Humans have bred some dogs to naturally be more territorial. Guarding breeds often will start to bark at strangers near their home at about 9-10 months of age. Territorial displays differ from fear aggression. We can control this behavior by understanding each breed type and seeing that our training is designed to put those instincts and behaviors under control. It’s important to understand we do not “fix” normal, but we can have a guarding breed with guarding tendencies that is not reactive or aggressive. Our dogs’ genetics and previous learning gives opportunities for behaviors to develop, but the environment we establish gives the dog the opportunities to develop and practice both good and bad behavior thus strengthening it. Those things practiced become habits and/or patterns of conduct that are hard to break. One of the first questions I look to the dog for an answer is how does the dog perceive their role within the environment and what are the dog’s expectations of how to behave?
Our goal is to always be in control and when necessary “take control” and not “fight for control.” Understand that all reactive/aggressive behavior is caused by the need to establish control. It’s important for you to be in control and remove opportunities for dogs to practice (or continue to practice) the wrong behavior. Behavior that is practiced becomes stronger and opportunities/patterns create habits and expectations. When a negative behavior is predictable, prepare by limiting the chances of the behavior occurring with management not confrontation.
Dogs that are out of our verbal control should not be unsupervised in the yard or other areas where there behavior would be inappropriate. This includes occupying areas near entrances and exits where the behavior can be more intense. The reoccurring theme is we want to remove any further practice/rehearsal of inappropriate behavior.
If we do not have full verbal control over a dog when they are not in a high state of arousal there should be no expectation that we will have any control when they are arousal or worked up over something in the environment. Training with dogs exhibiting inappropriate territorial behavior starts with a solid foundation of control training in every area of life. When we get the training right we can place those instincts under our control regardless of what else is occurring or activating the dog.
A dog can be both territorial and fear aggressive so it’s important to get fear under control. If a dog’s behavior is strictly territorial (vs fear, over-arousal, etc.) the behavior can provide clues about their relationship with their owners or the people they live with. A dog needs to realize that they are not responsible for the humans and the territory, but rather they are responsible to the humans. A dog that realizes they are responsible to the humans does not believe the environment allows them the liberty to act as they please. Dogs should feel responsible to us, not for us and should accept visitors into the home as long it is clear they are invited guests. I’m sure it goes without saying, but you need to act calm and under control (not concerned) around people your dog does not trust. You don’t need to establish an authoritarian relationship to be considered the one responsible for the territory, you just need to lead. Dominance: Alpha's & Leaders
Finding A Balance: The 60 page book "Finding A Balance" by Suzanne Clothier is a great place to start.