Contributed by Jennifer Nelson in AKC
My dog never met anyone (dog or person) he didn’t like. So it was perplexing when a new neighbor moved in next door and suddenly there was a growling, barking, snarling fence fight going on.
If your dog has an ongoing fence-line war with a neighboring dog, you know what I’m talking about. Whenever the two are outside at the same time, they run to the fence line to pick up where the war left off.
Fortunately for my neighbor and their dog, my dog has a high recall and an overwhelming desire to please so he knows the fence-line war is a giant no-no, and steps away quickly when he wanders close enough to engage in fence-line fight club.
But many dog owners have a tougher time with the fence line.
Why Doesn’t My Dog Like My Neighbor’s Dog?
“Luckily for most owners, ‘fence wars’ are just habits that can be broken or even prevented through proper training,” says Nicole Ellis, a certified professional dog trainer.
She says that the first thing to understand is why dogs bark at each other when they’re both outside in their own yards at the same time—it’s most likely because they’re being territorial.
In fact, it’s not uncommon for dogs struggling with fence aggression to be perfectly fine with each other when contained in the same yard, only to go absolutely ballistic the second they’re divided by a fence.
How to Help Manage the Pup War
There are a few ways to go about changing this behavior, but basic obedience training will be the most helpful.
“If your dog tends to bark at the doorbell or when a stranger approaches, they might be barking at their neighbor dog to let them know that this is their territory,” says Ellis. When the barking turns to growling and snarling, it’s because they are highly protective of their territory and family.
Like all instinctual behaviors, barrier frustration can be diluted, channeled, and redirected to a certain degree. Changes that focus on the environment may be more effective—at least while you’re in the process of training.
Here are some ways to put a halt to fence line fights.
1. Work on Commands
“Basic commands can be your best friend when it comes to managing your dog in the yard,” says Ellis. Fundamentals such as sit, stay, come when called (recall), and settle are especially important and can be used whenever your dog heads for the fence or is engaging with the other dog negatively.
You may be able to redirect the dog’s focus towards a new task or activity. This could be something as simple as engaging them in play with an interactive toy or throwing a ball or stick. The more proactive and quickly you redirect, and the better their recall training, the more likely this approach is to work. If your dog is already worked up into a frenzy, it will be more difficult to redirect him.
3. Teach “Leave It”
Usually, this command is reserved for something yucky like a food wrapper found on a walk that you don’t want your dog to touch or something you’ve dropped in the house that he shouldn’t have. “If your dog is the one that is barking, you can train them to leave the dog alone,” says Sara Ochoa, DVM. Use the “leave it” command and bring them inside. Reward your dog whenever they leave the neighbor dog alone.
4. Join Forces for a Walk
Next time you take your dog for a walk, ask your neighbor if they would like to join you. One of the best ways to get dogs to become friendly is by going on a walk together. For this to work, you should have a good relationship with your neighbor—if you dislike them, your dog instinctively will too. The hope is that by desensitizing the dogs to each other during walks, it may cut down on their antics once back inside their own yards.
5. Build a Better Fence
If you have open-type fencing where the dogs can actually see each other, you might consider covering it or building a barrier in front of it to try to reduce the dog’s ability to see and really engage with their arch enemy. That said, even dogs between stockade and stone wall fencing sense, hear, and smell each other despite not being able to see. Some people try to build an airlock space of six to 12 inches, so if you have room to build another fence in front of the current one, you can put a layer of air between the two. You might also consider some sort of garden, or installing plants that buffer your dog from getting up to the fence.
6. Speak to Your Neighbor
Finally, speak to your neighbor to understand their schedule and try to work together to either avoid having the dogs outside at the same time or supervise your dog the entire time they are outside. This isn’t ideal or always possible but can help head off a fence fight before it happens.
With consistent training and environmental precautions, you can put an end to the fence line dog wars.