Territorial or Protective Behavior

What Causes the Barking

Your dog may be barking to guard his territory if:
  • The barking occurs in the presence of intruders, which may include the mail carrier, children walking to school, and other dogs or neighbors in adjacent yards
  • Your dog’s posture while he’s barking appears threatening (tail held high and ears up and forward)
  • You’ve encouraged your dog to be responsive to people and noises outside


Teach your dog a quiet command. When he begins to bark at a passerby, allow two or three barks, then say quiet and interrupt his barking by shaking a can filled with pennies or squirting water at his mouth with a spray bottle or water squirt gun. His surprise should cause him to stop barking momentarily. While he’s quiet, say good quiet and pop a tasty treat into his mouth. Remember, the loud noise or water squirt isn’t meant to punish him; rather it’s to distract him into being quiet so you can reward him. If your dog is frightened by the noise or squirt bottle, find an alternative method of interrupting his barking (perhaps throw a toy or ball near him).

Desensitize your dog to the stimulus that triggers the barking. Teach him that the people he views as intruders are actually friends and that good things happen to him when these people are around. Ask someone to walk by your yard, starting far enough away so that your dog isn’t barking, then reward quiet behavior and correct responses to a sit or down command with special treats, such as little pieces of cheese. As the person gradually comes closer, continue to reward your dog’s quiet behavior. It may take several sessions before the person can come close without your dog barking. When the person can come very close without your dog barking, have him feed your dog a treat or throw a toy for him.

If your dog barks while inside the house when you’re home, call him to you, have him obey a command such as sit or down, and reward him with praise and a treat. Don’t encourage this type of barking by enticing your dog to bark at things he hears or sees outside. Remember to pay attention to your dog when he’s being quiet too, so that he comes to associate such behavior with attention and praise. You may also have your dog spayed or neutered to decrease territorial behavior.