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Understanding Territorial Aggression in Dogs

Territorial aggression in dogs occurs when dogs become highly aroused in response to the presence of strangers or dogs approaching his property.

Dogs can be aggressive in guarding everything they consider their possessions, such as food, bowls, items they steal or find, and toys. They are also very territorial and will defend any area they consider to be under their domain

While most forms of territorial aggression are likely to occur on the property, some dogs may protect areas where they are temporarily housed, and may protect family members regardless of the location.

Dogs that are territorial often exhibit warning, defensive and offensive behaviors such as barking, running fence lines or boundaries, charging and sometimes biting whoever or whatever ‘invades’ the dog’s perceived territory.

Dogs that are territorially aggressive are often labeled as dominant or dangerous but like resource guarders, these dogs are most often insecure, controlling who has access in order to be safe and survive.

Territorial aggressive displays may range from growling and barking to lunging, chasing, snapping and biting. Territorial displays may occur at windows, doors, behind fences and in the car.

Aggression in Guard Dogs

Territorial aggression is an innate quality in certain dog breeds such as German Shepherds, Akitas, or Rottweilers.

Aggressive guard dogs are chosen for their ability to intimidate people. This is usually based on the dog’s aggressive reactions such as barking and showing teeth to human beings. These dogs are not stable, nor have they been given much (if any) formal training.

It Could be Costly

A territorial and aggressive dog can ultimately turn out to be a big liability.

Here in Nigeria as well as in other places in the world, there has been cases related to dog aggression. This has resulted in lawsuits and in extreme cases, maiming of the “guilty” dog by the public.

These dogs should be physically prevented by a barricade, cages or leash from gaining access to smaller animals and children.

Causes of Territorial Aggression in Dogs

There are times the dog develops the habit of defending food, objects, and territory by being aggressive because it has had successful results in the past. Other common causes include:

  • Underlying medical conditions
  • Poor socializing as a puppy
  • Sexual maturation
  • Inbreeding
  • Environment
  • Pack order behavior
  • Genetic (or normal to the particular dog or breed)

Symptoms of Territorial Aggression in Dogs

These are some of the behaviors you might notice in an aggressive dog. Dogs can quickly become dangerous, especially to small children, so discuss the issue with a veterinarian as soon as possible.

  • Barking aggressively
  • Snapping
  • Growling
  • Baring teeth
  • Biting
  • Reacting aggressively without provocation


In most cases, the treatment plan for territorial aggression as recommended by animal behaviorists and vets will include:

  • a veterinary work-up to rule out medical causes
  • supervision/environmental control by using fences, leashes, etc.
  • a behavior plan that may include training (of the dog and owner). Regular exercise for the dog, planned socialisation depending on the behavior, and perhaps most critical. A behavior plan including counter-conditioning and desensitization. The dog will be taught behaviors that are incompatible to aggression.


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