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Territorial behavior in dogs and how to fix it

Heed these takeaways:
  • Territorial instincts are common in dogs, but they can be a serious problem when they lead to aggression.
  • Basic obedience training and proper socialization are crucial to help overcome territorial behavior.
  • Reward calm, relaxed behavior and teach your pup to settle on command.
  • Take steps to reduce your dog’s anxiety and reduce her access to whatever is triggering her territorial behavior.

Have you got an overly protective pup?

Your dog’s desire to protect the things he values — better known as resource guarding — is a perfectly natural behavior. And with many breeds boasting a proud history as watchdogs and guard dogs, it’s no surprise that many of our pups harbor strong territorial instincts.

Sometimes it can be quite endearing. After all, we love our dogs for their loyalty and their commitment to letting us know of any real or perceived danger that may be heading our way.

But when those guarding instincts lead towards barking, growling, snapping and aggression, territorial behavior can be extremely dangerous.

In most cases, territorial aggression manifests occurs when people or other animals approach your property. However, it can also occur in other places, for example at your local park or while your dog is in the car.

And if the person or other animal continues to approach or even comes onto your property, this could lead to an attack and potentially severe injury.

Here’s what you can do to combat territorial behavior and teach your dog a more polite way to behave.

Image by GemmaRay23 from Pixabay

Socialize, socialize, socialize!

No matter what breed of dog you own, socialization plays a crucial role in ensuring that your puppy grows into a well-mannered adult. If properly socialized as a pup, your dog will have a calm and confident response when meeting new people and encountering new situations later in life.

For more info on how to socialize your dog, check out our guide to puppy socialization.

Train the basics

Dealing with any sort of problem behavior is always easier when your dog understands a few basic training commands. If your dog knows the “sit” command, for example, this can be very useful for keeping her calm when a stranger approaches.

A reliable recall is also crucial when you need to defuse a situation that looks like it’s about to escalate, so teach your dog to come when called even when there are a variety of distractions around.

A couple of short and sweet training sessions each day should give your pup a good grasp of a few essential skills for better behavior.

It’s often a good idea to remove potential triggers while your dog is still in the learning phase, so you may want to close blinds to stop her barking at passers-by and move her to a separate area of the house when you have people coming over.

Polite greetings

Whether it’s the postman delivering mail or a friend dropping around for coffee, people coming to your house can be a major trigger for many dogs. The first step to tackling this problem is to let your pet have lots of visitors while still a puppy; the second is to teach them how to stay calm when visitors arrive.

Teach your dog to sit and stay whenever there’s a knock at the door. Give her a treat to reward her for staying calm, and she’ll soon come to associate people coming over with positive experiences.

Teaching your pup to settle is also important, especially if she’s a problem barker. By rewarding calm and relaxed behavior, you’ll help your pup learn the benefits of taking it down a notch whenever she’s feeling territorial.

Tackle anxiety

Anxiety is a major contributing factor to territorial aggression, so look at ways to lower your pet’s anxiety levels. These can include removing common behavioral triggers, using an antianxiety pressure wrap, giving her food-filled puzzle toys to play with while you’re out, and providing all the exercise and mental stimulation she needs for her general wellbeing.

It’s also important that you never punish your dog for displays of territorial behavior, as while this may interrupt what she’s doing, it’s only going to increase her levels of fear and anxiety.

The key thing to remember is to take it slowly. Once you identify what triggers your pup’s territorial behavior or aggression, you can gradually de-sensitize her to that trigger and teach her to respond in a more appropriate way.

With a patient approach, you’ll hopefully be able to teach your dog a better way to behave. But if the problems continue, it’s worth seeking help from a dog trainer or animal behavior expert to ensure that your pup’s territorial behavior becomes a thing of the past.

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