7 Tips for Managing a Territorial Dog

A territorial dog is, as the name suggests, a dog who protects what he considers his.

That might be the back yard, front yard, or house. Many territorial dogs are quite visible in the neighborhood as they are often seen running back and forth inside the fence of their yard, barking furiously as dogs and people walk past. A territorial dog has the potential of being aggressive if he gets out of the yard or house. This is especially true if he gets out when he’s over-stimulated. These dogs can also hurt themselves, jumping through glass windows or busting out of a fence. These tips are offered as a means of helping the territorial dog; however, if at any time you feel your dog is a potential threat to himself, you and your family, or to other people, call for professional help right away.

Obedience Training is a Must!

It is vitally important you and your dog have a solid foundation of obedience training. Not only will this training help you control and manage your dog, especially when he’s excited, but it will also help you teach him not to react to other people or dogs. If you’re able to do this training on your own, great. Teach him all of the basic exercises, including sit, down, stay, come, and walk on a leash nicely as these are the foundation exercises for all obedience training. In addition, teach him the leave it exercise which means, ‘Ignore whatever you’re focused on right now.” Teach watch me also so that he understands when to pay attention to you. If you don’t have the skills to do this training on your own, then talk to a local dog trainer and ask for help.

Reward Calm Behaviors

Territorial dogs tend to be reactive dogs. If your dog is watchful, pays attention to everything that’s going on, paces, and gets excited easily, then you need to help him learn how to calm himself. By giving him an ‘off’ switch, he can learn to calm himself and to relax. Essentially, you’re giving him permission to go off duty; he doesn’t need to protect everything. Start by teach him down and stay. When he can do both during our training sessions, then with his leash on in the house, ask him to lie down and stay in a specific spot in the house. A dog bed by the sofa in the living room or next to your desk chair in your home office will work.

Gradually increase the time you ask him to stay in that spot until he can relax there without immediately bouncing back up. Then, begin asking him to stay in his spot with some small distractions in the house (the kids are laughing and playing in the same room) and then more distractions (perhaps someone is eating). With more practice, then ask him to down stay when there is a distraction outside that he’d rather react to; again, have his leash on so you can help him do this. Keep his training fun and reward him liberally as he works with you but at the same time, help him do it right. This is important.

Exercise His Body

Regular daily exercise is important for almost all dogs but it’s even more important for territorial dogs. When his body is well-exercised and tired, even a territorial dog will be more apt to take a nap. A long game of fetch, a good jog with you, a run alongside the bicycle, or a swim will all work. Find the exercise best suited to your likes and your dog’s willingness to do with you.

Exercise His Brain

Obedience training is important and must be a part of helping a territorial dog, but keeping his mind busy in other ways is also important. When his brain is tired, he’s less apt to get into trouble. Teaching your dog tricks is a great way to challenge his brain. Trick training is training, just like obedience training, but dogs and owners are more apt to have fun with it. Teaching your dog a canine sport, such as agility, flyball, or scenting games, is also fun and a great challenge. More advanced obedience skills, such as hand signals, are also good for challenging his learning abilities.

Make it Difficult

If your dog has some favorite spots where he waits for trespassers he can bark and rage against, make some changes so that his behavior is no longer possible. Inside the house, pull the drapes, close the door and move the sofa, or even block his access to that room. Outside, block his vision through the fence, restrict certain portions of the yard, or bring him inside. Keep in mind this barking and reactivity quickly becomes a habit. Your dog isn’t thinking about the person walking past. He isn’t analyzing the situation, “Hmm…this person is a threat but that person isn’t.” His behavior is a bad habit driven by instinct so it’s important to make it difficult to continue this behavior. This may require you to make some changes in your home, yard, or habits but it’s an important part of managing a territorial dog.

Praise the Behaviors You Want to See Again

Many dog owners tend to yell when their dog is making a mistake but forget to praise those things their dog does right. Unfortunately, this is not good dog training. If you yell when your dog is raging against a (in his mind) trespasser, then you’re yelling at that trespasser, too. Yelling is the human equivalent of barking, right? Screaming at your dog doesn’t teach him what to do, either. It’s just not good dog training. Feel free to interrupt behaviors that occur that you don’t want to happen in the future but do so wisely. Use your dog’s leash and remove him from a bad situation, use your training to re-direct him and gain his attention (“Leave it! Watch me! Good!”) Most importantly, though, help him do what you want him to do and don’t forget to praise and reward him when he’s calm, when he doesn’t bark, when he ignores someone walking past, when he stops barking when you ask him to, and when he cooperates in any way.

Territorial behavior is difficult to completely eliminate but it can be managed in many dogs; depending on the severity of the behavior. The management techniques need to be practiced often and sometimes for the dog’s lifetime.

Meet the Author: Liz Palika

Liz Palika is a Certified Dog Trainer, Certified Animal Behavior Consultant, and the co-owner of Kindred Spirits Dog Training in Vista, CA. Liz is also an award-winning author and writer specializing in pets. She writes about cats, cat behavior and health, dogs, dog behavior and health, living with pets, and pet nutrition. Liz’s works have been recognized with many awards, but her most recent book, “Idiot’s Guides: Dog Training” (Penguin Books, 2014) recently won the Best Nonfiction book category in the San Diego Book Writing competition. Liz shares her home with two dogs; Bashir, an Australian Shepherd, and Bones, an English Shepherd. Three cats, Spock, Scottie, and Kirk, provide motivation for her articles about cats. And yes, she is a Star Trek fan. For more information go to www.kindredspiritsk9.com.

6 Tips For Dog Park Etiquette
What To Do If Your Pet Starts Choking