Home > Dog Behavior, Dog Training, Jasper, Lady > My dirty little secret – my dogs are fence fighting

My dirty little secret – my dogs are fence fighting

September 24, 2012 Leave a comment Go to comments

The run to the fence

Why is that when it comes to our dog’s behavior, or misbehavior, we seek the easiest solution first? I am as guilty of it as anyone else. I like to think I know better (and I really do), but I admit it, sometimes I just get lazy and choose the easy way out.

I am sure you must think my dogs are perfect, after all they look so darn adorable in those photos I share with you, but the truth is we have a little secret here at Casa del Mel (well okay, if you’re my neighbor it’s not really a secret). We have a barking problem. No, actually it’s worse than that, what we have here is a fence-charging, fence-fighting problem.

It used to be a once in a while thing, but over time, as Jasper and Lady have gotten closer, they gotten better at triggering one another with a simple look. Now, the simplest thing (a sound, a person walking by, etc.) can trigger “the look” and a race to the fence to bark and fence fight with the neighbor’s dogs behind us.

It is not a pretty sight. It’s also very annoying for both me and the neighbor. The problem is that both our dogs are outside a lot. And, both take part in the fence fighting.

So what have I tried?

  • Making the dogs wait at the door before going outside – This only works until we get outside and then some sound or person triggers them and off they go again.
  • Running down to where the fence fighting was occurring and try to stop the behavior after it was already in full swing – Uh yeah. Waaaay too late.
  • Using a device that emits a sound only dogs can hear to stop them in mid-run to the fence – This worked on the two dogs it was meant for, but scared the bejesus out of the dog who wasn’t involved, Daisy. It made her afraid to go outside. Can you imagine how awful I felt about that one?
  • Keeping one dog on a leash until they settled down outside and then letting them off leash once they were calm – See bullet number one for how well this one worked.

What I started to realize was just how little time I was spending trying to understand what was happening and why. Instead, I was focusing the majority of my time on trying to stop the behavior after it had already occurred. No wonder I had so little success.

Any good dog trainer will tell you observing a dog’s behavior can help one to understand his triggers, and in doing so, reveal a wealth of information about him and the behaviors you are seeing. Understanding a dog’s triggers can also help show you where and when to redirect them. But here I was trying to solve the problem without really observing their behavior. So that’s what I started doing first.

What did I learn by observing Lady and Jasper?

  • The behavior almost always starts when Jasper and Lady get excited by something in their environment – a neighbor walking their dog, the sound of a dog barking (usually one of the fellow fence-fighters on the other side of the fence), a child running through the front yard, etc.
  • In almost every case, Jasper is the one who gets the most excited by this external stimuli.
  • Before the mad dash to the fence, there is a “look” exchanged between Jasper and Lady. Once this happens, there is only a second or two before redirecting the behavior is too late.
  • Very rarely does Jasper engage in the actual fence fighting, but he loves to get it started.
  • Lady doesn’t appear to see fence fighting as an act of aggression, but rather as a fun game.
  • When outside alone, neither dog seems interested in fence fighting at all.
  • If Lady can be redirected before she reaches the fence, Jasper loses all interest in the game. Jasper is much harder to redirect because food is less of a reward for him than the excitement the behavior creates (I seriously suspect he is an adrenaline junkie.)

Who knew so much could learned by just taking the time to actually observe the behavior? I suspect my dog trainer friends would say “Duh!”

Armed with this new information, I have now had a place to begin to start to address the issue and the resulting behaviors (let’s face it, it’s pretty hard to prevent the triggers that set Jasper off).

So what have I started to do to change the behavior?

  • Train all 3 dogs to understand that the click of my clicker will yield a treat.   (I have tried using a clicker in the past, but it used to scare Jasper and Daisy.)
  • Retrain the dogs to “Come” and follow-up with a click and a treat.
  • Increase their recall response by calling them to “come” at random moments (e.g., when they are playing or sniffing in the yard).
  • Wait for that trigger to occur and use the recall to redirect Jasper and Lady to “come” to me instead of running to the fence. Often I catch them in mid-run and will get Lady to spin around and come back. Jasper is less likely of the two to respond to the recall when he is excited, so I use the recall specifically with Lady because I know that 1) Jasper has no interest in fence fighting unless Lady is there, and 2) if he sees Lady is getting a treat for following through on the “come” command, he is more likely to follow suit.
  • Be more consistent. If I don’t have a treat on hand I use lost of praise, but I always use the recall command to redirect.

