Most of the time, dogs don’t do well making decisions on their own, especially when there’s something in the environment that causes arousal (it’s like how I get when there’s a big sale at a great department store).
This is certainly true if dogs encounter each other unexpectedly at the backyard fence when they’re bored and/or feeling territorial. This article provides step-by-step instructions for keeping peace in this common situation.
First and foremost, please don’t leave your dogs in the yard unattended. Many undesirable things could happen, so supervise when they’re outside. Also, check your fence regularly as it can become less stable as it ages. A strong barrier between neighboring dogs can avoid serious trouble.
Now that your physical fence is in good repair, it’s time to strengthen your dog, as well. What works for many dogs is to practice good behavior outside when other dogs, squirrels, and such distractions are not present. Practice calling your dog to you in the yard when it’s easy. Use high value treats, especially at first (for folks who don’t like treat training, you can phase these out very quickly - I do!). Call your dog to you and surprise him with a treat. Don’t call him if you don’t think he’ll come, wait until you know he will and have the treat sitting on something nearby, or hide it. Don’t hold it out and show it to him, otherwise you might have to bribe him every time. Keep your body in a natural position so he gets used to being summoned when you’re relaxed and comfortable. Call him from different areas in the yard as he improves. This teaches him that coming to you is way more rewarding than going to the fence.
Over time, practice with more and more distractions present. If you are out in your yard and you hear the neighbor’s dog running toward the fence (and preferably before your dog hears or sees him), call your dog to you and reward him. If you wait until he’s too aroused, he’ll go into the “Sorry, I can’t hear you right now!” zone and may not respond. This isn’t because he’s bad or trying to ruin your life. He’s just being an excited dog with no guidance as to what to do in that setting.
Once he’s about 80% reliable on the recall, start phasing the treats down to where you only have to treat once in awhile. Always use praise and really tell your dog how good he is for coming to you! If you have more than one dog, practice with each dog separately until he is reliable individually, then move to working with both dogs at once, then all three, etc.
If you do have the neighbor dog scenario, try talking to your neighbor to see if he’s willing to train together. At the very least, he might be willing to bring his dog inside more often to cut down on fence excitement. Also, hire a trainer to help you if you become unsure of what to do.
A woman who lives in Willow Glen called to ask if I could help with her two small dogs that had developed the habit of entertaining themselves by barking at the fence during the day while she was at work. Her neighbor, who had a dog that liked to join in the ruckus, had complained, hence the call for help.
During our appointment, I could see that her dogs had a beautiful backyard to stay in, but they were terribly bored while their person was away working.
So we started on some simple recall as described above, with no distractions and with one dog at time. Then we went on to recall with both dogs. During this time the owner was instructed to keep the dogs inside while she was away. As mentioned above, this is a safety measure as well as a way of keeping the peace with your neighbors.The woman’s dogs responded very well to training and got to the point where they would reliably come when she called them from her back door. I also suggested she take her dogs downtown to cafes where dogs are allowed at outdoor tables in order to socialize them and provide more mental stimulation and exercise.
The next step was to ask the neighbor to join in our training sessions, which she did. With a similar training program, her dog also became very reliable at coming when called. The two neighbors practiced calling their dogs away from the fence with great results and now there is peace at that fence.
You really can eliminate at-the-fence problems through positive management and being a good leader. You are in charge of your dog. As we always say in the Our Pack class, there’s a reason that dogs don’t drive cars or have jobs. They really do rely on us for guidance – and, of course, we love them exactly as they are.
Marthina McClay, CPDT is an Animal Behavior College Mentor Trainer, Certified Therapy Dog Tester/Observer, and Certified Canine Good Citizen Evaluator. Learn more about her at www.ourpack.org; www.dogtrainingforpeople.com; and www.facebook.com/ourpack.