Ask the Dogfather: Territorial Terrier and a barking Boxer

Fagin the fierce, and a visiting boxer.

Maggie the Boxer (right), with her roommate, Moshup the Mastiff. — Barbara Reidinger

Tom Shelby, dog trainer to MV and NYC celebrities (and their dogs), answers readers’ questions about their problematic pooches. Got a question for the Dogfather?Write him at

Hi Dogfather,

I hope you can help me.

My wire hair fox terrier is fine with all humans, large and small. But he is a real problem when other dogs visit. Unless he is on a leash he is very aggressive. He is quite friendly to other dogs when we are out walking, happily doing the sniffing and tail wagging stuff. But in his own yard or house all bets are off. He will attack!

This is especially difficult because he is trained to use an electronic fence so he can be outside by himself when an unleashed dog (yes there are dogs off leash, with and without owners) wanders into the yard.

When friends visit we just leash him and everything is fine but what can we do to have him not attack the uninvited?

Thank you.

R. Lyons.

Dear R. Lyons,

Terriers basically look in the mirror and see God. What’s interesting here is that he’s friendly on leash and not off. It’s usually the opposite. Most of the time people think the dog is protecting them when in reality the dog feels protected by its leash attachment to the owner, thus emboldening the dog. Unleash the dog; he’s on his own, not so tough.

But in this case, what you’re talking about, R. Lyons, is territoriality, one of the seven aggressions displayed by dogs. It’s why dogs bark at the door and why you’re unlikely to open a gate and enter a fenced yard with a big dog behind the fence.

Territoriality is one of the reasons man and dog bonded — dogs will always let you know when someone or something is penetrating what they perceive as their territory.

Electronic fences will keep your dog in, but nothing out. So, realistically, since there is nothing, other than a physical fence, to prevent a rabbit, dog or anything from entering your yard, there is little you can do in this situation. Terrier is just doing his job — protecting his territory.

Good luck,

The Dogfather

Dear Dogfather,

I would love to bring my dog to the Island with me this summer so she can be on the porch. However I know she will bark at everyone going by. Is there any way I can get her not to bark like this? She is a five-year-old boxer.


Dear Barbara,

Almost all dogs love a window view when they have to remain home. Many clients over the years complained that their dogs were on the back of the couch so that they could see out the bay window, especially when no one was home. In many cases, where feasible we created and taught the view-seeking dog a different perch from which to see the goings on.

Porches are perfect lookouts and my Paula and MacDuff love hanging out on my porch, as did all my dogs over the years. So will your Boxer, but we don’t want it to cause you and your neighbors acoustic trauma every time a person or dog happens by.

I would suggest two things, one positive, and one negative, and the timing is important here. When someone is approaching, before she barks, start loving and praising her with your voice, your attitude being, “Look at that, a friendly person is passing by, isn’t that great, Boxy!” At the same time offer her treats, maybe even chicken or hot dog pieces, as long as she’s not barking. If the only time on planet Earth she gets people food is when people are passing by she may look to you for her treat instead of yelling about it.

Now for the negative, which varies greatly with the sensitivity of your dog, which I know nothing about. The word I use is “Quiet!” when I want a dog to stop barking, which is accompanied with a correction that will cause the dog to stop barking, even if only for a second. Here’s where the timing is so important. The moment the noise stops you’re back to praise and treats. As for the correction, it could be a slight tug on a leash that she’s dragging while on the porch, or the quick shake of an empty beer can with a dozen pennies in it, or, as the bark is coming out of her mouth a quick squirt in the face from a water pistol as you say “Quiet!”

For the dogs with the sensitivity of Godzilla there are ultrasound devices that make high frequency noises that most dogs find distracting, citronella spray collars and all kinds of shock collars to stop unwanted noise. I wouldn’t consider any of these without trying behavior modification with a pro first.

If the timing is off the dog can associate the correction with the presence of the passer-by and not the barking and exacerbate the problem.

Good luck,

The Dogfather

P.S. To my readers, keep those questions coming. Thanks.