Territorial aggression is when the dog shows aggressive behaviors when a person approaches what the dog perceives as his territory. Examples of a dog’s ‘territory’ include his house, yard, car, bed or feeding area.
Since the function of territorial aggression is to chase off strangers, the treatment of the problem would involve teaching the dog that good things come from people and because they are near your ‘stuff,’ it doesn’t mean bad things will happen.
Of course, the easiest solution is to prevent the problem in the first place by exposing puppies at an early age to people and experiences in as many environments and situations as possible. And, also obvious would be at the earliest sign of a potential problem, intervening so the problem doesn’t get worse.
But, you’ve got dog who goes crazy when someone comes to the door or approaches the car while you are in a store. What do you do?
The treatment of territorial aggression will involve counterconditioning. With the dog who is protective when strangers come to the front door, teach an alternative response such as “sit” or “get on your bed.” Have some helpers pose as strangers who give the dog a treat when she is calm.
Eliminating aggression related to the car is a little more difficult since the dog is in a confined space. If you were going to tackle this problem, you would:
1. Park the car in a space away from other cars, people, distractions. You don’t want to be doing this in a crowded parking lot.
2. Set up sessions with helpers the dog doesn’t know. Maybe you could do this at a dog training class.
3. Start with the dog on leash beside the car. The helper approaches, pets the dog, and gives a treat.
4. Dog is inside the car, you hold leash, door is open. Helper approaches and gives treat in car.
5. Dog is in car, door closed. Of course, we assume the temperature is cool enough that the dog is comfortable. Helper walks by car, you open door, get in, give treat.
6. Over time, you will introduce different helpers and extend length of time between the helper walking by and you getting in car. If you had to be away from the car for a long period of time, ask yourself if it is really necessary that the dog go along on this trip.
If the dog has been ‘protecting’ the car for a long time, this may not be an easy fix.