How to Train Your Dog to Be Less Territorial

Hard
1-2 Months
Behavior

Introduction

If you have ever gone for a peaceful walk about your neighborhood and been startled out of your wits by a barking dog running, and throwing himself repeatedly against a fence as you walk by his yard, or listened to the incessant barking of a dog in his house, apartment or yard as he barks aggressively at everyone and everything, that walks by or approaches the door, you have been the victim of a territorial dog. Annoying, distracting, sometimes frightening, and even dangerous, a territorial dog can be a real problem. Being territorial is somewhat natural for your dog, after all, he is just protecting you and your home, his valuable resources. Some protective behavior is desirable, by alerting you when someone approaches your home, he alerts you to possible intruders. The problem occurs when this behavior becomes excessive, obsessive, and when he is no longer protecting your home or property, but claiming it as his own!


Defining Tasks

While most dogs will bark to alert you and protect your territory, a territorial dog behaves aggressively and defensively of his territory. This may include fence running, lunging, growling, barking, and other aggressive behavior that can result in your dog escalating to biting, which can result in injury to you or others. Some dogs are territorial over their home or yard, others may be territorial over their food, bed, or toys. Some breeds are more likely to act territorial than others, and will require more work to counteract territorial behavior than others. Socializing your dog and establishing leadership over your dog at a young age will prevent territorial behavior from developing in the first place, but if your dog begins to develop this type of behavior, the sooner you take steps to correct it the better. Being territorial is an instinctive and self-rewarding behavior, and can be difficult to break once it has developed. You will need to teach a dog that has developed territorial behavior to regard property as yours, not his, and to behave calmly and ignore other people or dogs that approach or enter your home or yard, or reach for his toys or food.


Getting Started

If your dog is aggressive and territorial, using a muzzle and a leash during the training period will be necessary to ensure you or your assistants are not put in danger. You will need to engage an assistant if your dog is only territorial with others. Find assistants that are not afraid of dogs, and will not reinforce your dog’s behavior by reacting in a fearful way, or withdrawing from territorial displays, which will reward the dog for inappropriate behavior. Make time to exercise and train your dog basic commands, and use rewards like treats, attention, and walks to reinforce these behaviors as part of training. Be calm and do not react to a territorial dog by pulling them back, which creates tension and results in a power struggle, or yelling, which only increases the energy level, when you are trying to achieve a calmer behavior.

The Alternate Behavior Method

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Most Recommended
2 Votes
Alternate Behavior method for Be Less Territorial
Step
1
Obedience
Teach your dog obedience commands such as sit, stay, come, and down in a calm environment away from territorial triggers. Use treats to reinforce behaviors.
Step
2
Jobs
Give your dog a job, tasks to perform such as fetch a paper or pick up toys.
Step
3
Trigger
When your dog is in his “territory” and is triggered by an approaching person or animal, provide obedience commands or a command to perform a task to distract your dog and break the cycle of territorial behavior.
Step
4
Reward alternate behavior
When your dog stops reacting territorial to perform the task or command, reward him lavishly with high value treats and praise, a walk or play time is ideal.
Step
5
Repeat
Repeat daily over several weeks. Incorporate other people or animals into play or walks in your dog’s “territory”, if it is safe to do so. Gradually, you will break the cycle of territorial behavior by distracting your dog with other behaviors that are not compatible with territorial aggression.
Recommend training method?

The Socialize and Desensitize Method

ribbon-method-3
Effective
1 Vote
Socialize and Desensitize method for Be Less Territorial
Step
1
Treat anxiety
Address any anxiety issues your dog may have; provide a calm environment, use medication or items like anxiety wraps if your dog requires them. Give your dog a crate he can go to for quiet time when he needs it, and use toys and puzzle feeders to occupy him and reduce anxiety.
Step
2
Socialize
Introduce your dog gradually to people and other dogs in a neutral territory. Make it fun, go for walks with other people and dogs and engage in play time. Make time with other people and animals a treat.
Step
3
Approach territory
Gradually introduce people and dogs to your dog in your home or yard. Start with the other person or dog staying on the other side of the fenceline until your dog is calm, and reward your dog for calm. Move the person or dog to the gate, wait for calm.
Step
4
Enter territory
Put your dog on a leash and let the other person or dog enter the yard and wait at an appropriate distance, rewarded your dog when calm.
Step
5
Move closer
Have your assistants move closer and repeat, rewarding calm. Do not punish or reward territorial behavior; ignore it, wait for calm, then reward. Repeat often over a period of time, with various people and dogs. When your dog learns that other people and dogs are not a threat, that anxiety is not necessary, and that calm behavior is rewarded, territorial behavior will diminish.
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The Establish Your Turf Method

