Territorial Aggression

The dog’s close relatives like wolves and foxes defend the land on which they live and hunt. Your dog’s territory is much smaller than a wolf’s but may be defended just the same, from other dogs or from humans. The degree of territorial behavior shown by an individual dog may be modified by learning. You should try to teach your dog that invasion of its territory by visitors brings good rather than bad experiences. We may want a dog that barks but does not bite as that is usually enough to deter burglars but it is important that a pet dog does not percieve every incursion into its territory as a threat which needs to be fought off.

Some breeds are much more territorial than others, e.g. Yorkshire Terriers, German Shepards. In contrast Cavalier King Charles Spaniels and Irish Setters are examples of dogs which are much less territorial.
Frequent contact with many people from puppy days onwards will reduce territorial tendencies as long as these contacts are positive and rewarding. An unpleasant experience with a stranger can spark off antagonistic tendencies.
Treatment of Problem Behavior:

  1. Safety is paramount: If someone could possibly get hurt, ensure your dog is muzzled or well restrained on a lead before proceeding.
  2. Owner’s Attitude: You must be cool , off hand and rejecting to your dog before you expect visitors and as the door bell rings. The more affection and closeness you show the dog as a visitor arrives the more territorial or protective your dog will become.
  3. Victim Psychology: Nervous people who stare at the dog are most likely to be attacked, therefore invite calm dog lovers who will stand still.
  4. The Reward:  Visitors should come equipped with food or should take the dog for a walk, thus making the dog look forward to the visitors.
  5. The Penalty: Punishment for excessive barking or territorial behavior should be modest, well timed and not too severe. You should try to interrupt the behavior rather than punish the dog. Visitors should never punish the dog.
  6. Response Substitution Therapy: Train your dog to sit or lie on a particular place, e.g. near the front door, within sight but out of reach of the visitor. Training can be reward centered, for tit-bits and should be done when no visitors are present. When a visitor arrives get them to throw tit-bits to your growling dog. If you are worried that the dog may come off his spot then tie him up.