Preventing Dog Reactivity: Don’t Let Them Run That Fenceline

Dogs can be reactive for a variety of reasons, including a conditioned response to feeling frustrated.

When your dog is racing up and down the fence-line, nose to nose with the dog next door, hair standing up, barking and growling, do you see a problem, or do you love the fact that Rover is getting some exercise?

If the latter resonated with you, I worry about your dog becoming reactive, and quite possibly even aggressive. Unfortunately, I see far too many dogs that traveled the path to reactivity with fence running behavior as a component. As you read, I hope you will understand how fence running contributes to canine reactivity.

Preventing Dog Reactivity: Don't Let Them Run That Fenceline

Fence running

Certainly, there are different levels of fence running; I am concerned for the dog ceaselessly pursuing this activity, to the exclusion of other doggy behaviors.

Dogs that casually trot to the fence to greet their canine neighbor, then off to explore their own yards, do not fall within the scope of my concern.

Confused? Consider that stress is accumulative in canines as well. Just as we can have a horrible week at work and be stressed out by Friday, Rover, having spent the entire day in the frustrating pursuit of his neighbor, will be negatively impacted.

Stress threshold

With canines, we talk about stress thresholds and becoming non-cognitive when over stress threshold. In other words, when Rover is in the midst of the intense fence running, do you have a shot at gaining his attention when you call him? I doubt it. I have worked with dogs that, so aroused, have re-directed aggressively at owners reaching in to pull them away from the fence physically.

This is the behavior of a dog completely over stress threshold, no longer cognitive, and purely reacting. The Rover`s of this world even end up not liking their neighbors so much, as they can never access them to play and become constantly frustrated. As time goes on, unless interrupted, Rover can be at risk for developing aggressive behaviors as well. An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure!

Unattended dog

How does this happen? Many well-meaning folks leave Rover outside unattended for the day, believing that the fresh air and exercise will be just great. However, as described above, you can end up with a reactive dog triggered by movement, any movement, along their fence-line. For many dogs, triggering stimuli can be joggers, Mothers pushing strollers, bicycles, cars, other dogs on leash, and children walking by.

Once the behavior is learned, it continues to evolve. Quite chilling to myself are the dogs so overly aroused that they run right through the ineffective barrier of an electric fence, despite the shock, to attack something on the other side. Yes, this does occur and has more than enough scope for another entire blog. I surely pray that this will not become your own canine friend.

Fences

The best types of fences, not to mention more humane, are the solid panels, thus eliminating the visual trigger component. My own American Lab Doobie, from a puppy mill rescue background and noise reactive, now plays behind a fence of 6 X 6 vinyl panels and is much better off not being able to target stimuli visually.

The bottom line, though, is the factor of an unattended dog left in the back yard. I cannot even begin (well, yes, I can) to imagine how Doobie would have deteriorated if left to react to all stimuli aversive to him. If anything at all has raised a red flag, consider hiring a certified positive dog trainer to help you and Rover. And please please please do not leave your dogs outside unattended, to develop these potentially dangerous behaviors.

Related articles:
Noise Phobias in Dogs: Conquering The Evil Dishwasher Monster

Further reading:
How to Handle Reactive Dogs

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