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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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.
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The Socialize and Desensitize Method

Effective
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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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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.
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Success Stories and Training Questions

Training Questions and Answers

Question
Murphy
French Bulldog
5 Months
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Question
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Murphy
French Bulldog
5 Months

My dog has started biting people and is territorial how do I train him not to do it and what do I do when he’s about to bite someone

Darlene Stott
Darlene Stott
Dog Trainer and Groomer
85 Dog owners recommended

Super cute! If Murphy is starting to be aggressive, you may have to call in a trainer to work with him. This is not acceptable and could get worse. That would be my recommendation - it is worth the cost and you will have follow up help afterward. In the meantime, all of the methods here are good: https://wagwalking.com/training/not-attack-strangers. You have to establish leadership and start training Murphy to behave and respect. He is a breed that likes to exercise, so make sure that he is getting enough. If you sense he will bite, redirect his intentions to an alternative behavior. That is explained in the guide I gave you. Practice, consistency, and a firm but kind demeanor. If he does not stop the behavior with your efforts, consult a trainer. Good luck!

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Question
Frank
Goldendoodle
2 Years
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Question
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Frank
Goldendoodle
2 Years

My dog tends to be extremely possessive over me. I was playing fetch with one of my other dogs this past summer and he attacked him right after. This was the first time we had ever seen him act like. Now there are times where he looks like he might do it again. What can I do to prevent that from happening again? Or to change my dogs behavior to not be so possessive?

Caitlin Crittenden
Caitlin Crittenden
Dog Trainer
662 Dog owners recommended

Hello Tatiana, Check out Saun O'Shay from the Good Dog Or Jeff Gellman from SolidK9Training I suggest hiring a trainer who is very experienced in this area. It sounds like Frank is possessive of the toy and is resource guarding. Frank would need a lot of respect build for you to view you as the leader and not him. He would need to work on impulse control so that he could restrain himself in times of excitement. He would need a lot of structure and boundaries in general - and especially in a game of fetch, and would need to be desensitized to having other dogs around while playing ball. For now, I suggest playing with each dog individually until you can find a trainer to help you with the above areas. Best of luck training, Caitlin Crittenden

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Question
Rex
German Shepherd
7 Years
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Question
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Rex
German Shepherd
7 Years

Rex is kind of moderately territorial with strangers in the house, but only when they first enter or when they stand/move to another room. He'll bark and rush them, but that's all he's escalated to so far. Something that makes it hard to work with/train him is him being a gsd and so big and "scary"

Caitlin Crittenden
Caitlin Crittenden
Dog Trainer
662 Dog owners recommended

Hello Elise, I suggest hiring a private trainer to come to your home with an assistant each time (an different assistant as needed, who can be different 'strangers'). Look for a training group with several trainers and staff members so that there will be different people to practice this with your dog. Look for someone who comes highly recommended through word of mouth or reviews and is very experienced with aggression and dogs with strong drives, including defense drives. Not all trainers are experienced with aggression so ask questions. Practice a long Place command and bolt an eye hook into the wall near Rex's place command and attach him to the hook while he is on the bed. Bolt it into a stud or use the right anchors to ensure it's strong enough to hold him. Keep the leash loose enough that he won't feel it while on Place unless he tries to rush off of it. Check out the video linked below. The video is a bit different than what you will be doing, but you can see in that video an example of a back tie being used for safety and when and how corrections are given for aggressive displays. Also, instead of rewarding him in general like the fearful dog in the video, Rex should just be rewarded for being calm during times he would normally rush, such as looking at you for direction, being relaxed, or simply doing nothing (no staring at the person either) when someone gets up, enters, or moves around. Human aggression: https://youtu.be/mgmRRYK1Z6A Have a professional trainer help you implement this. Also, work on building his respect for you in general so that he will trust you to handle interactions more. Check out the links below: Place command: https://thegooddog.net/training-videos/free-how-to-training-videos/learn-to-train-the-good-dog-way-place-command-the-good-dog-training-tips/ Thresholds: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_-w28C2g68M Heel article - The turns method: https://wagwalking.com/training/train-a-poodle-to-heel Heel Video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OTiKVc4ZZWo Best of luck training, Caitlin Crittenden

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Question
Rosie
Dachshund
1 Year
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Question
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Rosie
Dachshund
1 Year

My dog is territorial and acts aggressively on walks around the neighborhood. She is most aggressive towards other dogs, but barks at people as well. She is fine with other dogs in a neutral environment like the dog park, but screams bloody murder when she sees them on the street. What can I do to stop this behavior?

