Understanding Territorial Behavior in Dogs: Signs and Solutions

Luis Dogalyo
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Territorial behavior in dogs is something that is in their nature, learned from their ancestors, the wolves. Although your pet is a domestic animal, there are certain instinctive aspects that it will always keep. If you are wondering why your dog is very territorial and what to do about it, we invite you to read on. 

Why Is My Dog Very Territorial and How to Deal with It

What is territorial behavior in dogs?

Territorial behavior is a way of taking advantage of existing and nearby resources used by animals and even some plants.

When there is a group of individuals of the same species in a space and they decide that this space belongs to them, they mark it with pheromones or signals, which can be both visual and audible. In this way, they tell anyone who tries to approach that this place belongs to them and will be defended.

When the clan has to defend its territory, it will use a behavior called agonistic. If this behavior occurs between animals of the same species, it is always preceded by threatening attitudes, with which they try to avoid direct fights.

How to Know If Your Dog Is Territorial?

You may think your dog is territorial, but maybe he is not. Let's analyze when it is.

When you are going to study territoriality in a dog, it is best to do so within the same social group. Territoriality will never be directed towards you as the owner, so if you thought it was because of that, it was a mistake.

Territorial behavior will only appear to avoid conflicts and will only show its character if it feels it has to respond to a situation.

A territorial dog is not the one that growls the most, nor the one that is the most restless. The territorial leader is the opposite of his species mates: he is the one who will keep the group as calm as possible.

To help you understand a little better, here's a simple example: How would you feel if a stranger tried to take something that was yours without your permission and without you knowing why? Surely, if you think about your reaction, you understand why a dog is territorial.

And, for the same reason, it is also understandable that food, water, or even mating are also related to territorial behavior.

The Difference Between Territoriality and Resource Protection

Some dogs may show both territorial and resource protection behaviors, but they are not the same. Resource protection is when a dog guards an object or a person that he values, such as a toy, a bone, or an owner. Resource protection can occur anywhere, not just in the dog’s territory.

For example, if your dog growls when you try to take away his toy, he is protecting his resource. If your dog growls when another dog tries to take his toy in his own yard, he is protecting both his resource and his territory. If your dog growls when another dog tries to take his toy in a neutral place, such as a park, he is only protecting his resource.

Signs of Territoriality in Dogs

Some of the signs that indicate territoriality in dogs are:

  • The dog will defend objects and people through forms of protective aggression.
  • The dog will try to protect a space or area that he has marked as his own.
  • The dog will use different ways to defend his territory, such as growling, barking, urinating, showing teeth, or biting.
How will you defend it? It can be done in different ways: growling, barking, urinating, showing teeth, or biting.

Tips to Manage Territorial Behavior in Dogs

As we have explained, territoriality is a normal behavior that develops by nature. For this reason, you must take into account what we have mentioned:

  • Socialize your dog from a young age with a variety of people and animals, and expose him to different situations and environments. This will help him become more confident and less fearful of strangers and unfamiliar stimuli. (See [Socialization and Fear Prevention]).
  • Teach your dog basic obedience commands, such as sit, stay, and come, and reward him for following them. This will help you establish your leadership and control over your dog, and make him more responsive and cooperative.
  • Train your dog to settle down and relax on cue, such as by using a mat, a bed, or a crate. This will help you calm your dog down when he becomes aroused or agitated by an intruder.
  • Use desensitization techniques to gradually expose your dog to the intruder at a safe distance and intensity, and increase them as your dog becomes more comfortable and relaxed. This will help your dog learn to tolerate and accept the intruder without reacting aggressively.
  • Avoid punishing or yelling at your dog for showing territorial behavior, as this may increase his fear and anxiety, and make him more defensive and aggressive. Instead, redirect his attention to something else, such as a command, a toy, or a game.
  • Provide your dog with enough exercise and mental stimulation, such as walks, play, or puzzles. This will help your dog release his excess energy and reduce his boredom and frustration, which may contribute to his territorial behavior.

Consult a professional animal behaviorist or a qualified trainer if your dog’s territorial behavior is severe, persistent, or poses a risk to the public. They can help you design a customized behavior modification plan that suits your dog’s needs and personality.

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