LONG: Territorial aggression/"place guarding" mixed with fear aggression/incertainty


New Member

My 15 months old female rescue rottie likes to scare people on the street with her barking/lounging. Inside the house I don't have a problem with taking strangers in.

We have lots of people in the neighbourhood who are afraid of all dogs, and even when she used to want to cuddle up to and play with "everybody" when she was younger, they would jump, scream and quickly move away while wawing their arms - mostly if she displayed any interest/body language "pointing" in their direction (but sometimes just from the sight of us). As far as I've learnt, these reactions are potent rewards for dogs trying to scare someboy off.
The previous owner's teenagers didn't help much either, as they encouraged guarding/aggressive behaviour in her, and used it to scare their buddies... SMART move...

What have I been doing?
I have been making strangers outside (and some neighbours) give her treats/pet her, I heel her most of the time when passing people (Unless she's really relaxed and is not looking for trouble and the person/group of people approaching is giving out "chill vibes" - In those situations I frequently let her pass them on a tensionless, long leash - either she'll be walking on my L/R side, in front of me or behind me. NB! I always observe her signals carefully so that I can stop/redirect her immediatly if she starts to show interest in them (wanting to scare them, play with them, to "cute herself up" to perhaps get a bite of their hamburger, or for whichever reason).

1. We're out all the time, and in a lot of places.

The more people up and about, the less she will be guarding. She reacts more at night/in the dark, but not because she's not used to being out then. I'm a night owl! :) Probably because dogs's eyes don't "work" as good in the dark as human's eyes. Usually she will react to people doing something strange/acting "suspiciously" ;) - like hanging around waiting on the street/in front of doorbells, fumbling with keys/getting into and out of buildings and cars, people who appear out of the blue etc - no matter if we are near to home or not.

2. Interacting with strangers on the street
Some times people who we run into, are used to dogs, thus reading her BL and vocalizations right, want to say hi to her even if she's barked at them. After some "wooffs" she approaches them in a submissive way, greets them and lets them touch her, still in a very submissive but excited/nervous/stressed out way. (She does the same thing to my son the times she's mistaken him for a burglar and she's been "woof'ing" him. Like she's saying "SOOORY, I didn't see that it was you!".

However, I try to screen the people I'll let her say hi to. Why? Well, if they are insecure about dogs, or have poor "doggie communication"-skills, the greeting situation often gets kind of counter productive (if they say hi when she's stressed out, like when she's already pointed them out as "potentially dangerous/potential intruders". When she's in a calm state, she will not be as mouthy and restless if approached by strangers, as when she's overstimulated or stressed out).
If they react in the wrong way to her behaviour, I have to work on correct her reaction to them, while at the same time trying to educate the human(s) on how to interact with her (although some times they are in a hurry, not that interested to stay a minute and learn, too nervous/frightful to see the situation through, or they just know-it-all and keep on f.ex patting her on top of the head even when she reacts stressfully to it).

3. Leash technique, focus/attention + desensitizing to various situations/objects...
I do not have tension on the leash, I often say hi to/talk with strangers, I've been desensitizing her to skiers, people on snow-boards, with guitar bags on their backs, umbrellas etc.
I've also started working on getting her to focus on me when she sees some suspicious looking person ;) - and reward her keeping eye-contact/staying calm when we're closing up to/passing possible "targets".

4. Going back inside
On our way out on our walks, if she spots someone passing by the door/building and tries to "puff herself up" (getting ready to scare them off), I calmly but promptly take her back inside with me, and close the door. We wait in the stairways until she's calmed down, and repeat the procedure if she still toughens up when right outside our apartment building.

She's been having some hormonal phases lately, and the behaviour has intensified, but does anybody have any strategies they've used on their territorial (resque) dogs, rottweilers or other breeds/mixes? We will continiue working with this+obedience etc, but any solid advice feedback will be much appreciated! :)


Honored Member
Hi Mami, welcome to the forum, and thanks for taking in your sweet girl, issues and all! I have 2 German Shepherds (5 yr old girl, 4 yr old boy), and a 15 yr old Aussie girl - all rescues. My female sheppie is very dog reactive and a good friend has very people reactive German Shepherd (also a rescue). We've been working with the same +trainer with very good results. The work with reactivity is very similar, whether it be to dogs, people or other things. It sounds like you've put in so much work so far, with excellent results.

