Ask Cindy Subscribe
Leerburg Dog Training Q&A Archive Territorial Aggression in Dogs

Territorial Aggression in Dogs

Territorial Aggression in Dogs


Territorial aggression is a VERY SERIOUS issue. In the mid-1990's I testified in a murder trail of a women whose 4 Rots killed a 9 year old boy as a result of territorial aggression - you can read about it in my list of training articles

I really appreciated all the great information on your web site. We have a 6 year old female Beagle, who for the most part is a great dog. She knows she is not the leader of the pack. She's not allowed to sleep on any beds in the house (except her own). If it's wet out, she knows to raise her paws to have them wiped off before she comes back into the house. When we eat supper, all we have to do is motion towards the living room and she leaves the kitchen. I can take her bone away from her it she takes it on the couch and she does nothing (I'd like to keep her off the furniture and have not had any success). The problem we have is more territorial. She loves to be in the backyard during the summer to sniff for rabbits. I'll let her stay out until she starts barking at the ones she spots in the neighbor’s yards. The problem we have is when the neighbors come close to our fence she barks and jumps up at them. I get on to her and bring her in the house, but next time she's out she does it again. She even snapped at a kindergartner that came up to the fence to say "hi" to me one day. Got him right above the eye. For the most part she's not like that inside. She might bark, but she'll let a person in as long as I'm there to tell her it okay for them to be there. She'll sniff, lay down, and keep her eye on them while they are in the house. I thought that maybe the kids from the daycare next door teased her and that's why she didn't want them near the fence. She wasn't always like this. How can I break her of it??

Hi there,

I have 2 labrador/staffy crosses, different litters, that we got from the pound a couple of years ago. We can never be sure which dog is dominant - does it change? Sometimes it appears to be the female (she's got to be first, she pushes him away when we're patting them) but at other times it seems to be him (he'll be more aggressive and territorial).

Also, the male bit the meter reader the other day when he was talking to my husband. Yet he's the one who will let our toddler son play with him.
We're coming down on him like a ton of bricks at this time. Any ideas?


I came across your website and your question and answer section. I was hopping you might be able to give me a bit of advise. We have an approximatly 2 year old Red Heeler. (Originally came to our house after having jumped out of a truck or something. He wasn't a stray, but was never claimed by owner) We have had him almost a year. He has been excellent with our kids; however, he is very protective of our yard especially when the kids are outside. The problem is he had started nipping at folks walking down our street. He hasn't bitten anyone, however, we certainly don't want that to happen. We would like to find a way to break this habit and keep the dog. I have a set of Tri-Tronics collars I thought I might use to discipline him when I catch him in the act. He doesn't nip very often, and it is only certain people.

I'm writing to you from the UK. Please could you tell me how dangerous you think my situation is? I know this is not an easy question to answer because it’s difficult to get all the information across to you.

I live next door to a woman who has a 3 year old German shepherd dog who is very territorial. He has not been castrated and very rarely gets taken out for exercise. The woman has 3 teenaged children and I have noticed that some of their friends go into the house and are unharmed. I've always known that one day her dog would attack me or my Chihuahua because he always looked very angry and growled at me through my wire fence in my back garden.

On Dec 5th, 2004, I was walking along the street toward my home when I noticed the teenager from next door cleaning her mother’s car in the street. The German shepherd walked slowly down the path towards us which I share with my neighbor. I thought great he's not going to bite me after all when suddenly without barking or growling he calmly sprang up and gripped my forearm causing great pain, a hematoma and extensive bruising although I was wearing a coat. I went to hospital for treatment. The girl pulled him off me quickly and took him into the house. My dog was not with me at the time.

The police took a statement and a magistrate will hear the case on March 9th. In England dogs are usually given a 2nd chance. Two weeks ago my Chihuahua was in the garden and my neighbor’s dog was out at the same time. The dog was ferocious, barking and growling and my Chihuahua was barking back. The neighbor’s dog was breaking down the fence. I ran up the garden with my pepper spray. Dragged my dog back by his leg and was just about to pepper spray the dog when my neighbor dragged him back. (Pepper sprays are illegal in the U.K) I'm afraid to go into my back garden and I'm afraid to go out of my front door. My neighbor doesn't always close her garden gate and the dog can open her front door. Our front doors are only 5 ft apart If the dog had got through my fence and my neighbor couldn't get through to pull him off of me how serious do you think the injury could have been? The authorities do not seem to be taking this very seriously. Do you think I am being overly concerned? I found your website very informative. Best regards.

