For the next few weeks, our blog will be written by Dee Hoult, owner/operator, and head trainer at Applause Your Paws. Dee is a certified professional dog trainer and more importantly, she is one of Zohan's favorite people in the whole world! We hope you enjoy getting to know her as much as we have!
You’re sitting peacefully on your back patio enjoying the summer breeze, your dog is lounging quietly at your feet. You’re listening to the sound of birds chirping and the palm trees are swaying. You take a sip of your freshly squeezed lemonade, kick up your feet onto your extra patio chair and are just staring to think to yourself “this moment couldn’t be any more peaceful,” when your neighbor lets their dog outside. Your picture perfect moment is gone as your dog charges off your patio at top speed, barking the entire length of your back yard until he hits the fence line. Literally, he hits the fence line. Your dog and the neighbors dog begin fighting through the fence, running up and down, back and forward, tearing up the earth beneath them (well, what’s left of it anyway from all the previous times this has happened) as they bark, lunge, salivate, growl, chasing each other along the perimeter of your yard. You scream “HEY!!!!!”
This is your life with your dog. What you may not realize, however, is that your dog’s fence fighting behavior has a much more detrimental affect to your dogs emotional health than yours. Although many times we perceive that this is a “fun” behavior that our dogs enjoy, it is quite the contrary. Routine fence fighting quickly becomes a compulsive type of behavior in dogs, which is far from healthy. In fact, fence fighting often leads to dogs becoming aggressive with other animals and/or people. Every time your dog rehearses the lunging, growling, air snapping and barking he is practicing and being reinforced for inappropriate behavior. Can you really blame him for the times when he’s gotten snappy or assertive with an otherwise friendly dog you’ve met while out on a walk? Your dog being leashed becomes another barrier – another fence – meaning that your dog is likely to display the same behaviors on leash as he does with the dog on the other side of a fence line. Fence fighting isn’t just annoying, and it’s certainly not innocent. It is detrimental to having a well socialized, friendly, and neurochemically balanced dog. Neurochemically balanced? Yes. You read it correctly.
What you may not realize about dogs is that when they get aroused, like during a fence fighting episode, it can take days for their neurochemistry to return to normal. Imagine if your dog fence fights everyday, or multiple times a day! Your dog could be living in a constant state of stress – distress! If you want to learn about how stress really affects dogs you can click here to read an awesome article by my good friends at Green Acres Kennels in Bangor, MA.
To recap, here are three reasons why you shouldn’t allow your dog to participate in fence fighting:
1. Your dog is rehearsing aggressive interactions with other dogs and/or people
2. Your dog is likely being reinforced for unwanted behavior
3. It’s just not healthy!
So what can be done? I have a few ideas for you. You can:
Install a visual barrier
This is by far the easiest and quickest way to eliminate or significantly decrease fence fighting. Out of sight, out of mind. If erecting a 6ft wooden fence isn’t in your budget I recommend installing green privacy mesh over your chain link fence.
Always supervise your dog while he’s in the yard
If you leave your dog outside unsupervised then there is no one to teach him that fence fighting is not a desired behavior. You should always supervise your dog’s activity when he’s in your yard. Take some tasty chicken or another high value treat your dog loves outside with you so that the next time your neighbor’s dog comes outside you can reward your dog for staying close to you instead of charging the fence.
Use a long line and a harness
In addition to supervising your dog in the yard I strongly recommend that you get a comfortable fitting harness for your dog to wear when he’s in your backyard. By attaching a 25 foot training line to the harness you can quickly step on the line should your dog decide to tear off towards the fence line. You can literally put your foot down on unwanted behavior! Remember you should never attach a 25 foot line to a dog’s neck collar as a running dog hitting the end of a 25 foot line could potentially injure your dog. Always use a body harness for this strategy. It’s important that if your dog does decide to charge the fence you can quickly interrupt the behavior and prevent the rehearsal of your dog’s aggressive display.
Provide some cognitive and environmental enrichment in the yard
It’s worth every penny you’ll spend in buying some easy to solve dog food puzzles that can be provided to your dog when he’s out in the yard. Puzzles filled with dog treats will keep your dog busy and focused on more productive activities than fence fighting. If your dog likes to dig, you can even build him a sandbox to encourage alternative natural and fun behaviors your dog likes to do. Anything to keep him happy so he doesn’t feel bored or tempted to fence fight.
Hire a professional dog trainer to help you learn how to properly counter condition and desensitize your dog away from fence fighting
If you find that you need a little extra help, you can find certified dog trainers through the Association of Professional Dog Trainers (www.apdt.com). It’s important you work with a trainer that is using positive dog training methods to modify your dog’s behavior. You dog isn’t dominant, he just doesn’t know better. It’s your job to teach him what’s better!