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Least Recommended
1 Vote
Establish Your Turf method for Be Less Territorial
Step
1
Leash
If your dog rushes at a door or fence line as part of their territorial behavior, you will want to establish that the property boundary is yours. Put your dog on a leash.
Step
2
Trigger
Setup for the trigger for the behavior to occur by having someone with a dog walk past your fence, or someone come to your door and ring the doorbell.
Step
3
Block
When your dog rushes the fence or the door. Do not pull back on the leash to create tension, which they will fight against, but use it to allow you to insert yourself between the door or fence line and your dog. Be calm and own the area. The leash will help keep your dog from escaping and going around you, especially in a large area like a large entrance way, or fenced yard.
Step
4
Wait for calm
Wait until the dog backs away and is calm. Reward his behavior with affection, a treat, and play time.
Step
5
Work off-leash
Repeat often over several weeks whenever the trigger occurs, gradually move to working with your dog off leash. Be calm and assertive, establish that the property is yours, not your dog’s, and that once your dog has warned you of possible intrusion, you the pack leader, will take over.
Recommend training method?
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Written by Amy Caldwell

Published: 10/06/2017, edited: 01/08/2021

Success Stories and Training Questions

Training Questions and Answers

Question
Molly
Lab mix
17 Months
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Question
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Molly
Lab mix
17 Months

We got Molly when she was five months old from someone who was moving and needed to rehome her. We believe she was kept in a bathroom at an apartment and not socialized or potty trained. She lived originally on the third floor of an apartment building but did not know how to use stairs or walk on leash so we don’t think she was taken out regularly. She’s living her best life with us now. She is very smart and easily trained and knows quite a few tricks. In one image you can see her sitting pretty! We foster bottle baby kittens and she acts just like a mother and plays softly when they get older. We also have three cats that she gets along with and only chases occasionally if our youngest cat takes off running. She also gets a long we’ll with the few foster puppies weve had and loves our senior Schipperke mix. The only problem we have is when strangers and dogs walk down the street. She runs the fence, barks, and jumps with her hackles up and could easily get over it if she wanted. As you can see in one of the images, our offense is right up to the sidewalk. We really want to break this behavior. We also have a new neighbor who has an Aussie doodle and Molly is not used to having neighbors in the yard or another dog as a neighbor. Our neighbor is willing to work with us. We want them to get a long.

Caitlin Crittenden
Caitlin Crittenden
Dog Trainer
1123 Dog owners recommended

Hello Sydney, Check out the video I have linked below. I would do the reverse of this video - in the video the dog being trained is outside the fence walking past. In your case, recruit friends with dogs to stand outside the fence while you have pup on leash and work on counter conditioning from inside the fence. As pup improves, have your volunteers walk past the fence while you walk pup, walking in opposite directions with the fence in between with pup on leash. As pup improves, have pup also practice sitting and watching you for rewards while ignoring the other dog while another dog walks past outside the fence. Finally, do all of this but use a long training leash, 15 foot first, working up to 40 foot, where you can be that far away and give a gentle tug to interrupt if pup starts to fixate - before pup explodes, rewarding pup ignoring other dogs and people going by. If pup is okay with other adult dogs when not protecting their territory, I would get the dogs used to each other on neutral territory too using the Passing Approach and Walking Together methods. I wouldn't necessarily encourage excited play since the fence would be a frustrating barrier to that at other times - but facilitate a calm relationship of just being near each other and ignoring each other. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3n_fPKPLA2g Out - which means leave the area: https://www.petful.com/behaviors/how-to-teach-a-dog-the-out-command/ Leave It method: https://wagwalking.com/training/train-a-shih-tzu-puppy-to-not-bite Quiet method: https://wagwalking.com/training/train-a-shih-tzu-puppy-to-not-bark Passing Approach and Walking Together methods. If you aren't sure pup is okay with adult dogs, I would hire a professional trainer to help with this and desensitize to a basket muzzle ahead of time, to be used as needed for safety. I wouldn't put you or your neighbor's dog at risk. https://wagwalking.com/training/greet-other-dogs Best of luck training, Caitlin Crittenden

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Question
Jagger
Yorkiepoo
6 Years
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Question
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Jagger
Yorkiepoo
6 Years

Our dog has always barked at the doorbell and chased squirrels/cats out of the garden but we’ve never seen this as a problem. About 6 months ago he started showing signs of aggression towards other dogs but Only in a situation where we were sitting down in a cafe or pub or on a bench in the park. Over the last 2 months it’s got so bad that even if a dog is on the other side of the park or cafe and we sit down, he becomes completely obsessed and barks/screams, lunges, pants, shakes, growls. The behaviour seems to have come out of nowhere and we don’t know what to do or where to start!

