Barrier aggression is the number one reason dogs are euthanized in shelters each year. Barriers, such as; fences, gates, windows, screen doors, balconies have the potential to generate high levels of frustration and stress, resulting in incessant barking, or worse, aggression.
Barriers "train" dogs to become hyper-territorial because it has a built in reinforcement mechanism: people come, people go. People approach the barrier - resident dog barks - people retreat from barrier. The dog, unaware that this was their intention all along, pats himself on the back for a job well done. The same pent up aggression can occur with dogs, cats, squirrels and birds.
Why is this a problem? I want my dog to be territorial.
One benefit to having a dog is knowing that the dog may help deter intruders. The problem is the rate at which territorial behavior can snowball when dogs are left to their own devices. True protection dogs are trained to have an "on" AND an "off" switch. Dogs that are left outside unattended, for example, never learn how to "turn it off." Bites occur when gates pop open unexpectedly, or when you invite a friend to bypass the front door and walk into the yard. Postal workers rack up the most serious dog bites, because dogs have a well established reinforcement history of "barking them off the premises." The day that the postal worker needs to deliver a package to the front door, is the same day that the dog will deliver a bite. The problem becomes even more serious when a nervous dog learns to transfer this aggressive behavior to other social situations.
What to do to prevent your dog from learning to become barrier aggressive:
#1 Supervise your dog when he/she is outside.
Be present. Train your dog to come back to your side when people, dogs or squirrels pass by the fence or window. Timing is everything in training. Recall your dog as soon as your dog acknowledges the distraction, and immediately reinforce your dog for coming to you by giving him/her a high value toy or high value food. Avoid allowing your dog outside unattended if they have any impulse to bark through the fence.
#2 Get rid of the dog door.
Dog doors disconnect us from key rituals of our dog's day. It also allows our dogs to bark through fences uninterrupted and dig up the garden. Get rid of the dog door. Take your dog out for walks, or at the very minimum accompany your dog outside for routine potty breaks.
#3 "Dethroning" your dog.
Some dogs use couches or doorway thresholds like a throne. They might sit sentry and bark when people or dogs approach their post. If your dog has the tendency to bark through windows or screen doors you can use X Mats to keep your pooch off the couch, a baby gate to prevent front row access to the screen door - or better yet - keep the front door closed to prevent auditory and visual stimulus from triggering your dog's territorial instincts.
Written by Alyssa Lapinel, Certified Professional Dog Trainer and Behavior Specialist
Legends Dog Training
Based in San Diego, California