I am writing because of an incident that happened this past week: My dog killed another dog. The other dog appeared to be a miniature snauzer. The other dog was on a leash walking down the road. I was standing on my property, with my dogs on a "Y" leash taking them out to go to the bathroom. I was standing on the snow, my dogs pulled me and I fell down. When I fell down, my dogs went over to the other dogs. My dogs started sniffing the other dog. I went over to the woman and apologized and as I was talking to her, chaos happened. I don't know which dog acted aggressively first, but of course, the other woman said it was my dogs. I am being told by many people that snauzers are known to act aggressively to other dogs, no matter how big. It was then that my dog #1 got her dog in his mouth and shook the other dog.

It all happened in maybe 5 seconds. I offered to take the woman and her dog to her vet. She said o.k. As I was getting my vehicle, some guy working on a house down the road, called animal control. The woman said she would wait for animal control instead. It took them over 30 minutes.

By the time animal control came, the dog was dead. The next day, animal control called me wanting to clarify the story. He asked me if the guy that helped me, if he was there the whole time. I told him, "No, only after everything happened and he helped me get my dogs into my house." The officer said the other guy told him my one dog, Willy, also nipped the other dog on it’s behind. I told the officer that I never saw my one dog bite the other dog, only sniff it was all the first dog. He said it was my word against his and he was going to declare them both potentially dangerous to
make sure this doesn't happen again.

My husband DEFINITELY does not want to keep the dogs. The vet said that they now have the taste of blood in their mouth and that we couldn't guarantee that it wouldn't happen again. My husband says he does not feel completely comfortable around them and wants them gone. Dog #1, which is a black lab/chow mix has growled at him before. We're not sure of why. Also, he may have killed a cat when he got out of a chain-link fence in a previous home. I have not noticed these behaviors in my black lab/chow/german shepherd mix except he does bark with a high-pitched bark at my cat on occasion, but not in a few months. My husband does not want them euthanized, but he definitely wants them gone. In the letter the animal control officer gave us, it states that the dogs either must be kept inside or if outside, they must be in a covered pen.

The pen must be at least 5 feet in width, 10 feet in length and 6 feet in height. Also, I have to pay $50 for each dog to register them as "potentially dangerous." "Failure to notify the director within 24 hours if they are unconfirmed, has attacked another domestic animal, has died, or has been sold or given away." that we are to provide the director with the name, address, and phone number of the new owner. If we don't it will result in fines up to $1,000. I don't know how I could give my dogs to another owner with all of these stipulations on them. I don't know who would honestly take them. Are there any places that would be willing to take dogs like this? I have had these dogs for over 7 years and have only recently had this problem in the past year or so. My new husband has really only seen these behaviors and not the 6 good years without incident. Thank you for your time.

I have a neutered, male German Shepherd dog whom I adopted about a year ago. Prior to being rescued, his previous owners tied him up in a backyard for the first year/year and a half of his life without any socialization. He is about 2 years old and has become co-dependant on me. He is extremely sweet with my fiance and my fiance’s children; however he is very aggressive towards strangers. I have taken him through obedience training and have worked him with a prong collar. I am currently still training him on my own by taking him to the park. I walk him past people and place him in a down position when he sees another dog or when people walk by and stop to talk to me. He does not growl or attempt to attack people now if they stop to talk to me (2 months ago; however, he would have).

The trainer suggested I have people approach me and let people pet him. I have been afraid to do that so far due to liability issue, but considered trying that with a muzzle on him. The trainer suggested that if someone approaches me to pet him and he so much as lifts his lip toward the stranger, to put him in a down position. Is that something you would suggest? Also, a friend of mine visited me at my house and I had her sit on the couch as soon as she entered the home. I place a muzzle on him and he immediately ran to her and tried to bite her. She didn't hold her hand out, just waited for him to sniff her and he tried to bite. Previously, when visitors came to the house, they sat down, he would run to them and just sniff them. This is the first time he tried to bite. She was not afraid of him either. I immediately put his prong collar on him and then gave my friend some hot dogs to give to him. Within 15 minutes, he was her best friend and slept with her in the bed that same night. Am I doing the right thing? How can I get him to not charge people when they come to the house? Should I keep his collar on when people enter the home and immediately down him and then give the visitor food to feed him? I will do what is necessary to train him. He knows how to sit, heel, down from a distance. His issues are with people approaching me and coming to my home.
Thank you for your time.

