Our dog Zoey is a 4-year-old Lab/Rottie mix. We’ve had her since she was about 6-months-old and love her dearly. We have an invisible fence around our whole property, which we installed so she could be outside instead of hanging out in the house all day. The problem is that whenever anyone walks by our house, Zoey charges and barks. The strange thing is she is usually really friendly to all people and dogs. How can we get her to stop?
— Owner of the Neighborhood Menace
This is a fairly common problem for dogs on electric fences. Because Zoey typically likes people and other dogs, the behavior is likely barrier frustration, sometimes called barrier aggression. The fence is keeping her from greeting people and dogs in a normal way so she charges and barks. The result is a heart-stopping situation for people who don’t know there is a fence and that she will stop suddenly when she reaches the line.
These fences are popular in our area for a variety of reasons; HOA’s discourage real fences, people like the look of open space, renters can’t put up a real fence or the property is so large it would be prohibitively expensive to fence. However, as you have found with Zoey, electric fences can result in troubling behavior problems. They also allow wildlife onto your property and no way for your dog to escape unless they cross the line, receive a shock and then don’t want to cross it again to come back in. In all fairness, dogs can charge and bark at a real fence too, but it’s less scary for the person walking by!
So what can you do now that you’ve invested in the electric fence? First, consider modifying the perimeter. There is no reason why the wire has to cover every square inch of your property. Move the wire so it doesn’t include your front yard or limits her access to view the street. Second, keep Zoey inside more. I know the reason you installed the fence was so she could be outside, but all she’s doing is entertaining herself by practicing bad behaviors. Lastly, teach her a few cues so you can effectively interrupt any barking and call her inside. Her name, “leave it,” and “come” are a good start.
— Carla Brown, CPDT is a Certified Professional Dog Trainer and owner of The Savvy Dog Training and Education Center in Truckee. If you have a pet topic/issue you would like to see covered in the Ask the Trainer column, please email her at firstname.lastname@example.org