As naturally territorial animals, dogs will guard resources that are important to them. Easy examples include food, toys, and their owners, but dogs will also go out of their way to protect their property. Dogs understand the people who live in their homes, and to an extent, they want to assess visitors to make sure they are not intruders or looking to cause malice.
To better look at the nature of territorial barking, consider the age-old rivalry between dogs and mail carriers. However, consider the rivalry from the dog’s perspective.
- Mail carriers encroach on a dog’s property and the dog barks in response, both to alert the homeowner and to tell the mail carrier to go away.
- The mail carrier ignores the dog and continues to walk towards the house.
- The dog steps up their game, lunging at the windows, barking louder, scratching at the door.
- Eventually, the mail carrier leaves because they finished their task and delivered the mail. But to the dog, the mail carrier responds to the dog’s aggression by leaving the property.
- The dog now associates aggressive barking and territorial behavior with intruders leaving the premises.
This pattern is not limited to mail carriers. Many dogs become territorial when humans and canines alike walk past a dog’s house. The behavior, unfortunately, is continually self-reinforcing. As the dog goes by and your dog barks, that dog or individual leaves, and your dog now believes that they chased them off. They also take it upon themselves to make guardianship of the property part of their daily chores.
Considering that many dogs have some level of territorial aggression, you want to limit their ability to see the world outside when they are inside the house or outside in the yard, if not eliminate it. If a dog cannot see an intruder, they cannot react to an intruder.
However, this is not a fix-all solution, and you should not base your dog’s lifestyle on a fear that they will remain territorial for their entire life.
Training Your Dog
The key to not barking at things walking outside the house is supervision, well-timed commands and most importantly, treats. One way to prevent territorial barking is to acclimate your dog to the outside world.
- Have a volunteer walk by the house.
- Every time your dog sees the walker, praise, and treat. Acknowledge that the person is outside the property but react positively.
- Keep repeating the behavior. The positive praise creates an association between understanding that someone is near the property and that they will not cause harm. You want to try to help your dog understand that they should enjoy an outsider’s presence and that the owners do not mind them walking by the house.
- As this association is practiced, the dog will eventually calm down because strangers will become more familiar.
Territorial barking is a behavior that can be stopped with enough practice and patience. Although levels of territorialism will be different with every dog, you want to reinforce that strangers outside the house are not a cause for concern. This will pay dividends when children play outside your home or guests walk past your property.
Special thanks to:
Jeff Tinsley is the owner of Sound Animals and Seattle’s most trusted dog behavior expert. He has been helping Seattle dog owners to solve their dog training and dog behavior problems for over 15 years. Recommended by veterinarians, rescue organizations, breeders, and other pet professionals, Sound Animals has all the dog classes and dog behavior training that you need.