Just happened to come across your site. My little female 4.5 (spade) 3-yr old maltese has always been a very sweet, mild dog. She is very well behaved when taken out or in public and is really a treasure at home. About 2 months ago, a 'strange' mailman rang the doorbell and I opened the door to accept a package he was handing me and the dog tore at his pant leg - don't know for sure if he broke the skin but there was no damage to the pants). Since that time, we have kept the dog in an 'area' when we answer the door.

Just today, the cable man (this is 2 months later) entered the house and my husband said he would 'hold' the dog while the cable guy was here as he would be in different areas of the house. However, when the guy came too close to my husband, the dog lunged for his chest and bit his shirt - (he did say he felt the dog). I don't believe in either case, there was blood and the bite, if there was any, was incidental. HOWEVER, I need to stop this behavior immediately. We USED to accept play biting when playing - but since the first episode, we stopped ALL play biting and never 'rial' her anymore. I have read a couple of dog training books, bought some 'dangers' to drop when she barks (and she does respond) and even a 'clicker' for reward. We got a KONG and usually fill it when someone comes to the door to keep her occupied (however didn't have it ready for the cable man.)

I have 2 questions. First, What video do you offer that addresses this type of behavior. Remember, this is a 4.5 Ib dog and is a 'sensitive' type breed. I didn't think a little maltese would have this problem. She is really a beautiful companion dog but this 2nd incident really surprised me as she was in my husband’s arms. I'm not looking to get sued - and need to stop this. - Secondly - Would you say this is 'defense' behavior. She is NOT mean - never growls - (sometimes she does if she's playing) - and is wonderful when taken to other people's houses. I have to stop this right away - and need any advice you can give me. Thanks

We have a 91/2 yr old boxer who is very sweet and obedient except when the water meter reader or electric meter reader come to do their job on our property. She becomes very aggressive and will not listen. She waits until she can surprise them. Today I was outside gardening and the water guy came to read the meter. She began barking and I got her to stop and she seemed to be listening when my back was turned she went to the spot he was going to and I heard him say hey and until I turned around she did not make a sound and then she charged him and almost got his leg. I managed to reach her and yelled at her and put her in the submission position on her back and sat on her. Then I put hr in time out in the garage and made her stay there for about a half hour without speaking to her. How do I make sure she does not do this again? This was the first time I caught her in the act. But I have heard her before. She has done this to a cocky police officer one time before about 4 years ago because he walked through her property and he told us she was too aggressive. I felt like he egged her on. Any suggestions?

I have a 3 1/2 year old German GSD. He has had 12 weeks of obedience training as a pup. He behaves and follows the basic commands come, sit, down, etc. My question is this: We have a picture window in the living room and if he notices a dog coming down the street he goes nuts, jumping up against the window with his front feet. I have tried everything to get him to stop, but you have to physically grab him by the collar to get him away from the window. At this time he runs to his crate because he knows he was bad and one of our efforts to stop him was a time out. Does one of your training videos cover this problem? Any advice would be greatly appreciated!!!

My mother has a mixed breed dog. She got it from my brother a couple of months ago. My brother kept the dog tied to a chain all the time (since it was a puppy). The dog is about 5 years old. My mother has let the run loose since she got the dog. My husband, who is in the volunteer fire dept. stopped by her house to go in the other day. The dog growled at him. He was in the fire car at that time. Just yesterday when my husband was taking our 8 year old son to my mom's house. My son jumped out from the truck. The dog came running towards him and growled. My husband jumped in between the dog and my son. The dog has always walked around hunched over and then turns its head towards you. My mother doesn't think the dog has an aggressive bone in her and my mother says she never barks. She doesn't think the dog would harm anyone. Please let me know what you think. I need to know ASAP because we are concerned about allowing my son to go to his grandmothers. Thank you.

When I was married I had an American Bulldog and a Boxer, I was the primary care taker. I took care of all their needs and training. When we decided to divorce I could not take both dogs so he kept the Bulldog. She was about 2 years when I left. Well he ended up going nuts and left the dog with his mom. And the dog slept with his mom every night and when he stayed there she would not sleep with him. Anyways, he recently bought a new home and decided to take her back from his mom. Him and his girlfriend(who lives there too) got into a physical fight in front of the dog. The dog attacked him and caused serious injuries to both of his arms. He has pleaded with me to take the dog and find her a good home where there is no violence. He claims that it was his own fault and does not want to see her put to sleep, since it seems she was trying to protect the girlfriend or toddler that witnessed it.

