For most dog owners with dogs that “fence fight” it is a miserably familiar never-ending story of escalated energy, quick movements, ugly sounds, and foolish dog shenanigans typically played out in a corner or section of the yard whenever the neighbor happens to let their dog out at the same time the other dog is outside. Fence fighting is a difficult issue to navigate for many owners because it is so unnatural and frustrating for the dogs themselves. Nowhere amongst the various Yellowstone wolf packs is there a man-made fence wherein these wild canids can lunge and cuss back and forth at opposing, rival wolves with unrelenting abandon. If a wild wolf has an issue with another wolf in its pack or with a rival pack it can deal with the individual wolf (or the entire pack) directly in wide open woodlands or on the prairie and, if the individual or the pack want to brawl, there is going to be a definitive winner and a clear loser. Than, and this is important, life moves on.
With fence fighting nobody ever wins. With fence fighting everyone loses (dog owners and neighbors included) because the cycle repeats itself over and over as the pumped up and persistent puppy participants doggedly attempt to get at one another behind their protective, man-made enclosures. So close to gripping and biting and tearing at each other and yet so far away! (By the way many cities have ordinances stating dogs left in backyards are not allowed to bark for more than 15 minutes straight! Be a good neighbor and a good dog owner and STOP your dog from territorial fence fighting and from boredom or anxiety-based barking in your yard)
In a real fight there’s real risk. Risk can be good. It can also be bad. Calculating risk is what wise creatures do to survive. A wolf or coyote only has so much energy/gas in the tank/ammunition per diem in order to survive. Their choices count for much more than our domesticated dogs’ choices. The wolf calculates risk. The wild animal MUST make wise choices. Their lives depend on it! High Stakes.
The comfortable and convenient life of the modern domesticated dog (easy access to food, water, shelter 24/7) particularly in 2019 lends itself to more foolish decision making among our pampered pets. Dog dignity is at an all time low because owners are basically off their rockers as they lavishly gush the softest of affection (and often not much more) onto their animals. This allows for dog brats to rise up and take over. Basically, our dogs can totally waste their energy on idiotic fence fighting numerous times a day and think little to nothing of it! Zero consequences. Our dogs don’t have to hunt in order to eat. They don’t have to hike to a water source. They don’t have to survive brutal winter storms. Heck, they don’t even have to get along and employ team work and adaptability anymore in order to survive (which is the very thing that helped make them become dogs thousands of years ago)! Dogs these days can act like morons in perpetuity, blowing their energy at the drop of a hat knowing full well that there’s a comfy dog bed inside and an owner that will hand them another high-caloric treat and loads of affection if they simply walk back inside the house! Is it any wonder more and more dogs are becoming insane? Wild animals could never afford to muster and then employ all the energy that some dogs casually and consistently waste on fence fighting and frivolous barking unless it was for a real fight or during a dangerous flight for their lives.
Well, what’s the answer to this common dilemma? I’ll start by telling you what the WRONG answer is…recalling your dog back inside. Do NOT call your dog back inside to curtail fence fighting! That’s like placing a Band Aid on a bullet wound! It will not work for very long. The next time you let your dog outside when the neighbor’s dog happens to be out there – guess who’s fence fighting again? You’ve got the same problem day after day after day despite you calling your dog back inside. But I should call the dog back inside the house in order to be a “good neighbor”, right? Wrong. Why settle for “good” when you can be a “better neighbor” and an “excellent dog owner” and actually stop the stupid behavior altogether? Calling your dog back to you, FYI, is never a natural, dog-like solution in a situation like this because parent dogs go towards who they are addressing/correcting and the older dog will intentionally take up some of the problematic pup’s space. This means you must move and get outside and stop the behavior where it is occurring in your yard. You need to take away the space in front of your fence fighting dog. Do you need to be harsh? Not usually, but you do need to be firm enough to interrupt the dog at the exact moment in time when your dog is displaying high energy because he/she is in the very act of fence fighting. You need to break your dog’s eye contact. You need to respond in order to match your dog at the energy level he/she is at at that moment. I often suggest turning the dog away if body blocking is not working.
- Move with a purpose toward your dog. You can yell one time if it helps (often yelling does Not help but experimenting is always a good idea when looking for the most efficient way forward).