Caitlin Crittenden
Caitlin Crittenden
Dog Trainer
662 Dog owners recommended

Hello Cameron, I suggest joining a G.R.O.W.L. class if there is one in your city. These classes are for dog aggressive and dog reactive dogs and help with socialization and confidence. All of the dog's in class wear basket muzzles to keep everyone safe. I also highly suggest working on building her respect and trust for you. Work on a structured heel, commands like Place and crate manners, focus on you, and calmness. Check out the links below: Place: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=omg5DVPWIWo Crate manners: https://thegooddog.net/training-videos/free-how-to-training-videos/learn-to-train-the-good-dog-way-the-crate/ Thresholds: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_-w28C2g68M Heel article - The turns method: https://wagwalking.com/training/train-a-poodle-to-heel Heel Video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OTiKVc4ZZWo I also suggest correcting the behavior at the first sign of it, instead of waiting until your dog is highly aroused and reacting badly...Look for her tensing up or scanning the area to find something to react toward and correct at that second. Once she is calm and focused on you again, then you can reward her focus on you and her ignoring other dogs and people. It's important to correct her early, when she is thinking about reacting to something or looking for something to react toward. If you correct then, she will be calm enough to learn from the correction. If you wait until an explosion, it will be hard to refocus her because of all the chemicals being released in her brain like adrenaline. When you walk her, she absolutely needs to walk at a heel, with her head behind you or beside you, but not past your leg. The training starts there. She doesn't get to go anywhere unless she stays behind you. Check out the heeling link included above. Best of luck training, Caitlin Crittenden

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Question
Makala
Pit Bull Jack Russel Terroir Mix
1 Year
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Question
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Makala
Pit Bull Jack Russel Terroir Mix
1 Year

She is a deaf dog and gets really aggressive while walking when she sees other dogs either sitting on their owner’s land or walking. How can I teach her to not try to pounce other dogs?

She already understands commands like sit, and stay but whenever Makala gets worked up she stops watching for my commands.

Caitlin Crittenden
Caitlin Crittenden
Dog Trainer
662 Dog owners recommended

Hello Madeline, First, I suggest teaching her to look at you when she feels a remote vibration collar she is wearing vibrate. Pair her looking at you with a reward and use a long leash while teaching this so that if she does not look at you, you can reel her in a couple of steps until she turns toward you, then reward her as soon as she looks. Do this without other dogs present at first while she is still learning it. Once you have a way to redirect her attention onto you, I suggest working with a qualified trainer to address the aggression itself. I suggest working on her obedience commands with other dogs in the background from a distance that she can still focus on you at, and gradually decreasing distance between them as she improves. Use the vibration collar to redirect her attention back onto you as soon as she starts to focus on on the other dogs too much - before she is super reactive toward them and harder to refocus. Use fast paced heeling with a lot of turns to get her mind back on you whenever she starts to loose focus also. She needs to have a really good heel and be in the heel position beside or slightly behind you, with her face behind you leg while walking, so that she is following you and watching you and not out in front where she cannot receive direction and is ignoring you. Heel article - The turns method: https://wagwalking.com/training/train-a-poodle-to-heel Heel Video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OTiKVc4ZZWo Best of luck training, Caitlin Crittenden

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Question
Raney
Rat Terrier
2 Years
1 found helpful
Question
1 found helpful
Raney
Rat Terrier
2 Years

Raney has been showing excessive territorial behavior since we adopted her about 3 months ago. She nipped my sisters heal the other day when she stopped over. How do we work with her to stop this behavior?

Caitlin Crittenden
Caitlin Crittenden
Dog Trainer
662 Dog owners recommended

Hello Orpah, First, work on teaching the Out command and use that command to make her leave an area when she gets tense or territorial. The sooner you tell her to leave (Out) when you start to see her become that way, the better she is likely to respond. Check out the article linked below to learn how to teach Out. https://www.petful.com/behaviors/how-to-teach-a-dog-the-out-command/ Second, work on building her respect for you in general. Many dogs who act territorial are actually possessive and they are trying to control things, possess things, and manage situations that are their owners jobs. Building his respect for you can help him listen but also trust you to handle things instead of him feeling the need to. If he thinks he owns things, then building his respect for you also establishes that you own the property, not him. Check out the videos and articles linked below for some obedience exercises to practice that can help build respect. Some of these commands like Place can also be used to help manage his behavior when someone is visiting as well. Place: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=omg5DVPWIWo Crate manners: https://thegooddog.net/training-videos/free-how-to-training-videos/learn-to-train-the-good-dog-way-the-crate/ Thresholds: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_-w28C2g68M Heel article - The turns method: https://wagwalking.com/training/train-a-poodle-to-heel Heel Video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OTiKVc4ZZWo Working method and Consistency method: https://wagwalking.com/training/train-a-doberman-to-listen-to-you Best of luck training, Caitlin Crittenden

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Question
Sandy
Catahoula/ Dachshund Mix?
5 Years
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Question
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Sandy
Catahoula/ Dachshund Mix?
5 Years

Hi! We adopted our dog at 6 months old. She has always been nervous around people, but historically has been super duper friendly.

We've socialized her by having play dates with friends' dogs and having friends over, and once her confidence built up a bit we started bringing her to breweries and other places with us. She always used to be one of the best behaved dogs anywhere we went, and she LOVES other dogs - she's been in daycare twice a week for the past few years.

