Friday, October 19, 2012

Impulse control for the fence barker

I recently went to a seminar sponsored by Your Dog's Friend on impulse control, which as you know is one of my favorite topics. I learned some useful tidbits!  

Like this: did you know that when a dog shakes himself off, it's one sign that he is shifting from hindbrain mode to forebrain mode--in other words, into a state where he can once again think and learn?

When I think of all the times when Fozzie reacts and barks and lunges at another dog when we see one on our leash walks, and then, when the dog is past, shakes out and then looks up at me, it makes perfect sense.

The other really useful thing was a little primer on what to do about the fence barker. 

The dog who, like Fozzie, goes absolutely nuts running along the fence line and yodeling up a storm when the poor mailman comes by, or when our friend with the huskies walks past. 

Why not try this:
  • Go outdoors with the dog on a leash. 
  • Do some structured attention work with the dog while no triggers are present.  At a time other than mailtime or husky walk time, call the dog's name and give a treat when he looks at you. Do the Watch Me game: Hold a treat out to your side, and wait til the dog looks away from the treat and into your eyes--then click and deliver the treat. Do some Sits, Waits, and Hand Targeting. 
  • Do this in your front yard, or wherever the dog does his fence barking, for a few minutes every day for a few days.
  • Then go out with dog on leash when you know there are going to be some triggers, like just before the mailman comes. Start getting some calm attention and eye contact with treats. 
  • Then its just like you would do with your reactive dog exercises during a leash walk. When the mailman comes, and your dog becomes aware of him--but is not yet flipping out and straining to get at him--say "Look at that!" then click and treat. 
  • Your dog may not be able to look at you at this level of excitement, but if he does, great. If not, stick the treat right in front of his mouth. Back up to just inside your doorway, or some other location farther away from the mailman. 
  • If your dog starts flipping out immediately when he sees the mailman, just say "whoops!" and bring your dog back inside.
  • As you practice presenting treats when the mailman comes each day--ideally, at a point when your dog notices the mailman, but before he is freaking out about him--then he will become calmer and more able to process information over time. 
The process is really just like reactive dog training--working sub-threshold, doing open bar/closed bar desensitization and counterconditioning with the dog's triggers.  I just never thought of putting together a structured protocol in this way. Brilliant!


Do YOU have a fence barker, and a good way you've found to work with those less-than-desirable behaviors?


  1. This is full of good information! I didn't know that about shaking off either.

  2. That is so interesting about the shaking off. It does make sense when you think about it. What great tips for a fence barker. I have some people I know who could benefit from this info. :)

  3. Yes, we do have fence barkers - but no fence! We have a short stone wall, and it's enough of a boundary to make some of the dogs very territorial!

    We gave you an award - stop by to pick it up!

  4. We have had a number of questions by our electronic/invisible dog fence customers regarding fence barkers and will be sending them here in the future to see your tips. Thanks!

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  6. Hello! I thought I'd ask how well your fence is check out this website holding up? I currently have an old French door on its side, wedged across a doorway. Not pretty. I have lots of fencing and think your idea is nice and clean.


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