Aggression can take many forms. One of the more common problems that dog owners have to deal with is the canine companion that is overly territorial or protective of its family members when visitors arrive at their home. Many dog owners like their pets to defend their homes and people when it is appropriate, but if the behavior gets out of hand it must be addressed.
Determining the underlying cause of a dog's aggressive tendencies can be difficult, but if a dog barks furiously, runs frantically towards the door or along the fence line, leaps at windows, doors or gates, and growls and snaps as people approach their home and family members, territorial or protective aggression is likely. Some dogs may cower or hide when a guest first arrives, only to growl or bite as interactions proceed. The behavior tends to get worse as the visitors come closer despite attempts by the owner to stop the dog's outburst. Consultation with a veterinarian and/or a behavioral specialist can help eliminate other types of aggression that have similar characteristics.
First, avoid situations that tend to provoke the unwanted behavior. If visitors are expected, place the dog in a small but comfortable crate that is far removed from the entryway. Behavioral modification focuses on teaching the dog to sit and relax when guests approach and rewarding appropriate behavior. Anti-anxiety medications can sometimes improve the effectiveness of training protocols. With perseverance on the part of their owners, many dogs with territorial or protective aggression can become well-mannered members of the family.
Written by: Jennifer Coates, DVM
Last reviewed: October 2, 2008