Behavior Modification for Territorial Aggression in Dogs
World Small Animal Veterinary Association Congress Proceedings, 2017
Kenneth M. Martin, DVM, DACVB
Veterinary Behavior Consultations, LLC, and TEAM Education in Animal Behavior; Spicewood, TX, USA


Territorial aggression is defined as aggression directed toward perceived threats entering or approaching the dog’s territory. The aggression may be offensive or defensive pending the learning history. The initial presentation is often defensive with obvious signs of fear and conflict by the dog. With practice of the undesirable behavior and the behavior being negatively reinforced (deterring potential intruders), the behavior becomes more offensive and the dog appears more confident.

In some dogs, the aggression is offensive when the dog is behind a barrier such as fence, a closed door, or window and it turns more defensive when that threat enters the demarcation or confines of the property.

Dogs with true territorial aggression are not aggressive when meeting stimuli off the property or territory, yet dogs with territorial aggression may also display other types of aggression toward stimuli off the property or territory. Dogs with true territorial aggression are usually not aggressive toward familiar family members living within the home.


The motivational diagnosis for most cases of territorial aggression is fear based.

Prognosis is similar to all cases of aggression and guarded for liability. Bite inhibition is the number one factor in determining prognosis. The more fearful the behavior and subdued the aggressive response, the better the chance for improvement. The recovery rate from fearful to friendly is also important.


Avoid conditioning the behavior and all negative learning experiences. Owners should be instructed to avoid allowing access and visualization through doors and windows. An exercise pen is useful for small dogs. Negative frightening experiences are the long-lasting memory. Management is necessary when small children are involved. Even with treatment, it is best to manage the situation when workmen are present or during large gatherings.

Desensitization to a basket muzzle is useful for dogs without good bite inhibition. It allows for determining the level of progress with behavioral therapy and minimizes the risk of injury.

Desensitization and counterconditioning to strangers entering the home is beneficial for changing the emotional response. The dog is marker trained on leash at a distance from guests without fear, anxiety, or aggression and given liberal treats for classical counter conditioning. Should the dog show any aggression, response substitution is used instead of punishment or correction.

Dogs can be taught to be relaxed at the door. For safety training occurs on leash and non-aversive products that give sufficient control are recommended. Desensitization and counterconditioning are used to facilitate this change.

A remote treat dispenser with electronic clicker is useful in cases where the dog is taught and rewarded for going away from the door and doing a down stay on a special mat.

A wireless doorbell may be used to condition a recall or used as the cue to tell the dog to go to a specific place.

Medications that reduce anxiety and aggression are beneficial in cases of fear and anxiety based aggression. Most commonly, selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors are recommended.


Speaker Information
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Kenneth M. Martin, DVM, DACVB
Veterinary Behavior Consultations, LLC & TEAM Education in Animal Behavior, LLC
Spicewood, TX, USA

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