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Does your dog go a little (or a lot) crazy at your fence line when your neighbor’s dogs are out? Maybe they run back and forth chasing the other dogs. Perhaps they growl and bark or even try to bite the other dogs through the fence.
This behavior is known as fence fighting. It can be really stressful for both you as an owner and your dog. A fenced yard can make owning a dog easier, but if your dog turns into a Tasmanian Devil every time the neighbor’s dog comes outside, it can actually make your life harder!
Seeing your dog display aggressive behavior can feel scary. Although there is a fence between your dog and the neighbor’s, it’s still possible for injuries to happen. And even if no injuries occur, this behavior can have a negative effect on your dog’s overall wellbeing. Fence fighting can be really stressful for both dogs because it reduces your dog’s ability to feel relaxed and comfortable in his own backyard.
In this article, you’ll learn:
- Why dogs fence fight
- Why you should prevent your dog from fence fighting
- How to prevent fence fighting
- How to train your dog not to fence fight
Why Do Dogs Fence Fight?
Let’s start by looking at why exactly some dogs engage in fence fighting behavior.
Barrier Frustration Leads to Aggressive Behavior
Fences prevent dogs from interacting freely with each other. Sure, they might be able to see each other, sniff each other and maybe lick each other, but they can’t greet each other or play. This can be a very frustrating experience for some dogs.
They want to access the other dog, but they can’t. The fence prevents them from interacting with the other dog in a normal way. The resulting frustration can come out as whining, barking, growling, jumping, running, and even snapping or biting at the other dog.
If you have a dog that is generally friendly with other dogs, you might be surprised that they have such a big reaction to the neighbor’s dog at the fence. It’s often due to barrier frustration that social dogs fence fight.
This video is a great example of how dogs can display aggressive behavior at fences due to barrier frustration, but that aggression may evaporate when the barrier is removed.
Genetic Instincts Make Dogs Want to Guard or Control
Some dogs are motivated to fence fight because of genetic behavior that is hardwired into their DNA. As humans bred our dog’s ancestors for jobs, we often intentionally amplified defensive aggression. Dogs with a strong instinct to keep intruders out were often very valuable! Your dog’s current “behavior issue” was historically desirable.
Herding breeds like to control the movement of other animals, including other dogs. Herding breeds include Border Collies, German Shepherds, Corgis, Cattledogs, and more. The sight of another dog running around their yard may trigger a herding dog into herding mode. This instinct to herd can look like running along the fence mirroring the other dog’s movement, while barking.
A dog on the other side of a fence may also trigger breeds with guardian instincts, who feel they need to fend off the other dog. Guardian breeds include Anatolian Shepherds, Cane Corso, Great Pyrenees, most mastiffs, and more. They might rush up to the fence while barking, growling or snapping. You might also see them chase the other dog, or jump up on the fence.
Terrier breeds may also be prone to fence fighting, as that kind of scrappy, tenacious behavior is genetic. Terriers include breeds like Jack Russels, Pit Bulls, Airedales, and many more. They have high prey drive, and the sight of a moving dog across the fence can activate those instincts.
These instincts can also combine with barrier frustration, resulting in even more intense behavior at the fenceline. The fence prevents them from actually performing these instinctual behaviors, which is a good thing in terms of safety but can feel extremely frustrating to the dog.
Fear Causes Dogs to Try and Play Defense
Even though it can seem counter-intuitive, some dogs may fence fight because they are actually afraid of the other dog. A dog might fence fight in an attempt to make the other dog go away because they are scared.
If the other dog does move away from the fence, they feel a sense of relief and can learn that fence fighting is an effective way to help them feel safe. The best defense is a good offense, right?
Aggression Sometimes is the Root of Fence-Fighting
Some dogs are truly aggressive towards other dogs and if given the chance, will harm or kill another dog. For these dogs, the fence is just an obstacle in their way of inflicting damage on the other dog. Aggression is complicated, and there can be many factors that play into this behavior.
