Understanding Territorial Behavior in Dogs: Signs and Solutions

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. 

My Dog is Very Territorial

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.

When do I know my dog has territorial behavior?

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.

Do not confuse territoriality with resource protection

It can happen that when you try to take away a toy from your dog or a piece of food that you have dropped and he has picked up, you react aggressively.

This is not associated with territoriality, but with resource protection.

The person who tries to remove that resource does it, in many cases, because he thinks he should be dominant, but the dog will not understand that. Your pet will only see that you are trying to take away something that is for his enjoyment.

Signs that a dog is territorial

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 it has marked as its own.
How will you defend it? It can be done in different ways: growling, barking, urinating, showing teeth, or biting.

What to do if your dog is territorial?

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:

  • Provide calm environments: In order to work on dog behavior, the canine must be relaxed and open to learning.
  • Avoid punishments and yelling: in the case of territoriality symptoms, any negative act toward the dog can exacerbate the situation.
  • Do not lose patience: you must be constant and very aware that working with an animal is not the same as teaching a human. The dog will never understand the reason for the anger.
  • Pay attention to the signals: every behavior is preceded by precursor signals. Pay attention to them to prevent the dog's aggressive responses.
  • Offer alternatives: If the dog is territorial towards another dog, do not take away the resource he is protecting. You must give him a positive alternative to motivate him to abandon that behavior.
  • Consult a professional: if your dog's behavior starts to derive from dangerous behaviors, the ideal is that you go to a canine ethologist to help you correct that behavior.
Finally, we want to emphasize the difference between a dominant dog and a territorial dog.

Dominance makes sense in a hierarchical group to avoid conflicts between group members. When a dog is territorial, it does not have much to do with his hierarchical position but with his possessions, which he considers valuable.
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