What To Do About Fence Fighting?
DEAR DIDI: I have had the Standard Poodle breed for 25+ years. Two of my 3 are UKC GRCH and they all have their AKC CGC’s. When I purchased my property 10 years ago I had the back yard fenced with 6’ high fencing. Not to keep my SPs in BUT other dogs out. Now my neighbor’s two grown children bring their dogs to run daily in their parents non-fenced in yard. One dog is aggressive and wants to fence fight! The other just runs on the outside of my fences barking and has caused my dogs to bark. My dogs come when they are called BUT I do not think this is fair. Can you suggest a solution? I have allowed my dogs to stay out hoping it would desensitize them which sometimes they do BUT the dogs on the other side of the fence keep barking! -Billie in PA
DEAR BILLIE: You are right. It isn’t fair. People should be respectful of others and their property. People should follow rules and laws no matter how minor. People should, especially, not get huffy when someone calls them on the fact that they aren’t following the rules or are being rude. In an ideal world, we should be able to enjoy our backyards peacefully. After all, America is built on the premise that we are free to do as we wish, as long as our actions don’t stomp on someone else’s freedom to do as they wish. Then reality sets in! This is one of the most difficult situations dog owners encounter because you are not in control of 50 percent of the equation.
If you are on decent terms with your neighbors, perhaps you could invite them over for tea or lunch. Sometimes when people sit down at a table and talk about life in general, you will hear things that might help you understand their situation. More than likely the neighbor recognizes that the dogs behave poorly, but has no clue what do about it. Their kids might be going through a tough spot so the parents are trying to help out by babysitting their dogs. The parents may not feel that they can discipline dogs that aren’t theirs or they may have no clue how to. If the topic comes up, be delicate, but agree that it is an issue for your dogs. You can then put thinking caps on and attempt solutions in a friendly, cordial manner.
A conversation will likely not result in any workable solutions if you are not already on good terms with the neighbor. I have personally had this same situation and my solution has always been to train harder. Leaving dogs out in the yard unsupervised will not desensitize them to the perceived threat. Standard Poodles are a highly intelligent breed, but they also tend to be on the more sensitive side in regards to temperament. If aggressive dogs are ‘circling them,’ the fence can make them feel trapped and unable to escape which forces a defensive behavior.
Instead, always go outside with them. Bring high value treats and practice obedience drills on leash while the offending dogs are out. I basically ask my dogs to rise above the bad behavior of other canines and focus on me instead. Don’t do drills that are challenging. Pick things your dog is already very good at and likes to do. These should be practiced with high energy and enthusiasm on your part. If your Poodle can’t handle being near the fence then work closer to the house and on leash until they are comfortable and always listening. Then slowly move the training sessions closer to the fence. I would never let my dogs be out in the yard alone until they can ignore the other dogs perfectly. Calling them away from the fence doesn’t teach them not to do it in the first place. The goal is to teach them to be nonreactive to other dogs.
To go along with the yard training, begin training a strong “leave it” command. I am not fond of most of the ways I have seen on the Internet to train this command. Many people put treats on the ground and warn the dog to “leave it” several times. When the dog backs off they say “ok” and let the dog have the “forbidden” treat. This truly only teaches your dog to wait and then he can have them. I want my “leave it” command to mean “ignore what you are paying attention to right now and walk away.” I achieve this by reserving my “leave it” command for things the dog will never be allowed to do or have. For example, lunging at other dogs, eating cat poop, surfing counter tops, shoes, etc. Remember to teach your dog what the cue “leave it” means before expecting it to work under high distraction in the yard. I would love a follow up from you after you implement your new behavior modification program with the poodles. Good Luck!
Dierdra McElroy is a graduate of Texas A&M University, owner of California Canine, and is an Animal Behaviorist specializing in canines. If you have questions or concerns about the pets in your house, you can get them answered through a future column of Dear Didi. If you have a question for a canine behaviorist send it to firstname.lastname@example.org.