If your dog has a history of showing aggressive behavior towards dogs in other situations, then it’s possible that aggression may be fueling the fence fighting. Perhaps your dog just generally does not get along with other dogs. Maybe they’ve attacked another dog, or they often growl, lunge, and bark and other dogs they see while out and about. You might notice that they get stiff, their hackles go up and they stare intently at the other dog, which can be aggressive body language indicators.
Some dogs get aggressive when the other dog is within a certain distance. They don’t mind if the dog is outside their personal space bubble, but once they get too close, they become aggressive. For example, when you walk your dog, they ignore other dogs unless they get within 15 feet of you. If your neighbor’s dog is on the other side of the fence, your dog might feel that is too close, and aggressive behavior can be triggered.
It’s important to remember that just because your dog is fence fighting, it doesn’t mean your dog is aggressive. For many dogs, if the fence magically disappeared, nothing major would happen.
Your dog might actually get along fine with the other dog, they might try to run away from the other dog, they might not care much at all about the other dog, or there may be a little squabble between the two as they work out their dynamics.
So while some dogs may cause serious harm if the fence were to disappear, fence fighting doesn’t necessarily mean that your dog is aggressive.
Fence Fighting Can be a “Fun” Hobby
For other dogs, fence fighting is a way to pass the time and can even become a fun activity. If a dog is often bored, they might learn that running along the fence and making noise is a great outlet for physical and mental exercise.
They may hang out in the yard just waiting for the neighbor dog to come out so they can play their fence games. It can become like a hobby for some dogs.
Why You Should Prevent Fence Fighting
Even though fence fighting might seem like a harmless, albeit annoying, behavior, it’s a good idea to prevent it from happening. Here’s why.
- Fence fighting can actually be dangerous. Dogs can get bitten through fences. You’d be surprised how many clients I have with dogs that have been bit or have bit another dog through a fence. Dogs can also injure themselves on the fence if they’re charging, climbing, or scaling the fence.
- Fence fighting can be stressful for dogs. This kind of behavior puts dogs in a state of overarousal, and high levels of stress are not healthy for dogs. Imagine if you got into a yelling match with your neighbor every morning and afternoon. Over time, that would really take a toll on your overall well-being. The same is true for dogs.
- It can escalate to aggression. For some dogs, the more they fence fight, the more intense their behavior becomes and it can spill over into actual aggression. While some dogs only fight through the fence, over time this strong reaction to other dogs may escalate to actual aggression.
- It may lead to other unwanted behavior. Unfortunately, fence fighting can spark other frustrating behaviors, such as leash reactivity and increased barking indoors.
- Fence fighting can put humans at risk of harm. If things escalate into aggression, it may require the owners to break up a fight. Sometimes dogs will redirect their aggression onto people.
- It’s disruptive to your neighbors. Fence fighting can be loud, which is annoying for your neighbors. And I don’t just mean the neighbor whose dog is on the other side of the fence. I mean any neighbor within earshot of your dog.
- Training will not work unless you prevent the fence fighting behavior. We will get into training to address this issue later in the article, but training will not be effective if your dog is allowed to engage in fence fighting. Training takes time, and if you permit them to keep fence fighting, the training will never work. So prevention is an integral part of training your dog to not fence fight.
It’s best to prevent fence fighting and avoid all these other possible consequences.
5 Steps to Prevent Fence Fighting
So now that you understand what may be causing your dog to fence fight, and why it’s so important to prevent it, let’s look at some prevention strategies. Firstly and most importantly, your dog cannot be allowed to be alone in the backyard when the neighbor’s dog might be outside. This is especially important if you’re not home!
1. Talk With Your Neighbor
It takes at least two dogs to fence fight, and so the best place to start with preventing the behavior is having a conversation with your neighbor. If the other dog isn’t outside while your dog is out, then fence fighting won’t happen.
Now, you cannot control your neighbor or their behavior, but it’s still worth talking with them to see if you can create a plan to minimize the fence fighting behavior. Explain to your neighbor that you’re really trying to work on your dog’s fence fighting, and ask if they’d be willing to help you out.
