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Fence-Fighting, Barking at Windows & Barrier Aggression

by Anne-Marie Mayes


As a behaviour consultant who specializes in working with reactive dogs, I receive a lot of requests for help with dogs who are reacting to other dogs or people when out for walks on a leash. There is another very common type of reactivity that I would like to discuss because many people don't know how to describe it or that there is help available for it. It's called Barrier Frustration or Barrier Aggression.


It can be described as when your dog barks or jumps at people or dogs while looking out the window, when on a tie out in the yard, or when behind a fence. I am also commonly asked about "fence fighting" where your dog runs back and forth along the fence line when your neighbour's dog(s) are outside.


A lot of people just disregard this display of reactivity.  People may try to call their dog away from the stressor or even bring them inside which helps in the moment but does not stop it from happening again later.  The more a dog repeats a behaviour, the better they get it and the more emotional they get. Barrier reactivity may start with a little barking then escalate to prolonged barking, teeth baring, hitting with their front feet or lunging towards the dog or person. These behaviours will continue to get rewarded as your dog feels that they caused the person or dog to go away instead of understanding that they were just walking by.


To help prevent this behaviour from escalating, we need to teach our dogs what we want them to do instead of barking at the world going by. Practice walking toward the window, sidewalk or fence with your dog on leash and then rewarding your dog for turning away.  Start this exercise with no distractions to train the turn and then arrange for someone to walk by and practice, then work up practicing with random people walking by the house.  When you are not able to train, your dog should not be able to access the window or fence.  If you leave your dog access to the places they bark while you are at work you can imagine how many times your dog has self-rewarded while you are not home.


You can use blinds/drapes or window films (stickers that stick to the windows so your dog cannot see through), crate your dog, or gate them out of the front room to keep the dog away from the window. Outside, when your dog is in the backyard you may have to leash them even if you have a fenced yard so they cannot reach the fence line or add a fence within the fence.  When dogs run up and down the fence line with the neighbour’s dog some owners believe that their dog is playing.  It may start this way but again the more the dogs do this and for longer periods of time the dogs may get over aroused or frustrated that they cannot get to the other dog so they try to bite the fence or other dog.  If one of the dogs gets through the fence they may hurt each other. Don't leave your dog to practice barking, lunging or running at the fence, give your dogs toys to play with, do scent work (search cues) or train in the backyard.

 

When you are working with behaviour these reactions will not be fixed overnight as you need to think how many times your dog has practised the reactivity. It will take time and practice to amend but it is worth the effort.




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