Both sides of the fence – barking at passing dogs through fences/gates
By Sally Lewis
In many areas, it is not uncommon for dogs to run up and down fences in their gardens, barking at dogs or people that are going past. You may live with a barker, you may live with a dog that gets barked at, or both!
The garden side of the fence – the ‘barker’
Let’s look at this side of the fence first. In some cases, the ‘barkers in the garden’ may be left to their own devices, to potter around outside for long periods of time (or doors might be open so that can come and go as they please). They may bark at passersby whilst they are out there.
There are a whole host of reasons a dog in their garden might bark at other dogs. I won’t go in to them all, but to break down some reasons; sensitivity to other dogs, sensitivity to strangers, sensitivity to sounds, barrier frustration, guarding, alarm barking, physical health concerns. These are some of the most common reasons I find that dogs will bark at other dogs (or people that are walking dogs) at their garden fence.
“He just wants to say hi to all dogs”
This is a phrase we all hear, and of course, those that say this mean no harm. This is often a misinterpretation of the feelings of the barking dog. The barking dog themself could be struggling with their emotions, their physical health…the list goes on! But in ‘polite-doggy-speak’, dogs running up to another dog barking at them is far from a polite hello, and would usually cause tension between the dogs. More resilient dogs may be able to tolerate this behaviour, but this should never be assumed, and we should avoid letting dogs greet others in an overwhelming way to prevent escalations.
Let’s flip this and talk about it in a human capacity. If I was in my front garden, minding my own business, pottering around…then I spotted you on the other side of the road. If I began jumping at my garden wall, shouting “HELLO! YOU THERE! WHAT ARE YOU DOING HERE?” the odds are that this would be taken very badly. After all, it’s intimidating, it’s rude and a bit bizarre. But if I was to jump at the wall and start shouting “OI! THIS IS MY GARDEN! GET AWAY FROM IT AND DON’T COME BACK!”, you’d probably be a little bit concerned for your safety. Now imagine three different people do this to you as you’re walking down the street. Every time you go there. I bet you’d be a little bit concerned about taking that route in the future, right? Is that strange person that gets aggressive at the fence there…or will they be inside today (please be inside)?
That brings us to the other side of the fence.
The dog that is getting barked at.
Not all dogs are the same. They can all cope with different amounts before things get too much. They may be more sensitive to some things, than others. I’m going to use my own dog as an example below.
We live in an area with lots of dogs, who spend a lot of time in their gardens. Many of them he is fairly resilient to. In our cul-de-sac there are many small dogs who have lots of triggers for barking, and generally speaking, he is not sensitive to these particular dogs. However, there have been some experiences which have left him feeling quite sensitive.
Probably about 18 months ago, we were walking past a house with a metal gate out front, with widely spaced bars. The front door was open for the occupants to move in and out. As we walked past the house, a large mastiff cross ran out of the house, barking at my dog, attempting to push it’s head through the gate. Whatever the reason for the behaviour of the mastiff at the time, this experience left my dog feeling incredibly sensitive to walking near that house again. The house is on the corner of the road, near my own home. For a long time, we couldn’t get near that corner again. I had to do lots of counter-conditioning exercises from a distance, and slowly build his confidence in going near this area. We changed our walking route, which added some time to our walks, but this was essential for the emotional wellbeing of my dog. Over time, as he became less sensitive to this area, we were able to get towards the corner of the road, walk on the other side of the road from the house. I have been very slow in getting him to this stage, as I wasn’t sure if the occupants still lived there, and wanted to avoid it happening again! But let that sink in….18 months of avoiding going near one house, 18 months of emotional support to my dog in that environment, because of one ‘extreme’ barking incident.
Who decides what is ‘extreme’? Not us humans. I use this word cautiously. A very big dog, running at speed out of a house, barking and trying to get through the barrier between themselves and my own dog. It is quite easy to see why this could be frightening for even a very resilient dog. But our dogs decide what they find stressful, not us. A dog that is heavily trigger-stacked, a more sensitive dog, a dog that is in pain, may find any dog barking at them worrying (regardless of size, shape, tone of the bark, frequency of the bark, if they can even see the dog that is barking…).
We have two other homes where we have to tread carefully – literally, watching our distance, as we are still helping our boy to feel more confident walking past them. In both gardens, these dogs seem to be barking for slightly different reasons. For the dog that is being “barked at”, they can still hear a dog barking at them and may find this stressful.
So…you can avoid walking near these houses…what’s the big deal?
This feeds in to a much wider issue. Let’s go back to the analogy of multiple individuals shouting at you on one street, from their garden wall. You’d want to start avoiding that street, because scary, stressful things happen every time. You find another route which is more enjoyable. You’re relaxing in to your walk. Suddenly…another person is at their garden wall ““OI! THIS IS MY GARDEN! GET AWAY FROM IT AND DON’T COME BACK!”. How long is it before you don’t want to walk through housing estates anymore? Or if every one of these people popped up from behind red brick walls every single time, would you start making the association, and avoid red bricked walls? Would you lose your friendly demeanor, and on your guard when going past these homes, shout “GET AWAY FROM ME” when somebody happens to appear in the garden, without doing anything to you? Would you spot somebody in the garden and speed up your walk, for fear of a confrontational encounter?
Our dogs should be able to enjoy a walk in the local neighbourhood without being made to feel intimidated. All dogs are individual, and some are more resilient than others. Additionally, we must become attune to the emotional needs of the dog doing the barking. If a dog is ‘nuisance barking’, they will be doing it for a reason. As guardians and care givers to our dogs, we need to establish why this is and to help them feel more relaxed in their environment.
Sally Lewis 2021
Sally is a dog behaviourist & trainer based in the Southwest of England. She is a full member of The Association of INTODogs, uses methods led by science, and is invested in supporting overall emotional wellbeing in dogs. Sally’s website is https://www.exemplardogs.co.uk/
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