You could request that they call or text you before they let their dog out so that you can bring yours inside before fence fighting occurs. Maybe you can decide on a schedule for “outside time” so that both your dog and theirs can enjoy time outside without another dog over the fence.
You could also purchase an outdoor dinner bell for you and your neighbor and you both can ring it before you let your dogs out. I suggest ringing it, then waiting 30 seconds or a minute, so that the other person has time to bring their dog if they’re outside.
Again, you can’t control your neighbor and the choices they make with their dog, and so depending on how much they’re willing to work with you, the next prevention strategies will vary in degree of necessity.
2. Supervise Your Dog
If your neighbor isn’t able or willing to help you out, then you will need to supervise your dog while they’re outside. And by supervise, I mean, be outside with your dog, not just looking at them through a window. This allows you to either bring your dog inside at the first indication that the neighbor’s dog is coming outside or to quickly interrupt the fence fighting if it does happen.
Even if your neighbor is working with you on this, it’s still a good idea to supervise your dog while they’re out in the yard, especially at first. It can take humans some time to adjust to new routines. Even if your neighbor is eager to help, they might forget. They may let their dog out without communicating with you first by accident, and if you’re not right there, your dog will have a chance to fence fight.
If you have a doggie door that allows your dog to come and go into the yard as they please, you will want to close it off so that your dog can only go out when you are able to supervise.
The more a dog practices a behavior, the stronger and more of a habit it becomes, so your supervision helps prevent your dog from creating a serious pattern of fence fighting.
3. Leash Your Dog
Keep a long lightweight leash on your dog whenever they’re out in the yard. This allows you to pick up the line and escort your dog inside the house if needed without your dog running away and playing a game of “catch me if you can.” Rather than trying to grab their collar or body, you can simply pick up the line from the ground and gently guide them indoors.
If you notice that your neighbor’s dog comes out, you’ll want to quickly bring your dog inside to prevent any fence fighting. Or if your pup does start fence fighting, you can reel your dog in and take them inside.
Depending on the size of your yard, a 15 to 30-foot line should be enough. Biothane lines are excellent for this because they’re waterproof, lightweight, and very durable. We love this one.
4. Install an Additional Fence
Adding an extra layer of fencing set away from the current fence can also be an effective way to stop your dog from fence fighting. If your dog is physically unable to get right up to the other dog, they may quit fence fighting, or it may reduce the intensity.
A great, cost-effective way to try this is with snow fencing. This is a flexible plastic mesh that comes in a roll. You can easily create a barrier with some cheap stakes and a roll of snow fencing. Set it up at least a few feet away from the permanent fence, though depending on your dog, and the size of your yard, you could set it back even farther. If your dog is a jumper or very determined, they may hop over the snow fencing to get to the neighbor’s dog, but for many dogs, this can work.
If your yard is small, you could also use X pens or free-standing gates to create a barrier to see if that changes your dog’s behavior when they’re in the yard.
Some dogs may still react to the sight of the other dog and fence fight along the additional barrier, but it’s worth testing out to see if it helps your situation.
5. Change Your Fence
A more expensive and permanent solution is to change your fence to a solid design with no gaps. A tall, solid fence can prevent your dog from noticing the neighbor’s dog, avoiding the whole ordeal altogether.
But, this is not a realistic option for many people. Maybe you rent, or a new fence just isn’t in the budget. In that case, rely on the other strategies above to prevent your dog from fence fighting.
4 Ways to Train Your Dog Not to Fence Fight
Once you’ve got an effective prevention strategy in place, you can start working on training your dog to be in the yard without fence fighting.
If your dog has been a fence fighter for a length of time, their behavior is extreme, or it is difficult to redirect them away from the fence, it’s probably a good idea to hire a professional to help you with this. You can find the nearest Certified Dog Behavior Consultant here.
There are also options to work with Journey Dog Training virtually. Even if your situation doesn’t fall into those categories, it can still be helpful to get help from a certified professional.