So far the results have been fairly successful. There are still times when the recall doesn’t work, but the more we practice, the more successes we have and the less fence fighting we see. We are a work in progress. (Now if only I could get them to stop when I have to run inside for something!)

So now I am interested in you… What things are you working on with your dogs? Have you also had an issue with fence fighting? How have you worked to resolve it? Share your training issues and successes.

Fellow fence fighters – the neighbor dogs. (BTW – They are really sweet dogs too.)

“The Look” has been exchanged and the race to the fence begins.

The successful recall. Lady is redirected and receives a click and a treat in return.



  1. James
    September 24, 2012 at 8:26 AM

    Hi – Will you please post a link to your Blog at The Shetland Sheepdog Community at vorts.com? Our members will love it.
    Members include: Sheltie Owners, Breeders, Rescues and Lovers.
    It’s easy to do, just cut and paste the link and it automatically links back to your website…
    You can also add Photos, Videos, Rescues and Classifieds if you like. Post as much or as often as you like.
    Email me if you need any help or would like me to do it for you.
    The Sheltie Community: http://www.vorts.com/shetland_sheepdogs/
    James Kaufman, Editor

    • Mel
      September 24, 2012 at 8:19 PM

      Thanks for the offer James. I would love to, but to be honest, I am not sure breeders would want me on your site. I am very vocal about puppy mills as I have 3 former mill dogs. Sometimes my views offend those who think that stopping puppy mills means I want to close down all breeders. Very far from the case, but I am aware that not everyone will like me joining your group. Thank you for the offer though.

  2. September 24, 2012 at 9:53 AM

    They all look so sweet AND innocent.

    Keep up the good work.

    • Mel
      September 24, 2012 at 8:16 PM

      LOL! Well, they are both sweet and innocent most of the time. Thanks Lynda!

  3. September 24, 2012 at 10:35 AM

    How encouraging it is not only us LOL 🙂
    When a whole new dogs joins the team the dynamics change, what you describe could just as well be Kenzo and Viva. The latter (viva) had the same effect on kenzo.
    You have to check out Erica Kanuyha’s blog called “the reinforcement bucket” it works like a charm. Especially for Jesper I can see a “R.B.” filled with tennis balls do wonders.
    Good luck!


    • Mel
      September 25, 2012 at 6:28 AM

      Nope! It’s definitely not only you. I suspect it’s not only us either. You are right about the dynamics changing Leo. I don’t know if it is the same for Viva and Kenzo, but Jasper seems to love having a partner in crime who will join him. He gets a kick out of it.

      I will definitely check out Erica’s blog! Thank you!!!!

  4. To Shea
    September 24, 2012 at 1:34 PM

    Thankfully our neighbor allows our girl Penny to go into his yard and lets his dog play with Penny. We never had any fense fights.
    However, Penny DOES bark and likes to chase kids on Bicycles…We dont know why, especially since we ride bicycles with her. It does not make sense. She has a great time with us on the bikes, but ANY time (at Home or Car) she sees’ anyone riding a bicycle, she starts barking at them…..LOL

    • Mel
      September 24, 2012 at 8:15 PM

      Ah yes! I have the bicycle issue too. How funny that Penny distinguishes between running alongside you when you are biking and bike that are that aren’t yours. I would love to have adjoining gates so the dogs could play with one another. I think that would hep. Both dogs are fine with dogs at the dog park. I think they just love the game here at home more. Jasper loves playing with the girls next door (also Vizslas by the way!).

      • To Shea
        September 24, 2012 at 11:54 PM

        Vizslas…how about that…LOL, maybe you and your neighbor could just install gate between properties. That way all you have to do is open the gate. Thats what we do with Penny. See if your neighbor would like the idea. Doesnt hurt to ask and you guys could split the cost of the gate and installation…:-)

      • Mel
        September 25, 2012 at 6:26 AM

        I have actually thought about that. The Vizsla girls have one and they play all of the time with each other. Hmmm…

  5. September 24, 2012 at 2:05 PM

    Ike and Tina do some of that, but tails are wagging on both sides. The bigger problem for me is that there is a road between the fences. Opening the rest of the property has helped some.

  6. September 24, 2012 at 2:06 PM

    Oh this is so helpful! I am going to try it with our air-barker (barks at air…then sister joins in).

    • Mel
      September 24, 2012 at 8:11 PM

      Oh yes! I can relate with that! It’s a work in progress. It doesn’t always work (the click and treat), but I think that will get better the more I continue to do it (and with consistency).

