Protecting territory comes naturally to dogs, but some overly protective pets can prove dangerous. Here are ways to train a defensive pet.
Tips for training a territorial dog
In the wild, dogs must protect their resources to ensure their packs have plenty to eat, but when pets at exhibit this same behavior at home, the results can range from socially unacceptable to downright dangerous. This type of resource guarding is typically related to dogs that guard their homes or owners, but can also occur when pets defend their food, toys, or beds from other people or animals.
Telltale signs a dog is about to display aggressive territorial behavior include barking in rapid succession or in a low, threatening tone; running along his fence or property line; raising his tail high in the air; growling or baring his teeth; or lunging at a perceived offender. In more extreme cases, dogs may even try to bite anyone who approaches their territory. To begin addressing these problematic behaviors, it is important to understand why your pet is acting in a territorial way. Even well-socialized dogs often bark as strangers walk by, but the increase in a pet’s arousal or anxiety can intensify into aggression in some situations. Addressing territorial behavior is easiest if caught early, so begin training your companion as soon as you see signs he is becoming territorial.
Starting by desensitizing your companion to his territorial triggers. If your pet becomes agitated when a stranger passes your home, for example, enlist a friend who your dog does not know well to help him conquer his fears. Have the friend walk by your property while your dog is in a safe, controlled environment such as on a leash, starting on the opposite side of the street from your pet. Gradually, your friend can pass closer to your property as your dog becomes comfortable with the new situation. Any time your pet becomes reactive, have your friend return to the previous distance and practice from there again before moving closer. Over time, this “stranger” should be able to walk by the edge of your property without eliciting a strong reaction from your pet.
Other ways to help train a territorial dog include obedience training. Asking your pet to perform a trick not only distracts him when a potential territorial threat arises, but refocuses his attention on you. Start by practicing the “stay” command at home in a quiet environment and, once he has mastered this, ask your dog to perform the command when he is confronted by a new person’s presence. If he remains calm and follows the command, reward him with plenty of treats and praise. Eventually, a stranger should be able to approach your pet after you’ve given the command without eliciting a reaction. You can practice this with an unfamiliar friend, asking the friend to reward your dog with a treat if he or she is able to approach without any barking or other excited behavior.
In some cases, territorial behavior becomes so extreme that it requires assistance from a professional animal behaviorist. Possessive pets tend to be highly anxious, so helping your dog overcome his guarding behaviors will also boost his confidence, improving his quality of life and the bond you share with your companion.