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
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 Establish Your Turf Method

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Establish Your Turf Method
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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The Socialize and Desensitize Method

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Socialize and Desensitize Method
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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Success Stories and Training Questions

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