  7. September 24, 2012 at 5:23 PM

    One of my Mom’s dogs had a “problem” with seeing the neighbours in their yard and would get all barky & hysterical. Since we have a chain link fence, like you do, we bought cheap tarps so that the dog couldn’t see into the other yard. It worked “okay” and the barking mostly went away.

    • Mel
      September 24, 2012 at 8:10 PM

      I have been considering doing this as well Karen. I know that I can’t always be out with my dogs so I worry about their behavior when I cannot redirect them. I would love to get a wood fence along the back, but at $4000 or more, it is just not do-able. I will be looking into that tarp thing now as a back up. Thank you for the advice.

  8. September 24, 2012 at 6:41 PM

    We don’t have the fence issue, but we are working hard on being less reactive on the leash. I was working on getting her attention in the house (easy to do), but of course getting her attention outside when there’s another dog on leash is not as easy! I need to go back to the drawing board and start doing the indoor work again. I’ve been very very lazy but she really needs the work! And then, once I have the leash issue under control, I need to work on her being reactive in the car. Not as easy to do since I have to stay focused on driving!

    • Mel
      September 24, 2012 at 8:08 PM

      You’re right Jackie. It is not easy. I walked many reactive dogs as a pet sitter. I started using some of Victoria Stilwell’s technique of turning the other way and that has worked with some. I also have done the click and treat with some. It seems that each dog is different. (By the way, I originally started this post saying I was a lazy dog owner too. I know how hard it can be to be consistent all of the time.)

      Thankfully, the reactive car thing has never been an issue. I am so sorry it is for you.

    • Stacey
      August 21, 2013 at 8:13 PM

      We have a dog who is also reactive in the car and here are some things that helped:
      If you can hack it on your seat/or have the seat covered- a stuffed cong to distract during the times you are driving. Dog must do a down stay and then gets cong. Dog gets up– cong goes away– this works best for short drives 🙂

      We also do training in the car before/after we go for a walk. We park the car at a distance where our dog “gruffs” but is not a full on flip out and can be generally redirected with something tasty when they hear the clicker. Here’s some example of where we do park and click :):

      On the far side of the parking lot at our pet store where dogs are allowed to go. We watch the store door- clicking for dogs that we see and treating.

      On the far side of the dog park parking lot.

      Busy stores– where people are in an out of the parking lot.

      Depends on what your dog is triggered by– and how much distance he/she needs but we’ve found– human reactivity in the car is down to nil.dog reactivity…well we are still working on that one but the distance to the car that he can see a dog has improved.

      10 minutes a couple times a week, after work before he gets his walk– thats it.
      We have thought about transporting him in a crate when in the car with “black out shades” (another option) or using a head cap but so far this is working well.

      Good Luck!

      • Mel
        August 22, 2013 at 6:53 AM

        Great advice!!! Thank you!

  9. September 24, 2012 at 6:55 PM

    We do have a littledog next door that barks at everything that moves on the street and at Georgia as well. Strangely, she adores Georgia. Maybe she’s just loudly saying hello! Thankfully, Georgia isn’t a fence fighter [yet. I have

    I’ve read that a possible way around fence fighting is to get the dogs to be friends, maybe by treating the “other” dogs as well [thereby distracting from the “fighting”] or getting them to play together. Do you think that could work?

    • Mel
      September 24, 2012 at 8:05 PM

      Thanks for sharing your own story Georgia. Your neighbor dog sounds adorable. Strangely enough, our neighbor dogs actually like my two as well. I think the feeling is mutual.

      If it hadn’t become such a game to them I don’t think this would have gone any further. I also tried the treat thing, but what ended up happening was the neighbor dogs ended up waiting at the fence for the treats and that just enticed Jasper and Lady to race to the fence even more, so I had to stop. 😦

      I love the two neighbor dogs. They have been through so much in their young lives. I just hate that my dogs think of this as a game. They all get along when I am there by the fence with them. I am hoping that by redirecting my dogs they will see me and the treats as more of a reward then barking at the fence. Fingers crossed!

  10. Jen
    September 24, 2012 at 10:04 PM

    OMG-I can;t believe you have kept this dirty little secret from us for so long!

    It’s great that you were able to pick up on the signs and correct it!

    Plunger does the fence fighting thing to. I have never been able to correct it and lucky for me the Newfs never followed suit. Leroy just barks and wags his tail.

    • Mel
      September 24, 2012 at 10:50 PM

      OMG! I can’t believe my spam filter finally realized you are not spam!