I care a lot about this dog and she is a great dog. I have had her for a few days and she has shown no aggression to me, family, or friends. But she acts really aggressive when there is someone knocking at the door, until I let her know it's okay. She listens fairly well, walks good, house trained, loves to ride in the car, and has been socialized growing up. She is aggressive to non-family cats and all female dogs. Do you think this dog can be placed with a responsible person or is it too late for her? I have sought advice from breeders, vets, and other dog owners. 2 have said to put her down and 8 have said to find her a responsible home. What is your opinion?

I have a 10 month old female GSD. She is obedient and loving in all ways but one; when another dog or person comes into the yard or house. If she sees a dog in the yard from the window, she barks. If someone comes to visit, even if she knows then, she barks. I let her get in a few good barks, tell her she's a good dog, tell her "enough," and then call her to me and make her sit and down and other stuff just to distract her. Is this an appropriate way to handle the barking? Will she eventually get to the point where she will stop barking at "enough" and won't need to be distracted?

Just looking for some advice. I have an 8 1/2 month old great dane who has just started to get very territorial when it comes to men he doesn't know. He is ok if I invite someone into my home, or if we are away from our home (his territory) but I live in a condo and if we come across a man in the lobby he has tried to bite on 2 occasions. I'm not sure where I went wrong because he comes from a great pedigree, I have done a ton of obedience with him. So I'm worried and confused. I am going to muzzle him from now on around our property and am currently looking for a house so it wont be as much of an issue but do you have any advice on how to deal??? Do you think he is just going through his fear stage or will he always be like this??? and the tough question is this something that should make me consider putting him down???

Just yesterday our 16 your old son was walking our Bernese Mountain Dog. Well to say the least our neighbor’s dog got out of the yard and attacked our dog. By the grace of God our dog was not injured. This dog has in the past attacked other dogs, and another dog of ours that has pasted away, (not because of this dog) walking past "his house" and even gone across the street to attack a dog crossing "his territory." My son said that if this happens again he is going to stab the dog. Which I do not advocate. I contacted my neighbor to make sure she knew what had happened and all she could say is that she didn't know how he got out of the yard and that the dog is just Territorial. She told me that he has never gone after her children or her children's friends and he now accepts men coming into their home. She tells me he is a very nice dog. I have been scared of him since he first came after our first dog that was being walked with a leash and on the other side of the street. I calmly told her that he needs to learn that the neighborhood is not "his and his alone." It was real hard to stay clam at this point. Our Bentley was on a leash and just going for a walk. Our pet is in no way aggressive nor did he fight back. So my question is does pepper spray work? Please e-mail me me with your answer ASAP. Because if it does I am going to go get some ASAP.

In addition to my GSD puppy, I have a 5 year old female mixed breed (looks to be Australian cattle dog). We got her when she was 4 years old at it was obvious that she had been abused and neglected. (She had been left at the house when we bought it the owners did not want her THANK GOD) She would cower in a comer afraid etc ... It looks as if her sternum had been broken at one time as the bone is making a big bump on her underside. She was left in the back yard for her first 4 years with almost no human contact. Three sets of neighbors had never even seen her before, one set are the "nosey neighbors" that know everything in the neighborhood. When we first got her if she was laying down and would step over her or cross your legs by her she would try to nip your feet. Well we nipped that in the bud after the first time. We believe she was kicked. After 11 months having her she has turned out to be a good little dog (20 pounds) my husband has sleep apnea and she will put her mouth on his gently and wake him whenever he stops breathing. She is becoming more and more social everyday with strangers who come into out home and she is wonderful with children and other animals (quite motherly) including cats.

