Helping a Well Trained Dog with a Territorial Problem

By: David Codr

Published Date: March 14, 2016


Sherman is a ten-month-old Cain Corso who is starting to become reactive to neighbors on the other side of his back yard’s fence or when people approach him while in his kennel.

Usually I get a pretty good feeling for the dogs personality, energy level and the issues we need to work with as soon as I step inside the door. Not in this case. I’ve had a lot of clients but without a doubt Shermans guardians have done the best job of training their dog of anyone I’ve worked with.

Normally I inquire as to the rules, boundaries and limits the guardian has in place to determine the structure that the dog is used to.  That was a pretty short conversation in this case because as I mentioned earlier, Sherman is one very well-trained dog.  Aside from his growling when people approach him in his kennel and in the backyard, his guardian couldn’t pinpoint any other real problems with the dog.

I had the guardian place Sherman inside of his kennel and then leave the room so that I could approach Sherman by myself to evaluate his reaction.

While Sherman did emit a low growl when I approached, it was very understated. I interpreted this as a simple communication that he was uncomfortable with me approaching his kennel while he was inside.

I suggested that Sherman’s guardian follow the counterconditioning protocol that I demonstrated at the end of the above video. If all visitors repeat this process over the next few weeks, Sherman should start to look forward to people approaching his kennel as opposed to thinking that he needs to defend his room.

Sherman’s guardian had arranged for a few of the neighborhood kids to assist us, so we headed out to the backyard so that I could evaluate his reaction to them.

Just like inside the house, Sherman’s reaction was pretty subdued. From what I witnessed, he seem to get more reactive if the children were yelling or moving quickly. While the guardian had noticed this behavior, it was not her primary concern.

The guardian informed me that Sherman seemed to flip his personality like a light switch when a neighbor or neighborhood children reached over the fence. This had only happened a few times and the guardian was unable to identify any warning behaviors that Sherman may be giving.

As a puppy who is basically going through adolescence, this is most likely a case of the dog thinking that he needs to defend his territory; interpreting anyone reaching over or through the fence as a violator.

When a dog has a consistent response to a specific action or behavior it’s pretty easy to counter condition them or desensitize them so that they no longer react to the stimulus. But because this behavioral issue was so intermittent (had only happened a few times), desensitizing the dog was not really an option. Instead I placed Sherman on a leash and then coordinated the boys actions and movements so that I could demonstrate how the guardian can utilize counterconditioning to give the dog a muscle memory of a positive experience that he remembers and relates to anytime anyone reaches over or is near the other side of the fence.

Because Sherman’s guardian has done such an outstanding job of training him including multiple exercises and commands that require the dog to pay attention and control himself, I believe this behavior is more akin to his being in tact while going through adolescence.

While this is good news, it does not mean that the dog is safe from engaging in aggressive behaviors when exposed to similar activities. The best solution to this issue is to practice the counterconditioning exercise outlined in the above video so many times that Sherman is happy as a clam whenever anybody approaches the fenceline.

After only practicing the counterconditioning exercise a few times with the boys running on the other side of the fence, Sherman was already starting to ignore them, even when they yelled loudly or banged on the fence right in front of him.

I’d like to see the Guardian practice the counterconditioning exercise detailed in the above video a good 30 to 40 times without any reaction from Sherman. If they can reach this threshold I believe that this unwanted behavior should subside completely.

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This post was written by: David Codr