We have all heard dogs barking and going slightly mental behind their gates and fences, but why do they do it? In this situation, it’s the obvious answer – it’s their territory and they’re letting you and other dogs know it. There is no safer or more relaxing place to a dog than their den – your home and garden – so they are warding off perceived threats and alerting you to them, too. But let’s face it, we all want to be outdoors enjoying good weather in our gardens without our dogs kicking off at every noise, person or dog behind the fence, so the big question is how to stop a dog barking at the fence.
Fence fighting is another problem, particularly if you have neighbours either side and even worse if they have a dog, too. Some dogs do it to say “Hello, I’m here,” while others to say “You’re not coming in”. Bizarrely, some dogs can be perfectly fine when in the same gardens and paddocks, but the minute they are on opposing sides of the fence, they go ballistic at each other. This happens at my house and it’s the same when my neighbour walks down the fence line and through my garden gate to ride one of my horses. My dogs have known her for eight years, yet still do the same thing every time – and every time they are corrected and stopped in the same way.
Barking at the fence is an instinctual behaviour, but it can be channelled, diluted and redirected. This will take time, patience and consistency, but it is well worth the effort. I live in a rural area, so I want my dogs to bark to alert me to a presence, but I also want them to stop when asked. Mine have been taught “Enough thank you” with a clap if it’s the postman or a delivery. I then say “Yes, good dogs” as the affirmative marker word when they stop. If I didn’t like the intruder at my gate, I would say nothing, absolutely zip and let the noise of a combined 47 stone of mastiffs do their job.
How to stop a dog barking at the fence
Supervising your dog constantly is impractical – particularly during the good weather when the dog should be able to go in and out of the house at will. But by putting these simple practices into play and making the effort to train your dog, you will have a much happier household, a stress-free garden and a less territorial dog.
1. Master the basic commands
Make sure your dog understands important commands, such as “Leave it”, “Quiet” or, like mine, “Enough, thank you”. I then ask my dogs to recall or find something and redirect them to their toys – or when we first started this, I used cocktail sausages.
If your voice isn’t effective enough – especially if you have more than one dog – try introducing a sound. This could be using a squeaky ball or dropping a metal feed bowl to break the fixation on the fence. It needs to be something your dog isn’t used to hearing on a daily basis or, like your voice, it just becomes white noise when your dog is hyper alert and vocalising.
The better recall your dog’s recall and the more proactive you are at controlling their environment, the easier this will be to achieve.
2. Introduce the dogs
If your dog is barking at your neighbour’s dog through the fence, go for several walks together and introduce them to each other’s gardens. This should take some of the edge off the territory marking.
3. Work with your dog at the fence
The next step is to make a point of working with your dog at the fence line and using the commands and steps above every day. Do this with or without your neighbour to consistently teach your behavioural expectations and follow it up with a reward. This is exactly what I did and I now only have to say the marker words and clap and they settle down.
This is desensitising work as well as basic obedience. It does take a bit of time and you need to be consistent, but once it’s established you will have a much happier environment that everyone can enjoy, and your dog can still do his job without feeling threatened or scared.
4. Ensure your dog doesn’t get bored
Dogs may also bark at the fence if they are excitable an overly social – you may be able to tell the difference between that and a warning bark, but most people cannot. Boredom can play a part in fence barking, particularly if a dog is left for long periods of time as they can develop anxious or compulsive behaviours.
Adding enrichment objects, such as one of the best puzzle toys, and exercises in the garden is also a good way to teach a dog to relax and enjoy the outside without being on constant hyper alert guard duty. Something as simple as a game of fetch can lower the alert threshold.
5. Don’t stop outside the garden
I always find it useful to combine the training above with taking your dog out past gates, houses and gardens. Teach them to “leave it” and not mark up the walls or gates of another property. This is especially effective if there is a resident dog outside going crackers at his gate or along the fence.
You do not want your dog to react, so move your dog to the opposite side of you to block them from the dog barking – do not cross the road. Ask them to “leave it” very firmly and then when they show the correct behaviour, play the “find it” game. I say “are you ready” to get the engagement and gently roll a bit of sausage along the pavement and say “find it”.
This sets your behavioural expectations and moves your dog’s brain forward from reacting or worry to work. When next met with this scenario, the association should then be a positive one and the behaviour becomes learnt.
6. Erect a good fence
Lastly, if possible, make sure your fencing is high and closed panelled. This won’t stop the behaviour, but the lack of visual stimulus lessens the reaction.