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How to Manage Territorial Aggression in Dogs

Dean Eby

June 14, 2021

Does your dog incessantly bark at every single thing that even comes remotely close to the house or yard? Whether it’s a little bird or a delivery man, some dogs bark like crazy at every perceived threat. When your dog is acting this way, it’s being territorial, trying to let the approaching creature know that this space belongs to your dog and its pack and they shouldn’t come near.

Territorial behavior is normal in dogs, but when it turns into aggression, it can start to become a problem. There’s even the potential for your dog to hurt someone that comes onto your property, which could open up a litany of headaches for you and could be even worse for your dog. Luckily, you can help avoid this problem with a little bit of training and preplanning.

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What Is Territorial Aggression in Dogs?

There are many types of aggression that dogs can exhibit, but territorial aggression is one of the most sensible types, as territorial behaviors are ingrained in a dog’s genes. Territorial aggression is aggression your dog exhibits when people or other animals are getting too close to the space that your dog perceives as belonging to it. Your dog believes it needs to protect its things and home, so it turns to aggressive tactics, attempting to deter the offending person or animal.

Why Are Dogs Territorial?

aggressive chihuahua
Image Credit: Piotr Wawrzyniuk, Shutterstock

Territorial behaviors are natural for dogs. They’re a survival instinct that’s aimed at keeping the dog’s resources safe. Over the centuries, having resources stockpiled has meant a higher chance of survival for dogs, which is also why many dogs bury things in the yard.

 

Granted, today, there’s not as much need for such behaviors. In fact, for most dogs, there’s no need for territorial behaviors at all, even though they can sometimes be a blessing. For example, when your dog barks to alert you that a stranger is approaching the house. But when your dog starts going crazy at every little intrusion, you know that its territorial behavior is getting a bit out of hand.

Scent Marking

Scent marking or urine marking is one of the most common territorial behaviors that you’ll see in dogs, particularly males. This is when a dog picks up its leg in order to urinate on an object. It’s not just peeing, however. The dog is marking its territory, leaving a strong scent marker to indicate to other animals that this is his space now.

If you have a male dog, you’ll probably see it marking its territory all around your yard. It will urinate on just about everything. Bushes, fences, flowers, trees, chairs; pretty much anything in the yard is fair game to your dog, which is the biggest annoyance of scent marking overall.

Getting your dog fixed can go a long way towards preventing urine marking, especially if you get it done early enough in your dog’s life.

akita inu puppy peed in the carpet
Image Credit: New Africa, Shutterstock

Causes of Territorial Aggression

There are many causes of territorial aggression, but one of the most common is simply poor socialization. Proper socialization is essential for a dog’s temperament. It should begin early in the dog’s life and be a regular habit from that point on. Dogs that are properly socialized are far less likely to exhibit the signs of territorial aggression.

Of course, there are other reasons why a dog might be acting territorially aggressive, including:

  • Reaching sexual maturity
  • Inbreeding
  • Undiagnosed medical conditions
  • High levels of stress and anxiety
  • Environmental factors
  • Genetic predisposition towards aggression
  • Pack order behavior

Common Signs of Territorial Behavior

Territorial behavior has several signs that can help make it easy to identify. You’ll likely see:

  • Extreme reactions to people approaching their space
  • Extreme response to the doorbell
  • Biting
  • Snarling
  • Lunging
  • Aggressive barking
  • Growling

angry black and white dog

Curbing Aggressive Territorial Behaviors in Dogs

While some basic territorial behaviors aren’t bad on their own, aggressive territorial behaviors can become unsafe pretty quickly in the wrong situation. For that reason, it’s good to do what you can to put a stop to your dog’s aggressive territorial behaviors. It’s for your dog’s safety as well as the safety of others.

Obedience Training

Obedience training and a behavior plan will be some of the best methods of curbing your dog’s territorial aggression. This type of training can give your dog more confidence, and it will help it to understand which behaviors are acceptable, and which ones aren’t.

man training a dog

Strong Recall Skills

Recall is your dog’s ability to come when called. While your dog might come to you in the quiet of your home, will it listen under pressure or in a crowded space? Working on improving your dog’s recall skill will make it much easier to get it under control and calm if it does start showing aggressive behaviors.

Make Your Dog Earn Its Resources

This involves a type of reward-based training that teaches your dog to work for what it wants and needs. The idea is that a territorial dog feels entitled to its food, treats, and space, but you can teach it that it must earn everything it wants and that all of those things come only from you. This type of training is often called “Nothing In Life Is Free” training, and it should begin once your dog has mastered the basics of recall and obedience training.

Quiet Command

For many dogs exhibiting territorial aggression, it starts with a growl and a slow backing up. You can train your dog to stop the growl and return to a calm state at your command. Once your dog has mastered this, you can give the command when it’s being aggressive, and it should calm the dog right down.

Lower Stress and Anxiety Levels

woman teaching a terrierOften, when dogs are exhibiting territorial aggression, there’s a lot of underlying stress and anxiety behind it. If you lower the amount of stress and anxiety your dog is dealing with, then the territorial behaviors may cease as well. Luckily, there are many tools available to help with this task, including calming collars, puzzle toys, and chew toys. You can also use supplements that are intended to calm dogs. Just feed one to your dog and it should help it to return to a calm state.

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Conclusion

Territorial aggression in dogs is pretty common. After all, territorial behavior is natural for dogs, and it has benefited them in the past. For most dogs, the displays of territorial behavior are minimal, mostly confined to scent marking and burying their toys or bones. But when dogs turn aggressive, it becomes a problem.

Poor socialization is commonly the cause of such territorial aggression, though other factors can be to blame, such as environmental factors, genetic predisposition towards aggression, and underlying medical conditions. Luckily, there are many ways you can help to alleviate this issue, such as obedience training, teaching your dog strong recall skills, or lowering your dog’s overall stress and anxiety levels.

Related Reading: Dog Behavioral Training – How to Break Bad Habits


Featured Image Credit: Agnes Kantaruk, Shutterstock

Dean Eby

An avid outdoorsman, Dean spends much of his time adventuring through the diverse terrain of the southwest United States with his closest companion, his dog, Gohan.  He gains experience on a full-time journey of exploration. For Dean, few passions lie closer to his heart than learning.  An apt researcher and reader, he loves to investigate interesting topics such as history, economics, relationships, pets, politics, and more.

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