It would be interesting to know what dogs barking behind fences are actually saying. Many are probably telling all who come by, “Go away! This is my home and I’ll fight to protect it!” Others are worried, “Ohhh, go away, please, I don’t want a fight but go away!” Some dogs are notifying their owners, “Come quick, someone is here at the gate!”
No matter what the dog is trying to communicate, dogs barking behind a fence can cause problems for dogs walking past. After all, the dog (or dogs) behind the fence is creating a fuss, possibly a challenge, and emotions are high. However, many times it’s necessary to walk past these dogs and, ideally, without your dog reacting.
For the time being, stop walking past the house where the dogs are reacting. You need to do some basic training so that your dog can focus on you and he needs to learn this without those distractions. Plus, every time there is back and forth communications (or reactions) between your dog and the dogs behind the fence, a habit becomes more ingrained.
The first step in changing this issue is to refresh your dog’s obedience skills. The two of you have to make sure you’re communicating well, because your goal is going to be asking your dog to trust you and ignore those rude dogs. So practice sit, down, stay, heel, and come; all on leash and with lots of rewards and enthusiasm.
Make sure your dog knows the obedience exercise, “Watch me.” This exercise will give you a way to get and keep your dog’s attention. This is an important exercise, so spend some time with it. Don’t forget to keep it fun.
Teaching “Leave It”
When you and your dog are working well together, then it’s time to add the ‘leave it’ exercise. You want your dog to learn that ‘leave it’ means ‘ignore that.’
With your dog on leash, ask him to sit by your side. Drop something distracting to the floor (an apple, a wadded paper towel, a dirty sock). If your dog lunges towards the distraction, use the leash to restrain him, telling him, “Sweetie, leave it!” If he looks at you – even in confusion – praise him.
If your dog continues to pull towards the distraction, back away from the distraction, using the leash to make sure your dog follows you. Again, when he looks at you for guidance, praise him. When these distractions no longer bother him, add new things.
Then begin telling your dog, “Sweetie, leave it,” when the two of you approach something distracting; ideally before he pulls towards it. When you ask him to ignore something and he looks to you for guidance, praise him, “Sweetie, leave it! Watch me! Awesome!” Pop a good treat in his mouth.
Take your time teaching this. Before you go approaching the dogs behind the fence, you need the leave it command to be solid. After all, those barking dogs are a huge distraction.
Putting it all Together
Putting this all together isn’t hard once your dog has the training foundation. Have a pocket full of good treats, a leash on your dog, and go for a walk.
However, be aware of where you are and watch for your dog’s awareness of the dogs behind the fence. When your dog begins to look alertly ahead of him, gets up on his toes as he’s walking, pulls hard towards that yard, or starts to look nervous; stop right where you are. Ask your dog to sit and give him the watch me command. If he complies, praise him and pop a treat in his mouth. Then turn and walk back the way you came, praising your dog for paying attention to you.
Do this for several days. When your dog begins to pay attention to you rather than the dogs behind the fence, walk a few more steps along the sidewalk past the dogs. Then stop and repeat the sit and watch me exercises. Should your dog turn to focus on the barking dogs, tell him to leave it and ask him to watch you again; then turn and walk back the way you came.
Gradually work your way past the dogs, taking it as slow or fast as your dog needs. Some dogs can master this in just a few days. However, if the habit of reacting to the barking dogs is well-practiced, changing your dog’s reactions may take longer.
Using These Skills
You can use these skills with many distractions while out on a walk. If a dog walking towards you is pulling on the leash, barking, growling or otherwise being rude, use the leave it and watch me commands with your dog. Move away from that dog and praise your dog for paying attention to you. Kids on skateboards, baby strollers, bicycles or other distractions can all be dealt with the same way.