You definitely don’t want your dog fence fighting while in the yard. So what behavior do you want them doing while in the yard?
Here is a general list of behaviors that are helpful when working on anti-fence fighting training:
Start all training exercises indoors and when they’re going well, then take them outside to the yard. The yard is generally more distracting for most dogs than your living room, so to give you the best chance of success, start in a low distraction setting to teach them the skill, and then take it out in the yard.
The “Can you Listen When…” Game is a fun way to introduce distractions to these skills, which helps strengthen them for real-life use. This game will teach your dog how to listen to you even in distracting situations.
Additionally, practice these games when the other dog is not out at first. We will discuss training when the neighbor’s dog is present later in the article.
1. Attention Games
Up Down Game. This game was created by trainer Leslie McDevitt and is the perfect starting point. Place a treat by your feet and let your dog eat it. As soon as they lift their head up, mark with “yes” or click, and then place another treat by your feet. As your dog gets in the flow, wait for them to give you eye contact before you mark or click. This teaches them that eye contact is a great behavior.
Find Me Game. Place a treat on the ground, and as your dog goes to eat it, step behind them. Once they’re done eating the treat, mark with “yes” or a click as soon as they turn towards you. Then place another treat on the ground to reward them and continue the game. This game teaches your dog that turning towards you pays off.
Treat Toss Game. Toss a treat about three feet away from you. Let your dog go eat it. Watch them closely, and as soon as they turn towards you, mark with “yes” or a click and reward with another treat from your hand. As they catch on, you can start tossing the treat further and further away. This game also shows your dog that turning towards you and coming to you is a good idea, but this time with more distance.
2. Coming When Called
I’m going to guess you’ve tried calling your dog to you when they’re fence fighting and it probably wasn’t super effective. Maybe it worked sometimes, or perhaps they totally ignored you and carried on with their fence fighting. If your dog has a history of not listening when you call them, it’s best to create an entirely new recall cue.
I suggest training a hand touch. A hand touch is where your dog boops your hand with their nose. It’s a great way to get your dog to come to you because it’s very specific. Sometimes if you just call a dog, they might stop several feet in front of you, but with the hand touch, the dog understands exactly where to come – all the way to your hand.
Here’s a video showing how to train a hand touch. When your dog begins to understand the skill, you can gradually add in distractions, such as a toy, a family member, or a closed container of treats to help strengthen the behavior.
3. Calmness Around the Other Dog
Another great skill to help your dog develop is calm behavior when the other dog is outside. Rather than rushing up to the fence, running back and forth and barking, wouldn’t it be nice if they could just chill out?
The Engage/Disengage Game is a great starting point for teaching your dog how to turn away from the other dog and calmly focus on you instead. It can be helpful to teach your dog this concept with other distractions that don’t elicit such a strong reaction from your dog.
How much time and effort it will take to grow this skill often depends on how big your dog’s feelings are about other dogs in general. If they go nuts, whether out of excitement, frustration, fear or aggression, when they see another dog out in the world, then it might be a slower process to help them feel calm in their own yard when the neighbor dog is out. It doesn’t mean it’s impossible, but it will require patience.
Whereas if your dog really only has this kind of reaction when fence fighting, and generally gets along well with other dogs or is neutral, you might see progress more quickly. Though it’s still important to work at your dog’s pace and not push them beyond what they can handle.
Hiring a certified, professional trainer or a Certified Dog Behavior Consultant can also help you shift your dog’s feelings about the other dog, which results in calmer behavior.
4. Adding in the Other Dog to Training
When the training is going well in the yard without the dog, it’s time to start thinking about adding the other dog to the picture. Depending on what your relationship with your neighbor is like, and how much they are willing to help you, this can look several different ways.
It’s best to introduce the other dog at a low level. This means the other dog is not at the fence running around and barking at your dog. Ideally, the neighbor has them leashed, perhaps at the far end of the yard away from you, or maybe on their patio or deck. And you have your dog leashed at the opposite end of your yard. Then you can work on your training skills with the added challenge of the other dog but at a low intensity.
