In nearly all neighbourhoods we find dogs running up and down along the boundary fence barking fiercely at whoever passes by. This may be another dog, neighbour, passing pedestrian or something outside the boundary of the property.
These mostly high energy dogs run frantically up and down the same route in the garden. It should never be seen as positive behaviour such as “protecting the property” or “exercise.” More often this can increase the chances of the dog becoming more aggressive, particularly if fence fighting the neighbour’s dog. Dogs are not kidding when they do this; they are practicing aggressing at the target. Postal workers know what happens when the dog is no longer behind the fence.
They not only distress passers-by and scare children but quickly gain a reputation as dangerous, aggressive dogs. Unfortunately they may also attract those misguided individuals who will deliberately tease these dogs and send them into a greater frenzy.
When visiting the homes of dogs with aggression problems I invariably find that they walk their dogs along the same route each time passing the homes of fence runners. As they set off on their walk the dog already knows that five houses away there are fence runners waiting for them so the dog eagerly pulls its owner to that property to be able to bark at them in return. They are actually allowing their dogs to be aggressive on leash.
I have seen the damage they can do to a lawn or garden by wearing out deep trenches along the fence as they charge up and down all day long. Shouting at them to stop has little effect and they seem to interpret it as encouragement from the owners.
Some dogs become so engrossed in this behaviour that it is impossible to re-direct them and they may even snap if the owner tries to physically remove them. This behaviour causes the dog a great deal of stress and the more the dog is allowed to do it, the harder it will be to eradicate.
What can be done?
Ideally the boundary fence should not be see-through and high enough to stop the dog jumping up and looking over.
Two things need to happen. The dog or dogs must be drawn away from the boundary fence confrontations and owners must establish true leadership and control over their dogs. See: “Becoming the Pack Leader” and “Recall” Come when called. Re-read both articles a few times.
Training a reliable recall has to be fun with the dog, on leash, using super treats. This may take some time. It’s important not to train during times when fence running usually took place.
The dog should be kept in the house to get the message that things are going to change. After a few days of quiet and rest the dog is let out again. Let him drag a longish line (12 ft- 5m) because dogs know they are attached to you when dragging a line and will come when called. Do infrequent recalls and use cheese rewards.
When all is calm, walk your dog, on the long leash, toward the fence where he normally chases and barks. Back up and call him to you. If you need to, give a sharp tug on the leach and then in a happy voice PRAISE him as he approaches and reward with a handful of treats. Now is not the time to be stingy with the treats.
Repeat this procedure over the next few days.
If all goes well when things are calm, do the same thing when the distractions are present. Note: The goal is to act the moment your dog starts to get distracted, not to get all the way to the fence line. So if your dog rushes ahead of you towards the fence, then you back up and call him. You want him to ignore the distractions and not to reach the fence line.
Should you find that your training has not been enough or that you started too soon, you need to spend more time training the recall etc.
Alternatively, if after having called your dog a few times while he ignores your calls, quietly walk up to him, hook a finger in his collar and say, “Come with me” in your ordinary voice and lead him into the house and put him into a toilet, bathroom or laundry but not in the yard or the dog’s sleeping space. Shut the door and leave him there for 5 minutes. When time is up, open the door to let him out but ignore him completely. Turn your back on him and walk away.
Here’s the catch: The dog has to connect that his barking and or fence running caused his isolation. This is the kindest and most humane way of punishing a dog for being disobedient. Few dogs need more than one repeat of this treatment before falling in line with his owner’s wishes.
The problem arises when the dog does not respect the owner’s request to follow him into the house mainly due to the fact that the bonding between them is poor and the dog does not respect him as a leader.
In our society dogs are treated as eternal puppies. We feed them and care for all their needs for as long as they may live. They are very dependent on us and it never really becomes their responsibility to look after us or the house. Not being trained for it and with weak leadership they often assume these duties on their own. Because they are ill prepared for the job they soon mess up and become a problem to us and society.
Only when the dog gets the message that it is no longer in charge of its owners that it will be able to exercise self-control and not be controlled by the owner.
The first step in establishing leadership is learning to ignore the dog. When you pick up the leash and the dog bounces up and down, ignore the antics; pick up a book or magazine and start reading until the dog calms itself. On arriving home, do not make eye-contact, speak to or touch the dog/s. Ignore them and walk away and they will begin to follow you as their leader. Shortly afterwards invite the dog/s to come to you to be greeted by you and to receive a treat or praise from you.
Too many owners spend too much time trying to control their dogs instead of teaching them how to calm themselves and respect their owners as pack leaders. There is no point in giving a dog a command and not insisting that he obeys.
Once the owner has established true leadership and respect, it is easy to stop the dog from boundary running and to come when called.
It is very much a question of consistency and patience.