54 Orchard Hill Road

Pomfret Center, CT 06259



Territory: the Dogs’ Instinctive Sense of Place…..

By Dr. Norris

In “The Truth about Dogs”, I did not include the important concept of territory. Dogs are instinctively territorial. In their minds, different individuals are assigned to different areas. They believe the owner of a territory has the right to patrol and defend that territory. And they start learning about whose territory is whose from the first day they arrive in our homes.

I live with Dobermans—a breed with a strong instinct for territory. By watching them, I am learning to think like a dog when it comes to their sense of place. All dogs have this sense of territory, but not all are as precise in their ability to communicate it, and so we can not see it as clearly, even though it is still there.


Mistakes of territory can cost a dog its life.

Robbie wearing his Invisible Fence® collar. The collar reminds him to stay in his territory where he is safe.

  • Dogs with a misplaced sense of territory are prone to several kinds of mistakes:
  • Running into the road and being hit-by-a-car.
  • Attacking neighbors in the neighbor’s own yard.
  • Being aggressive towards people within the home.
  • Barking excessively.
  • Attacking other animals.
  • Chasing cars.
  • Attacking passer-bys.
  • Urine marking inappropriately.

Josh was hit-by-a-car in front of the Clinic. Now I have the Invisible Fence® to keep dogs safe.

We people confuse them by giving very mixed messages about territory. We need to see the world through their eyes so we can help the world make sense to them.

Every dog needs a place that is theirs. When they arrive in our home, the first place they go should be their crate. By feeding them in their crate, and giving them their favorite toy in the crate, they will have a place they can go and be safe. Most dogs will quickly learn to keep it clean. We need to give them ready access to the crate, so they can got there any time they need to be safe, such as when they are tired or cranky, or the house is hectic and scary.

MacGuffin at home in his crate, where he can be safe and protect his toys. He just finished his dinner and is waiting for us to finish ours. The door is open at other times so he can enter at will.

When they are out in the house, they can be loose it they have all of our attention, because then they will be sure they are in our territory, and not that we are in their territory. If they can not have all of our attention, then they will be on the leash. That way, they will still look to us as the leader—the owner of the territory.

Anywhere else, when they get to go in the house should be at our invitation. If they can be on the couch, the bed, or the rug whenever they want, then they will view it as their territory. They will grow up feeling they have the right to defend it and keep us away. They will think they are in-the-right to growl at us or try to bite.

MacGuffin is not allowed on my futon. It is my territory. I do not sleep in his crate. Territory is just one of the boundaries a good leader provides.

Dogs respect territory.

Because dogs have no way to understand the danger cares represent on the road, we should teach them from the start that the road is off limits. If you want to walk your dog on the road, drive him to another part of town, so your dog does not think of the road in front of your house as being in its territory. The road belongs to cars and passerbys and us. It is not in your dog’s territory. You can even go so far as to have passer-bys on foot or in cars “attack” your dog with empty cans, taped shut with pennies, that are strung together. Teach your dog that the road is in the enemy’s or your private territory.

Jake is resting by his car. He does not understand a moving car can kill him. The tire he rests against is a lethal weapon on the road.

Walk your dog on leash around the perimeter of your yard, teaching the dog to back up as it gets near the edge. I use the command “backup”, give a quick jerk, and praise when my dog has headed back into the yard. I then have a command that gets them away from any danger.

Teach the dog that there is a boundary that is never crossed. If you want to take your dog to the neighbor’s house, drive it there, or only go by way of a gate that is normally closed. Your dog will then be ready when it is old enough for the Invisible Fence® system. The expense of the fencing would immediately seem worth it if you ever have had to hear the sobs and pleadings of a family who has just lost a beloved dog to a car. Their heartache is unforgettable.

Max waiting for his driver.

When we are in the yard, I praise my dog when he responds to stimuli such as noises and intruders in my yard, but correct him when he responds to noises and activity outside our yard. His job is to ignore everywhere by our territory. Here at the Clinic, Morse and Robbie ignore the factory next door. It has never been included in their territory. We never even walk there, so they will not be confused. If we are at the swamp that is not all in my yard, I make sure that they immediately are called off if they bark or guard territory that is not ours. It is my job to be constantly surveying the area, so I am responding to intrusions outside the territory before they are.

There is no need to worry that the dog will lose its protective instinct. By being clear about what is in the dog’s territory, and what our territory is, our dog will instinctively defend its place. It will ignore passer-bys and neighbors. It will announce intruders to its territory. It will consider couch time a gift, not a right. It will be less likely to head to the road. It will be ready for a containment system, such as the Invisible Fence®.

Morse and Robbie on the frozen swamp below the neighboring factory that is outside their territory. They are off duty here. I am on guard. At night, in the clinic when I am not there, they are in charge, and would defend my territory as if it was their own.

Remember: all resistance in a dog’s training comes from not giving the dog the information it needs to get it right. Our job is to teach the dogs their jobs. A clear job description is essential. The job description must include a clear map of the territory.

See www.caninefence.com for more information on the Invisible Fence®

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