Then your neighbor can move towards your fence, as your dog shows they are able. Eventually, your neighbor can let their dog loose in their yard. If at any point your dog is struggling to respond to you, it probably means the other dog is too close, and it’s a good idea to create more distance.
If your neighbor isn’t willing or able to help with your training, you can try keeping your dog leashed and working with them on their skills as far away from your fence as possible. If the other dog is running and barking, this might make it really hard for your dog to learn though.
Other options include asking your neighbor if it would be okay if you tossed some treats over the fence for their dog to enjoy while you train your dog. This can help occupy their dog and bring their intensity down a few notches, so your dog can be successful. If the neighbor’s yard is configured so that a section of it faces the street, you could also take your dog out into your neighborhood on a leash, where they can see the dog behind the neighbor’s fence, but with more distance between them and you than if you were in your yard. When you can work up to a distance that is similar to the distance your yard permits, try training in your yard.
Use really high-value treats to reward your dog during this process. You want to really make it worth your dog’s while to listen to you in the presence of the other dog.
Multiple Fence Fighting Dogs
If you have two or more dogs who engage in fence fighting, it can make handling the situation more challenging. Here are some tips to help you out.
Let each dog outside one at a time. I know, this can seem really inconvenient and time-consuming. It is much easier to just let them all out at the same time. But dogs often feed off each other’s energy and it can be a lot harder to interrupt fence fighting when there are multiple dogs. Supervising one dog at a time can help ensure that you can get them indoors before the fighting occurs, or you can more easily interrupt them if it does start. This tip can be especially useful if your neighbor isn’t willing to help you out with this issue, or if their routine is unpredictable.
Be strategic about when you let all your dogs into the yard. If you want to let your dogs out in the yard to play or exercise together, try to choose times when there is a very low chance that your neighbor’s dog will also be out. It can be really chaotic trying to herd multiple dogs indoors once fence fighting has started. If you can talk with your neighbor and come up with a schedule of some sort, or a communication system, that can really help. Otherwise, be observant of their routine and do your best to find times where your pack can play in peace.
Train each dog individually. Work with each dog one-on-one, rather than trying to train them together. Then once they are both looking solid, you can start working them together. When you first start training them together, make things easier. Having their dog sibling present is a distraction and can make understanding what you’re asking of them harder. So drop the challenge level initially, and build it up slowly as they’re able. If one dog seems to be struggling with a particular skill, go back to working with them individually to strengthen the skill, and then try it with both dogs again.
Final Thoughts on Fence Fighting
Fence fighting can be a tough issue to resolve because you ultimately cannot control your neighbor and their dog. Regardless of how much your neighbor is willing and able to help you out, prevention is key to working on the fence fighting issue. In fact, it’s totally okay to just focus on prevention, and never actually train your dog skills that reduce the likelihood of fence fighting. If you’re able to develop a solid prevention strategy, training may not even be needed.
And if you do want to venture into training to help resolve the issue, just remember that you’ll still need to rely on prevention as you build up those skills. Hiring a certified, professional trainer can also help you with the training process.
Lastly, you can also consider no longer using your yard for your dog. This may seem drastic, and if you have a fenced yard it can feel like a real shame not to use it. But if the fence fighting issue is extreme and it’s causing you a lot of frustration, you might be better off taking your dog out to potty on leash in front of your home and finding alternative ways to exercise your dog.
Check out the Sniffspot app to see if there are any spaces you can rent where your dog won’t have to deal with other dogs. Hit up an uncrowded trail with your dog on a harness and long leash, where they can sniff and explore in peace.
Alisa lives in the Chicago suburbs with her husband and two dogs, Ruby and Lazlo. She loves exploring local nature preserves, creating new vegetarian dishes, and reading a good novel. Alisa is a Karen Pryor Academy Certified Training Partner, and has a wide range of training experience from shelters, to youth programs to dog sports. She’s very passionate about agility, and uses her blog, The Kindred Canine, as an outlet for this obsession.