Stop Dog Growling and Biting Due to Territorial Aggression

Hi there!

I love your site :) My son has a Jack Russell Terrier, Milo, who is now a year old. Milo can be great, but he has an issue with protecting his "space," which has now expanded to include anything in the general area he's in. He growls and will attack and bite anyone/thing in that area.

We do have other (big) dogs, and recently lost our alpha male, which has increased the behavior. He is in dog training (basic), and seems slightly better with it, but is still acting out. He's can be friendly and sweet, but at night becomes increasingly stressed and aggressive. He lives in the house, and sleeps on the bed with our 13-year-old. He's reached the point where he will lunge and bite anyone coming into the room.

We tried crating him in the evenings, but that makes the behavior worse (i.e., he lunges through the crate). Do you have any suggestions?


Vet Suggestion Regarding Territorial Aggression and Dog Behavior

Hello Melissa,

I’m sorry to hear of the problems you are having with your Jack Russell’s behavior. It does sound like Milo could have developed what is called territorial aggression. I can’t be certain of that diagnosis without more information from you and the results of a physical examination on Milo, but I can give you some basic information about how this and similar behavioral problems are typically treated.

The general rule of thumb is to praise and reward dogs for remaining calm, start introducing them to mild forms of the stimulus that causes the problem behavior, and continue to hand out the rewards (oftentimes treats) as long as the good behavior continues. At the first sign of aggression, the stimulus is removed (e.g., the person backs further away) and the rewards stop. Once the dog is calm again, the rewards resume, and the stimulus again begins to ramp back up. Anti-anxiety medications may be needed to help reduce the dog’s stress level making them more amenable to training.

Your best option is to make an appointment with a veterinarian who specializes in behavior. If your primary care veterinarian can’t put you in touch with someone, the American College of Veterinary Behaviorists has a listing of these specialists on their website. In the meantime, I recommend against letting Milo sleep in your son’s room. This is likely making his behavior worse. A crate in a neutral location would be ideal.

Good luck,

Jennifer Coates, DVM

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