She has been barking at our front door increasingly often, and has occasionally barked at strangers coming towards our direction while out, but we've worked on "quiet" at home with some degree of success and her public barking was always just in short bursts that weren't too concerning.

However, my husband and I just took her to another brewery for the first time in a while since the weather has been colder out. Every time a person walked even vaguely towards us, she barked her head off, and she even jumped up and lunged at a guy who tried to pet her (thankfully just barking).

In hindsight, I think we've accidentally been ignoring some behaviors that have led to this extreme of behavior. I miss my well behaved dog, and don't want this to be the end of our park hangs and brewery afternoons. Is this still at the point where we can curb this behavior ourselves, or do you recommend a specialized trainer?

Darlene Stott
Darlene Stott
Dog Trainer and Groomer
85 Dog owners recommended

Thank you for the question. It is strange that Sandy is now exhibiting this behavior after being such as well-behaved dog. Because of this change, I do agree that a specialized trainer may be the solution. It's a shame to lose the amicable and eager companion that you have had all along, so trying to solve the issue asap is the right idea. Just be sure that you are very comfortable with the trainer and their methods so that you see eye to eye. (For example, if you prefer positive reinforcement training, make sure the trainer uses that method.) I highly suggest a medical checkup, too. This will ensure that Sandy does not have an illness that is causing her pain, making her more touchy. In the meantime, here are a few helpful guides: https://wagwalking.com/training/be-calm-around-strangers and https://wagwalking.com/training/not-attack-strangers. All the best and good luck with the training!

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Question
Marty
Mixed
2 Years
0 found helpful
Question
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Marty
Mixed
2 Years

So I’ve had Marty about 2 months and while I taught him he only goes on his walk if he goes to the bathroom near my apt (I was not having long walks in the rain and late at night) he now seems to be quite territorial of the area. There’s a number of dogs we encounter every day and multiple apartment buildings near me so what’s the best way to correct this behavior? He barks and lunges. No bites or gum exposing growls but naturally I don’t want it to get worse. Course he seems like only dog in neighborhood to behave that way too...so I don’t think he’s gaining a stellar reputation amongst my neighbors. He was barking at every dog all along our walks and that behavior is improving as he learns to walk better on leash especially when we’re far from my apt but it all goes out the window when we’re on my lawn.

Caitlin Crittenden
Caitlin Crittenden
Dog Trainer
662 Dog owners recommended

Hello Kieran, There are a couple of things to pay attention to. First, pay attention to his body language. At what distance does he tense up when a person is getting closer? (Not lunge but get tense or fixate) Work on pup's structured heel and focus on you at a distance where both you and pup can stay relaxed around other dogs. Pup shouldn't be scanning the horizon or staring at dogs. You need to work at that distance from dogs (as much as you can), interrupting any staring or fixating on dogs early, and rewarding any focus on you and calmness - until pup's body language stays relaxed and happy while heeling and watching. When pup can stay relaxed - pay attention to body language, you need to change the mental state here, not just stop the lunging, then practice at a closer distance. Very gradually decrease the distance only as pup is actually relaxed around others at the current distance - interrupt pup for focusing on people or tensing up and calmly let him know not to do that with a calm and confident "Ah Ah" or "No", then give alternate instruction like heel or watch me. Reward pup for focusing back on you, relaxing again, and staying focused or relaxed for certain periods of time - reward the most for STAYING calm and focused. Do not reward while he is tense or fixating - only reward the correct mindset. If you can't get pup's attention back on you by verbally correcting and giving different direction when pup first starts to fixate, then you may also need to use an additional interrupter, like a Pet Convincer, to break pup's staring. Only use unscented air and don't use it in the face. Reactive dogs and interrupting. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vfiDe0GNnLQ&t=259s https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XY8s_MlqDNE Best of luck training, Caitlin Crittenden

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Question
Poppy
Sheepadoodle
6 Months
0 found helpful
Question
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Poppy
Sheepadoodle
6 Months

My dog is becoming very territorial about the backyard. The moment we step onto the backyard grass, she begins jumping at us, barking and even giving us sharp nips. She will not relent until we are off the backyard.
The moment we're back in the house, and she comes in with us, she becomes a completely different dog. Inside, she's friendly, calm, obedient, sits when told, and basically very calm and easy to manage. But it's the territorial behaviour in the backyard that's becoming unmanagable. To the point that we can't clean out yard to scoop the poop, or take a walk or put the laundry out to dry when she's out on it.
Do you have any suggestions please?

Alisha Smith
Alisha S., Dog Trainer
87 Dog owners recommended

Hello! This is a unique and complex issue you are experiencing. There is no quick answer for this, so I am providing you with a fantastic article about this issue. I would go into detail myself, but there isn't enough room in the box. There is no one quick fix for this behavior. You may have to modify a few things within the household dynamic for this to end. Luckily she is young enough that it shouldn't take too long. I am thinking about a month or so of consistency, and she will be back on the normal side. https://www.petplace.com/article/dogs/pet-behavior-training/territorial-aggression-toward-people-in-dogs/

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