It happens quite often that dogs do not want to let visitors or postmen and parcel carriers into the house. Not always, but very often there is territorial behavior behind it. It is important to know that territorial behavior is innate. Over the past few centuries, people have increased territorial behavior in some breeds of dog and slowed down in others, depending on the tasks these dogs had to perform. That means it is not a bad habit that the dog has got used to, but it is in his genes whether he behaves territorially or not.
In plain language: You cannot train territorial behavior. The good news is: you can learn to handle it well and shape your life so that it doesn’t cause any problems.
You can recognize territorial behavior by the fact that the dog tolerates other dogs and people on neutral terrain (e.g. on a new path for him). In his house or apartment and the surrounding area, however, he reacts less friendly to other dogs and people. There are individual gradations here and some dogs e.g. only distributes same-sex dogs from their own territory.
If, on the other hand, you have a dog that has problems with other dogs (or with people) always and everywhere, then this is not territorial behavior. In such a case, there is usually uncertainty behind the behavior, and you can work on that. It is important to recognize these differences so as not to give up prematurely, although the dog could be helped.
If you have a territorially motivated dog at home, you should better say goodbye to the idea of an open house in which visitors – strangers and acquaintances – can go in and out as they please. The dog will not look idly for long.
Likewise, it is not a good idea to give the key to a handyman or a housekeeper, for example, and ask them to start working while the dog is at home alone. This is not only negligent, but also unfair to the dog. If an accident occurs, the dog shouldn’t be blamed just because you weren’t careful yourself.
This principle basically applies to all situations: think ahead, be careful, recognize problematic situations and prevent them in advance through good management. This is the key to a relaxed life with a dog that behaves territorially. Because territorial behavior can be meant seriously. You shouldn’t take it lightly.
If visitors or craftsmen come into the house or parcel carriers open the door, then the dog should not be in the entrance area. If he is the first at the door or even runs towards the visitor alone, it can very quickly happen that he thinks he has been given the task of driving out these intruders. This can be more or less violent depending on the character and is in no way a good learning experience for the dog. Not to mention the horror of the visitors.
In such situations, it has proven useful to teach the dog beforehand through positive training, to go to a certain room and to wait there quietly. Of course, this should not be a room that visitors enter, but one that is reserved for the family. If this exercise is well structured and known to the dog, then it can be trained further in connection with the sounds that visitors announce (e.g. the doorbell, the sound of a car in the driveway, etc.). If that works well, the real visitors can come.
If the dog does not notice that the visitors are going into the house, but only sees them when they have already sat down, this takes a lot of tension out of the situation. Nevertheless, security measures – depending on the dog type – are also appropriate if the dog and the visitor are in the same room. For example, the dog can be kept on a leash while the visit is there. Or he can wear a muzzle (this must of course also be carefully trained beforehand) or lie in a dog crate (this must also be thoroughly practiced beforehand).
In my book, I explain in more detail how to train these dogs in detail, i.e. waiting in a room, wearing a muzzle or staying calm in a dog crate, and building them up with positive reinforcement. But you can also find a few tips here on the blog.
Territorially motivated dogs usually get used to good friends of the family after a while, so that the safety precautions can then be relaxed again.
And if the dog has the impression that his people always have a good grip on the situation, then you can usually give him little more freedom, even with previously unknown visitors. But that depends very much on the individual dog, and you should always watch your behavior carefully.
Under no circumstances may a territorially motivated dog be left alone in the room with visitors or artisans. As soon as his person is no longer there, the dog very likely thinks that he should now take over the task of guarding the intruders again. And then it may well be that he is threatening to them. This is normal behavior and not unusual. As human beings, we are always responsible for preventing such situations through good management. So we take e.g. just take the dog with us when we have to leave the room. Good management can be easy.
If children live in the house, it is important to explain to them that they should not simply open the door when the doorbell rings, but first let an adult know so that the dog is brought to his “waiting room”. It is best to involve them directly in the room training with the dog and assign them small tasks so that they can enjoy the new ritual and enjoy participating.
The better the course of action is established and known to all family members – including the dog – the faster and easier it will be and everyone will be happy to be there.
In addition to the visitor situation, there are some other points that you have to consider with a territorially motivated dog. For example, many dogs also defend their cars or – if available – caravans and motorhomes. Vacation apartments are also quickly seen and defended as new territory, as are train compartments, a park bench or the table in the restaurant. How to best react and deal with them in these situations and how exactly the behavior can be explained from the dog’s point of view, whether territorial behavior has something to do with the sex hormones and whether or not castration could help or not, I explain everything in mine Book. There I also go into barking on the garden fence and territorially motivated office dogs, how to best do it when a second dog is to be accepted into the family, and other important aspects of living with a territorially motivated dog.