Thanks,
Kirsty

Caitlin Crittenden
Caitlin Crittenden
Dog Trainer
1123 Dog owners recommended

Hello Kirsty, It might be worth having a professional trainer who specializes in behavior issues like aggression evaluate pup in person in this case. It sounds like pup is either possessive of your family, which is similar to pup resource guarding you opposed to guarding a bone or toy, or pup may be getting overly aroused as a conditioned response and need to be desensitized to the stimuli of another dog. Both training needs would involve practicing some obedience commands to give more structure and some counter conditioning to change pup's association with those environments and other dogs approaching, but a dog who is reacting this way due to possessiveness of you needs to build respect for you also. This often involves adding a lot of structure at home, such as the methods from the article I have linked below, and commands like Heel, Down, Place, Out, and Leave It. The behavior would be addressed with more corrections up front many times, so pup learns to let you control situations instead, instead of trying to keep other dogs away from you. A dog who is possessive may also be more likely to redirect their aggression toward you if you interrupt while they are aroused, so a basket muzzle might need to be introduced ahead of time so that can be used for your safety too. https://wagwalking.com/training/train-a-doberman-to-listen-to-you A dog who is overly sensitive to the other dogs and has built a habit of getting quickly aroused would be gradually desensitized to other dogs by practicing approaches from a distance over and over and over again until the other dog became boring, then do the same thing with a new dog, and a third dog, ect...Some interruptions might be needed still, but this type of training is more about conditioning a calm response and making the other dog feel boring to your dog, controlling the distance between them, how many times the other dog passes by, and the general level of stimulation in the environment are very important with this type of training. Best of luck training, Caitlin Crittenden

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Question
Cake
Carolina Dog
5 Years
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Question
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Cake
Carolina Dog
5 Years

Cake was always pretty quiet compared to the dogs we lived with in AZ, but was quite territorial about his toys. But he never would bark when people knocked on my bedroom door or he heard talking or anything. But since moving to MI, ive noticed a change in him for sure. He has been growling/barking at anyone who comes in the house, even when we are in my room downstairs, if he hears the door he just barks but doesnt go up to see who it is.. in hotel rooms if he hears any noise he barks at the door, and staying at friends houses He will bark at anyone who walks into the room .. he just goes from laying down quietly to barking and it startles me, and he has snapped at people who show fear of him i feel and i just am trying to figure out how to curb this behavior and make him comfortable again ..

Caitlin Crittenden
Caitlin Crittenden
Dog Trainer
1123 Dog owners recommended

Hello Meara, Pup might be overly sensitive to the things that are triggering the barking. If that's the case, I would work on teaching the Quiet command and desensitizing pup. Quiet method and Desensitize method: https://wagwalking.com/training/train-a-shih-tzu-puppy-to-not-bark Barking video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bpzvqN9JNUA It also sounds like there could be some aggression present, possibly territorial aggression based on pup's history and reaction toward your more nervous guests. If that's the case, then pup actually needs more of a bootcamp, respect building protocol for a while too. This might need to be done with the help of a professional trainer, depending on your level of dedication, experience, and safety measures you put into place to ensure everyone is safe around pup. To introduce the muzzle, first place it on the ground and sprinkle his meal kibble around it. Do this until he is comfortable eating around it. Next, when he is comfortable with it being on the floor with food, hold it up and reward him with a piece of kibble every time he touches or sniffs it in your hand. Feed him his whole meal this way. Practice this until he is comfortable touching it. Next, hold a treat inside of it through the muzzle's holes, so that he has to poke his face into it to get the treat. As he gets comfortable doing that, gradually hold the treat further down into the muzzle, so that he has to poke his face all the way into the muzzle to get the treat. Practice until he is comfortable having his face in it. Next, feed several treats in a row through the muzzle's holes while he holds his face in the muzzle for longer. Practice this until he can hold his face in it for at least ten seconds while being fed treats. Next, when he can hold his face in the muzzle for ten seconds while remaining calm, while his face is in the muzzle move the muzzle's buckles together briefly, then feed him a treat through the muzzle. Practice this until he is not bothered by the buckles moving back and forth. Next, while he is wearing the muzzle buckle it and unbuckle it briefly, then feed a treat. As he gets comfortable with this step, gradually keep the muzzle buckled for longer and longer while feeding treats through the muzzle occasionally. Next, gradually increase how long he wears the muzzle for and decrease how often you give him a treat, until he can calmly wear the muzzle for at least an hour without receiving treats more than two treats during that hour. Muzzle introduction video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KJTucFnmAbw&list=PLXtcKXk-QWojGYcl1NCg5UA5geEnmpx4a&index=6&t=0s I suggest working on a 1-2 hour long Place command. At first with just regular household distractions and gradually building up time, to increase pup's self-control, then practicing around gradually more and more exciting things, like staying on Place while a family member comes home, practicing with a willing guest, who is willing to go in and out of the door a few times while you work with pup, until pup can hold Place while routine guests come over. Pup should be back tied to something secure with a secure leash while practicing this to ensure others' safety. The person should be instructed to stay out of the range pup could bite them from if pup were to get up too. Place: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=O75dyWITP1s Check out this video by Jeff Gellman, who specializes in aggression. Here he demonstrated safety measures (a back tie), when to have people reward a dog (during calmness and not during aggressive displays), and how to appropriately use punishment when treating aggression (with good timing, calmness, and in combination with positive reinforcement for calm behavior and with the appropriate safety measures for your guests). Aggression video: https://youtu.be/mgmRRYK1Z6A Your relationship with pup and building listening and respect for you: https://wagwalking.com/training/train-a-doberman-to-listen-to-you Best of luck training, Caitlin Crittenden

