively protective for no reason. By assuming the authority and enforcing clear rules and boundaries, it can change the dogs’ perception of their leadership. With time, we can learn how to stop a dog from being possessive of owner, and they become more welcoming to others presence.

Watch the video: How to STOP your dog barking. lunging at visitors u0026 dogs; aggression (July 2021).