It’s natural for a dog to be territorial of his things, his people and his space. In fact, a dog who warns away strangers with a growl or bark can be attractive to pet owners who want a dog who is protective in nature. The key is to avoid raising a dog who doesn’t listen to you or respond to commands to stand down or back off being territorial and aggressive. This can happen when your dog views himself -- not you -- as the dominant pack leader.
Behavioral Training and Socialization
In packs or groups, dogs establish a pecking order. The pack leader may growl and guard territory like sleeping space or food to solidify his position. A household pet who is not well-socialized or trained may exhibit this same behavior, even to the point of biting or attacking to defend what he thinks is his. Proper obedience training and socialization will make him more likely to respond to your commands, such as leaving a guarded space, dropping items when you say and otherwise obeying you. You may opt to train yourself, use a private trainer or participate in group obedience training programs available at pet supply stores or local community centers.
If you have a more than one dog or a multiple pet household, you may have animals who don’t like to share and may guard their bed, toys or food. Make sure there is enough of everything to go around to help prevent fighting. For example, don’t bring home one chew toy and expect three dogs to take turns sharing it or feed several animals simultaneously from the same dish. Make things equitable and divvy out goods and treats equally and simultaneously. If one dog becomes overly aggressive or growls, separate him from the others and reward good behavior and manners in group settings.
Make Trade-offs Fun
Stop your dog from protecting territory by making trade-offs enjoyable. For example, if your dogs growls when you try to take away something he’s chewing, trade for a favorite treat. Offer a snack when your dog responds to your command to drop something. If he growls when protecting his space, issue a “down” or “come” command and provide a reward when he follows direction. Once trained, stop giving your a dog a reward every time he follows commands and just do it occasionally as positive reinforcement.
Don’t let aggressive or territorial behavior get out of hand before taking charge. If your dog believes he’s the boss, his bad behavior will escalate. Talk to your vet about sudden or overly aggressive behaviors and consider the benefits of spaying or neutering your pet. This can improve behavior.
Lisa McQuerrey has been a business writer since 1987. In 1994, she launched a full-service marketing and communications firm. McQuerrey's work has garnered awards from the U.S. Small Business Administration, the International Association of Business Communicators and the Associated Press. She is also the author of several nonfiction trade publications, and, in 2012, had her first young-adult novel published by Glass Page Books.