One thing you may want to consider working on is a good solid "watch me" with your girl. We began first working on this here at home. I'd ask for "watch me" and food reward for eye contact. I also used a clicker for a long time - but have phased it out now on our walks after a year and a half. Using a clicker or not, is entirely up to you. But - we got a good solid WATCH. We practiced it all over the house until it was rock solid, but of course with no distractions. Then we started practicing outside, then out on walks - the end result being that when your girl would see something scary, you could ask her for a 'watch me' immediately, she'd focus on you and you'd reward her well for this (I always used chicken, beef, some really high reward, much better than the scary thing), and two things would happen. First, she'd realize you'd handle the scary thing, she'd watch you instead, you'd be in charge of all scary things. Second, you'd feed/reward her upon seeing the scary thing - her feelings begin changing about that scary thing. See scary thing, look at mom, food rains from the sky. In my case, it was approaching dogs - at first from looooong distances away. The instant Makena (my GS) would spot them, I'd ask for a 'watch', and as soon as she'd look at me, the feeding would begin. I'd continue talking to, and feeding her, until the scary dog (usually being walked - and we were always across the street) had passed. Gradually, her threshhold became less and less. She can now pass dogs (most of the time - there are still occasional snarks) in a very relaxed state, and can even do very fast on-leash meet-n-greets, then quickly be on our way.....something I didn't ever think would be possible. My friend has been doing basically the same thing with her GS when he sees people out walking and stiffens. Some people he seemingly can pass by with no problem - others, he stops, hard stares - and you know if he could, and they got close enough, he'd bite.

It sounds like you're doing everything right. Is it at all possible you could set your dog up in some training instances? Sounds like she reacts to .. as you said .. 'suspicious' looking characters. Maybe you could arrange for a few friends to dress in big hoods, carry big packs, etc, in a dark time of day in front of your place, and carry lots and lots of chicken (or whatever). As you come out, have them walk by, you stand there (she'll indeed start 'puffing up'), and have them just toss her some chicken as they walk by. No looking at her, no talking to her, no acknowleging her. Just that chicken raining from the sky again. Repeat this with different "characters". Again, scary things, with mom, good stuff happening. This is what my friend has been working on with her GS.

Do keep in mind - and it seems like you have been - you have to always be your girl's biggest advocate. I know some people mean no harm, but insist they're "dog people", will pet her on top of her head even tho she doesn't like it - don't let them. Tell them they CAN NOT pet her on top of her head, tell them NO, SHE'S IN TRAINING, PLEASE DON'T PET MY DOG ON THE TOP OF HER HEAD. (Don't hesitate to tell friends that too, if need be). Be firm. If people want to pet her, insist they can if they will abide by your rules - yes, you many pet her if you will be still, only pet her under her neck/chest (or wherever you specify), etc. Especially if it's a stranger, tell them she's only now getting used to people and they must do as you say or may be bitten (who cares if it's true?) - it gets their attention, and it helps her. That's the most important part.

Many many years ago, I adopted a 15 mo old people-reactive German Shepherd. It took about a year of really hard work but she finally decided people were good and fun to be around. For a few months I would not let anyone pet her when we were out and about. She finally relaxed, strange fingers and hands weren't always going to come at her, etc. She eventually became a wonderfully social and trustworthy dog with women, men, and kids - especially kids, she loved kids and babies. Weird, cuz she really reacted around kids at first!

Keep up all the good work with your girl. Sounds like you're doing a wonderful job. She's lucky to have you!! Again - welcome to the forum!


New Member
Thank you for a very informative and uplifting reply! :)

I've been thinking about teaming up with some other dog owners from Internet forums, to take turns in being "crash test dummies" for each others' dogs (portraying spooky strangers or what have you). If it helps, it must be done.

- Because it does make sense that while "triggering" situations will keep on occuring; she should become gradually less reactive to the triggers (people) if she can relate the scenarios to (several (?) - how many "safe exposures" have other owners' dogs needed to make Fido relax where/when he'd react before the training with "crash test dummies" started?) similiar situation which turned out to be quite pleasant (because f.ex that scary dude smelled like chicken, he was totally chilled, and actually turned out to be a really cool human). :)

I guess that it will also help "the cause" if we can avoid as many "BOO!-situations" and other stressful situations (BOO-sits=Situations which get to escalate to the point where she gets to enjoy the thrill and relieve of scaring the cr** outta somebody).
I will also hear you on the advice of becoming even more strict about who gets to interact with her, and how.

Again, thank you! :)

PS: Edited 25 March 2010 - After her "fake pregnancy" passed (the swollen "titties" went back to normal and.. ) her reactiveness went down by 85% at least! :) Made my job a whole lot easier! :)