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How to Train Your Dog to Be Less Territorial

How to Train Your Dog to Be Less Territorial
Hard difficulty iconHard
Time icon1-2 Months
Behavior training category iconBehavior

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!


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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.


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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.

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The Alternate Behavior Method

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Alternate Behavior method for How to Train Your Dog to Be Less Territorial
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.

2

Jobs

Give your dog a job, tasks to perform such as fetch a paper or pick up toys.

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.

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.

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.

The Socialize and Desensitize Method

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Socialize and Desensitize method for How to Train Your Dog to Be Less Territorial
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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

The Establish Your Turf Method

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Establish Your Turf method for How to Train Your Dog to Be Less Territorial
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.

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.

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.

4

Wait for calm

Wait until the dog backs away and is calm. Reward his behavior with affection, a treat, and play time.

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.

Written by Amy Caldwell

Veterinary reviewed by:

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

Training Questions

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Training Questions and Answers

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Jake

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aussie

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9 months

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Question

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Jake is very aggressive with his certain toys and sometimes food with our 17 teen year old dog. How do we stop this aggressive behavior?

May 25, 2023

Jake's Owner

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Caitlin Crittenden - Dog Trainer

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1133 Dog owners recommended

Hello, I highly recommend hiring a professional trainer to help you in person with this. Look for someone who will come to your home to train around the dogs. Generally this is addressed using a combination of training methods. First, the other dog's presence is associated with good things by rewarding the aggressive dog for remaining calm when the other dog is present from far away. Once the dog is completely relaxed even while having toys with the other dog at that distance, then distance is slowly decreased about a foot at a time, practicing the new distance for a long time to gain that relaxation again, before decreasing distance more. The dog is only rewarded if they didn't act aggressive when the other dog was present. This protocol is done with safety measures like a back tie leash for the aggressive dog and safety measures to keep the dogs at a safe distance, with a qualified trainer's supervision. Additionally, the aggressive dog's overall obedience, respect, and trust with you and other owners in the household should be built through practicing commands like Out - leave the area, leave it, drop it, down, stay, place, quiet, heel, and any other commands that are useful for communicating what you want the dog to do and following your lead. Best of luck training, Caitlin Crittenden

June 2, 2023

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Charlise

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toy poodle

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15 months

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Question

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My Toy Poodle has suddenly become territorial inside the house to my 21/2 year old female Moodle. Outside they play beautifully and I walk them successfully together. She stalks her if she is in another room in the house and will go into full attack at her if she comes in contact with her in the house. Alone they are both affectionate and loving. How do I turn the behaviour back to the way it use to be inside the house?

April 21, 2023

Charlise's Owner

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Caitlin Crittenden - Dog Trainer

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1133 Dog owners recommended

Hello, I recommend hiring a private trainer to come to your home to assess and train in person for this need. The behavior might be due to resource guarding, which would be addressed by building respect and trust for you with additional boundaries, obedience practice, and less freedom in the home, as well as counter conditioning the dog to your other dog being present in areas they tend to guard. The behavior could also be play based and Charlise is simply getting overly aroused, and commands that build calmness and self-control, as well as some new household rules being implemented using things like drag leashes could help. I would hire a trainer to observe the dogs' body language and tailor a training plan to what they learn doing so. Make sure the trainer has experience with territorial behavior and resource guarding. Best of luck training, Caitlin Crittenden

April 26, 2023


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