- Upon reaching your dog and the fence you may have to grab the collar in order to break the dog’s eye contact with the neighboring dog. If you cannot catch your dog because its rudely blasting by you and making a mockery of your discipline and a mockery of your physical prowess (or lack thereof) continuing to fence fight with the other dog then.. next time you attempt this step in the process… be sure to have the dog dragging a line/rope/leash (not attached to anything). In this way you can step on the line and then pull the dog quickly into the proper posture. The proper posture is one where your human rear end is facing the fence and the dog is backed away from the fence to make room for your body. The proper posture is one where the dog is looking at you and not the other dog behind the fence. (Do not pay the dog to look at you – there’s no respect in that) In some cases the proper posture is when you place the dog in the “heel” position next to you as you both angle looking away from the neighbor dog and the fence which are now (because of your actions) behind you.
- Allow a few heartbeats to pass so your dog can achieve a lesser level of energy.
- This next step is a rare and wonderful key to this method so please listen up…As you prepare to let the dog go (yes, you are going to let your dog go again and this will show your dog that you’re trying to establish a bit of trust in your relationship – it will also show supremely confident leadership on your part because it’ll look like you aren’t really concerned about the behavior – although you’re expecting it to stop – if you’re letting the dog go). Begin to disconnect by standing up fully and looking away from your dog. Your eye contact and denying eye contact is super important. Then, let your dog go and start to walk back towards your house. Yes – this may be shocking info to those of you with very reactive fence fighters but listen to me and do it – walk away as if the whole thing never happened.
- If it’s your dog’s first time being trusted and first time given this second chance (as opposed to being dragged inside the home or just recalled for some dumb food treat) your dog may turn and go right back into fence fighting. That’s ok. Anticipate that failure. Don’t be afraid of failure. Our goal here is that over the next few days your dog can “fail forward” as you intercept and interrupt the poor behavior and soon the behavior begins to greatly lessen in intensity and then the neighbor’s dog, even when barking its head off, begins to be almost boring to your dog.
- Day two looks much like day one. Repetition is needed for both owner and dog. Practice makes perfect.
- By day three when you go to stop your dog there should be a noticeable difference IF you’ve been following my advice to the letter. When you go to grab your dog or go to grab the line that’s dragging on the ground you may not have to even touch or grab this time – so be ready to scale it back a hair. Less is becoming more!
- Et cetera…et cetera…as the days pass the magic begins to work and you don’t come out the backdoor or off the porch as far into your yard. Soon you only open the backdoor and yell out a parental warning to your dog and, after a bark or three, your dog stops and looks at you and you respond by instantly turning around and going back inside – teaching your dog that you expect it to be quiet and act properly and not escalate his/her energy in YOUR yard and that you are trying to TRUST your dog to remain outside and relax. You are denying eye contact on purpose and showing real dog leadership. If your dog heads away from the fence and comes towards your space just ignore it (do NOT praise or give attention to your dog). Walk inside leaving your dog OUT because you’ve now achieved both respect for you and for your yard and the fencing, and you’ve cultivated some trust between yourself and your dog. Nice work.
The technique I’ve described here really works. If it doesn’t work for you then I would humbly suggest you are performing it improperly and your body and energy needs an adjustment. Be advised, it is initially a difficult technique for some people spatially speaking. Also, if your dog won’t listen to you inside your own house or is controlling who is touching who inside your home (and basically manipulating you) then there’s an enormous chance that the technique I’ve described here will NOT work for you outside because you have other relational work to do before you could ever hope to accomplish this type of “next level” spatial work outdoors between you and your dog. All in all though, if you’re dog respects you and trusts you inside your home, the technique detailed here usually takes a week or two to achieve calmness outside in your yard FOREVER! And often calmness can be accomplished even sooner! The question is, are you willing to work hard for a week or two to win calmness for you and your dog FOREVER? Are you genuinely willing to improve your life, your dog’s understanding, and improve your neighborhood? I know plenty of people who sadly will NOT do the work. I hope, Dear Reader, that you are different.
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Questions? Read my books, Dog Myths: What you Believe about dogs can come back to Bite You! and So Long Separation Anxiety then, if you still have questions, let ’em rip as I’d love to help you if I can!