Now is where the problem starts. Last night my husband and I came home and our neighbor (the nosey one) asked if her nephew could see one of our snakes, we said ok at that point his grandmother decided she wanted to see too. I have a fenced yard with beware of dog signs (only to keep solicitors away) I opened the gate, but instead of this woman waiting for me she decided to charge the house in front of my husband and myself, well the dog decided that this woman was not going to enter the house first and nipped the back of the woman's calf that left two VERY SMALL puncture wounds, smaller than a tip of a pencil. I immediately called the dog, she came to me and rolled on her back. I then took the woman inside and gave her stuff to clean the bite, Neosporin and a band aid. She left. About 10 minutes later I get a phone call saying they were taking her to a hospital because she is diabetic (non insulin dependant) it was swelling etc. These people have been known to lie before. Now I'm expecting a county person to come to my home today as it is law in Florida that dog bites must get reported. I am concerned that she will be taken and impounded which will set her back so far. I have checked the statutes in my county and she is NOT considered a dangerous dog. I am calling the vet today to get her checked so I have some sort of additional paper work saying she is not a threat when the officials come to my home. I have decided that when anyone else comes into my yard my dog will be leashed so I have more control. She has come so far already, but it's obvious she still has some work to do. I have never been in a position like this before, any suggestions please? I have been up most of the night worried that she will be taken. I spoke to the woman who was bitten and she is fine she said it doesn't hurt and was put on antibiotics as a precaution.

Thank you for providing such an informative site. I have read many articles online and visited local trainers, but none have really been able to help me correct my problem. I have a 2 year old standard, red, neutered male poodle. He weighs 75 pounds and is roughly 29 inches in height. I have had him since he was 9 weeks old, so I am familiar with most of his history, if you need any information.

When Rudy (my poodle) was about 1 year old, he began showing aggression towards strangers. He had been very wary of them since he was 6 months old, but his aggression developed as he grew. His aggression manifests itself in two ways primarily. 1.) he charges the door if a visitor comes, growling and barking. 2.) he will occasionally attempt to nip strangers coming to my house or on a walk if they approach too quickly. He has nipped several people on the elbow. He has never drawn blood, or actually bitten anyone, but I want to curb his behavior before he does. He is excellent with family members, and people he knows well. He is very calm and well behaved indoors. He is excellent with our two other poodles (one standard female, and one miniature brown male--spayed and neutered). He can occasionally be aggressive towards larger dogs. I have choke-chain trained him which has been very successful in stopping his pulling behaviors, but not corrected his aggression towards strangers.

None of the trainers I have spoken to, or articles I have read online have been able to give me a definitive reason for my dog's behavior. Their answers vary widely. Some saying he is trying to dominate, others saying he is afraid. Please, if you have any advice I would greatly appreciate it.
Thanks again.

Mr. Frawley,

We would appreciate your opinion on our situation.

For 2 months we have had a male, unneutered 3 ½ year old German Shepherd named Lew. The dog previously belong to a man with 4 children who got divorced and could no longer keep the dog. We thought we had taken on a relatively nice, even tempered family dog, but now we are seeing signs of aggression and don’t know what to do.

Before we brought the dog home, we visited with him twice. When we arrived he barked and sniffed us, but then proceeded to play. Neither the girl that was keeping him nor the previous owner gave us any indication that the dog was aggressive, nor did we see any signs of this. There was one incident that this girl told us about while Lew was living with her. She has a Pomeranian and while she was with this dog outside in front of the house and Lew was inside the house alone, 2 pit bulls attached her dog. Neighbors helped break the dogs up, but there was quite a commotion and the small dog was injured and needed surgery. She said that Lew was quite upset in the house and after this, was very wary when someone came to the door. This happened about 3 weeks before we brought him home with us.

We immediately liked Lew and took him home the second time we visited. There have been people to the house and Lew has acted pretty much the same as he did when we went to visit him. He barks and sniffs them and then generally leaves them alone. My son who is a college student brought a friend home one day, and Lew took one look at him and started for him, barking and trying to bite him. It was all we could do to restrain him (he did this to this person on two separate occasions). We talked to the previous owner and he said there are a ‘few people he just doesn’t like’. We had a large group of people over the house one weekend. Lew was put in the garage. One of the other visitors wanted to see him. My husband and I went with him to the garage. Lew suddenly leaped at him and bit him in 2 places.

We discussed his behavior with the vet. The vet saw no signs of aggression - when there he acted like a perfect gentleman, not bothering the cats or other dogs. She suggested neutering and then behavior training. But then we had another biting incident. Someone he has never seen came to the door and he ran out and bit the man before we could stop him. The man required 6 stitches. There are no physical similarities for these men that he has gone after. This has been in a 2 1/2 month time span.

We had the impression that Lew was pretty good with people (he is very good with us). We thought we had a dog we could take places and do things with. Now I don’t feel I can trust him with people coming into the house or taking him out. He rides well in the car, but there have been a few people he will start barking and snarling at. We are trying to decide what to do with Lew. We have talked to a number of shelters and the response we get is to put the dog down, but this seems too extreme.


The Never-ending Warehouse Sale