      We haven’t completely stopped the behavior yet Jen, but we are getting better about it – or should I say I am getting better at managing it. It can be so frustrating can’t it? So glad the Newfs have not followed suit. Jasper is more like Leroy. He just likes to instigate too.

  11. September 25, 2012 at 12:39 AM

    You might consider a motion sprinkler. They’re meant to keep unwanted animals from gardens. Set it up close to the fence line, when your dogs race to that area, they’ll get squirted….it’s harmless and quiet….but they generally don’t like it. A few good water attacks and they’ll think twice. It worked for a neighbour. No one, not even me (& you know I love dogs) wants to hear unwarranted barking. We were lucky, neither of our dogs were barkers, but then again, they were never out alone.

    • Mel
      September 25, 2012 at 6:20 AM

      Thanks Boomdeeadda – I actually did try that for about two months with a regular sprinkler. I never knew they had motion sensitive ones. I love that idea. I will definitely check into that. Thank you!

      Unfortunately, we are getting close to the colder weather here so soon it will be time to shut off the internal water valves and put away the hoses and sprinklers, at least until spring. 🙂

  12. September 25, 2012 at 11:37 AM

    There is a house on our morning walk that has a chain link fence and a little black “ninja” dog – well, I call her a ninja because she sneaks around the yard and then jumps out from behind a bush to bark at Cali while we walk, and Cali LOVES to run the fence barking with her. Next door to that house is a beautiful Malamute that Cali loves to bark a morning greeting to as well – the Malamute just jumps straight up in the air and spins around when she sees Cali. I think they all look forward to their morning ritual – Cali seems disappointed when they aren’t outside! My hubby gets pretty frustrated with Cali’s barking – luckily she is friends with our neighbors dogs, so they just ignore each other when they are in the backyard. The pack mentality definitely makes it a little more difficult doesn’t it? One starts barking and the other joins in for support 🙂 Good luck with your progress!!

  13. September 26, 2012 at 9:07 AM

    Bella would occasionally fence fight with the neighbors’ dog behind us, but it was rare. Somehow it seems to be happening more frequently with Tavish. Bella’s kind of curious but she rarely gets involved. I’ve been trying to figure out what to do about Tavish on this one, and this post couldn’t be more timely!

    • Mel
      September 26, 2012 at 11:14 PM

      Ah! It sounds like you are dealing with a similar issue. It’s hard when they have a strong drive. I always worry the neighbors will think I have bad dogs or get irritated (I am sure they do anyways). If I can show them that training can change a dog I am hoping they will come to appreciate them as much as I do.

      • October 1, 2012 at 7:13 AM

        I worry about the same thing. Although the neighbors seem fairly reasonable about the whole thing luckily – after all, their dog is doing it too.

  14. September 26, 2012 at 10:58 AM

    You are such a smartie! I love what you learned in your observations. I’m off to share this on FB after commenting.

    I’m preparing Honey for her CGC test. Calm reactions to people are tough, especially the crossing guards who carry treats in their pockets. Every day when the kids go to school, Honey and I practice getting closer to the crossing guard without pulling or jumping. We can now stand ten feet away without a reaction. Tomorrow? Maybe five feet.

    Hope you’ll follow up again on your fence issues. Sounds like you’re already having great success.

    • Mel
      September 26, 2012 at 11:11 PM

      Smartie? Me? Nope. Just a good learner. 🙂

      Seriously though Pamela, thank you. And thanks for sharing too. I didn’t know you were preparing to have Honey take her CGC! Wow! I am so proud of you guys! It sounds like you guys have already made great progress with the rossing guard. Jasper and I are still working on stay. He has a hearing problem when he is in herding mode. I wish you much success on your CGC. I look forward to reading about it. 🙂

  15. September 28, 2012 at 8:27 AM

    At the dog park, Relay would bark at anyone loitering outside the fence. Granted I’m suspicious of this behavior as well, but I can’t have him barking up a storm. I would just calmly walk over to where he was barking, point at him and swing my arm and say, “away” and he listens. If he has worked himself into a state, I get him to sit first and then give the “away” command.

  16. September 28, 2012 at 10:44 AM

    Ah yes, the fence fighters. That would include Delilah, who exhibited this behavior only at daycare as we have no dogs close enough to our fence at home. The kicker was when she actually bit another dog through the gate and that is when I pulled her from daycare.

    My trainer felt like Delilah was beginning to ‘own’ the place and I’m not sure I buy into that, but we did decide to keep her out of daycare for the summer. She went this past Tuesday for the full day and behaved beautifully.