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Question
Alamea
Labrador Husky
3 Years
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Question
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Alamea
Labrador Husky
3 Years

When Alamea turned 3 she started dog fights with our 9 yr old dog who until that point they got along great. We have had Alamea since she was 8 weeks old. She is only doing this with her. When my son's male dog also 9 years old comes over she is very submissive to him. The dog fights are getting closer together and the only way to stop her is a spray (pheromone spray) and loud noise when you spray it gets her attention immediately and we tell her leave it in a firm voice. This is random, not around food (but she is also very territorial with food, my office at work, and now the doggie door). We don't know how to break her of this. She is on anxiety med for separation and since she was lost for 4 days when we went to visit my son she got out of their yard and it took us 4 days to find her.

Caitlin Crittenden
Caitlin Crittenden
Dog Trainer
1123 Dog owners recommended

Hello Sarah, For this behavior I do recommend working with a professional trainer who specializes in behavior issues like aggression and anxiety. Ideally, this should be someone who will come to your home for at least half of the training with you. You need someone who can observe pup's body language at home and around the other dog to determine what's going on here. I suspect this will probably involve working on her obedience commands and respect building with you, so you can be the one making and enforcing commands between the dogs. I would then most probably make life very structured for Alamea, working up to a 2 hour Place command, solid Leave It, feeding in the crate, crate training, regular obedience command practice to stimulate her mentally and work on skills like impulse control. I would then probably focus on counter conditioning her to the other dog being around. Even though she doesn't respect your older dog, her respect for you, clear understanding of your rules, and boundaries at home should help her leave the older dog alone as an extension of her respect for you. I would also desensitize her to wearing a basket muzzle, and have her wear that and a drag leash when you are home for a while, crating her when you are away and at night. Best of luck training, Caitlin Crittenden

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Question
Loki
Mix
4 Years
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Question
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Loki
Mix
4 Years

I recently got my dog from the shelter and he is extremely territorial. There's only 1 person he likes and allows into the house. When someone else enters the house he gets aggressive and will try to bite them. He won't calm down until the person is gone and at this point he also doesn't listen to any commands anymore. When the person is gone he will also pee inside to mark his territory. Same if I take him on a train or to a friends house he will eventually start to form his territory there and also pee there to mark his territory. He is neutered. He can play with people outside and really like them, but turns aggressive again as soon as we try to go inside the house. When I take him on walks he doesn't really respond to people but he is aggressive towards other dogs (and squirrels).

Caitlin Crittenden
Caitlin Crittenden
Dog Trainer
1123 Dog owners recommended

Hello Marlie, For this level of aggression you definitely need to hire a professional trainer who specializes in behavior issues like aggression to work in person with you and pup. Look for someone who works with a team of trainers or has a training staff, so there are multiple "strangers" who can practice the training with pup, where you can set up controlled training scenarios. This is probably a dog who needs a high level of obedience training, safety precautions like a basket muzzle and crate used during training, at least at first, and a trainer who specializes in aggression work, not just your average class instructor. There is a high likelihood of a bite working with this level of aggression, so I don't recommend training on your own in this case. Best of luck training, Caitlin Crittenden Best of luck training, Caitlin Crittenden

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