A fenced yard is usually a blessing to dog owners. But sometimes, when a barrier separates dogs, they can become frustrated or reactive. From barking and growling to charging, if the fence line becomes a battle zone, it can make outdoor playtime unbearable. Many dogs are reactive through barriers but are wonderful when that barrier is gone. Having a dog that is reactive through a barrier does not mean they are aggressive. Read on for tips to manage and train a dog that is reactive through a fence.

Managing Barrier Reactivity

  • If you have more than one dog, give them individual outdoor playtime. This gives you time to work with each dog individually until each dog has learned appropriate behavior.
  • Never leave your dog outside unattended! It is unsafe, and also allows the dog to practice behaviors, like fence fighting, without you being there to interrupt.
  • If you’re able to, install a second fence inside your current fence. Visual barriers can help manage barrier reactivity. While training is still needed even with visual barriers (some dogs react to sounds), below are examples of visual barriers for most budgets:
    • Privacy screens that can be installed over your fence.
    • Add plastic slats to your chain link fence.
    • Tarps, plywood, or fiberglass-reinforced plastic can also work as a visual barrier.
    • Landscaping.
    • Bamboo or reed rolls.
    • Coyote Rollers.

For a temporary solution when your dog is already reacting at a barrier, use a large plastic lid (such as from a storage box) as a divider. We recommend you avoid deterrents like spraying your dog with water or shaking a can of pennies. When you use deterrents like this, your dog is not learning what you want them to do. These techniques may work in the short-term, but it does not address the issue in the long-term. If your dog begins to equate other dogs on the other side of a fence with punishment, it can intensify their fear or reactivity. Instead of using deterrents, pay close attention to your dog and reward them for positive behaviors. Reward your dog (with food or toys) before your dog reacts to something behind the fence, even if if you have to reward them as soon as you step outside. Toss treats away from the fenced area, encouraging them to stay in those areas. Reward your dog often for avoiding the fence line and not reacting.

Below are cues that are useful to manage barrier reactivity:

  • Recall: Teach your dog to come back to you when called, even when they’re distracted.
  • “Leave it”
  • Targeting: Teaching a dog to target your hand or an object can help move the dog away from what they are reacting to.
  • Go to “place”: This will help if you have multiple dogs in the home.

We hope these tips will help bring harmony back to your yard again! If you need further assistance, please email our Behavior Team at training@awla.org