    Having observed her reacting with other dogs in general I’ve noticed if the approaching dog is ‘amped up’ Delilah will react. It is almost as if she is trying to tell them they are not behaving to her standards. If the dog approaches her calmly she seems to be fine.

    I will probably always be an observer of my dogs behaviors, which I think is a good thing. Whether I respond correctly, well that is entirely another topic. 🙂

  17. Alice
    April 6, 2013 at 9:35 PM

    I have an female American Bull dog. My neighbor has a male pit bull. the pitt always barked and was vicious when any child or adult was close to the fence so we put up tarps and so did they. Then they would fight at the chain link fence ripping the tarps and the pitt would dig to get under the fence so the neighbor put concrete pieces and small pieces of wood that only fell into my yard. I put up about 7 slabs of plywood to cure that problem. Although the pitt cannot get under the plywood now, they still bark at each other and find small ways to get to the other, jumping up to bite at each other over and through the fence or cracks. My neighbor has done nothing else to help remedy this problem. I might add that their pitt has gotten into my yard several times over the years. He is intent on eating my dog who is 3 yrs old and very playful. I am not sure if my dog is trying to play or fight but i am sure their pitt is a fighter and starts to bark first escalating the problem. How do I approach this problem with the neighbor without causing a feud? And what other cheap way can I fix the fence problem?
    They have a beautiful landscaped yard that along with the palm tree is overflowing into my side and they don’t care that I have to do more work now to keep their hedges and palms out of my yard. The dog problem as well is not helping my high blood pressure

  18. Stephanie Bowler
    September 2, 2013 at 5:38 PM

    Hi, this post really goy me thinking what I could do with my dog. Hes a staffordshire bullterrier and not long ago a neighbour moved in next door with her staffy bitch. At first we were amicable but she always has thedog in the back garden even though she knows about my dog. A wooden fence is up so they cannot see eachother or jump ovet but its getting more aggressive and my dog has even cut his nose because of this. I really want to train my dog to ignore the other dogs barks and aggression as he loves bring in the garden especially in summer but I dont know how to go about it especially when the neighbour thinks its ok for her dog to get the luxery of the garden all day and not consider my dog. I dont know what I can do. Is there any advice you could maybe give for this??

  19. Gracie
    December 16, 2013 at 9:56 AM

    Trigger= neighbor leaves for work. Everyday. Same time. Most of the time I remember to put the doggie door in before she goes, but having an 8 month old, I don’t get there quick enough sometimes. Everytime I hear it I run and call mine in. He’s bloody everytime. Theres no trigger other than the neighbor leaving for work and the dogs going outside. Its been going on for over a year. I have tried the redirecting with treats and making them meet and thet just do not like each other. I’m starting to think the only option left is to put up a second fence to seperate them

  20. Aimee Webster
    January 31, 2015 at 9:52 PM

    Thanks for posting this, since I moved into my home 2 months ago my five year old pitt has been going away at my fence to get to the dogs next door, causing me to have to replace the fence already. Looks like it’s retraining time for him!

  21. Nancy Taylor
    April 19, 2015 at 11:34 AM

    this is later – May 2015 – I have my one female who fence fights with one American bull dog female and sometimes another neighbour’s dog that visits. My dog is not aggressive to other dogs except in this circumstance and another neighbour’s dog she doe not fight with just the two bigger females who barked at her. She stops right away when I come out so I don’t know if she thinks it’s a game or what. I’ve tried many things and we are now putting up a privacy “buffer” fence so they can’t see or smell each other. The original fence along the back is chain link which is the biggest enabler to a good fence fight. My girl is a hound aussie mix with some beagle and only about forty pounds. She’s done obedience and is quite a quiet dog but she LOVES to race to the back and go at it 😦 sigh. It’s costing me a lot of money to fix but I hope it works. At least it will look better than a bunch of lattice and plywood across the back….

  22. Laura Duncan
    August 2, 2015 at 6:57 AM

    My and my neighbors dogs fight constantly, several times a day and at night too, fortunately we live in a rural area, but it still gets on all our nerves, I’m going to do as you suggested and see what actually triggers the situation and try some treats, good to know we aren’t the only ones with bad mannered dogs.

  23. September 1, 2015 at 1:54 PM

    good information thanks for sharing

  24. Alfred
    April 27, 2016 at 5:13 PM

    You said you first used a sound device that only dogs can hear, what was that called?

    • Mel
      April 27, 2016 at 7:38 PM

      I’m trying to remember Alfred. It was a blue box that looked like a TV remote and said it was “Seen on TV.” Sorry. Wish I could remember.

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