Why do dogs get barrier frustration? Find Out Here

Tip #6: Motivate Yourself to do the Training.

Make sure that the training is fun for your dog, but also for you! Being creative about how you implement the training might also help you be more consistent. For example, set up agility obstacles in your yard or create search games. Practice check-ins and recalls in combination with these activities. The more you enjoy the training, the more likely you are to stick with the training and the more likely you are to see results.

Q. When he’s off leash, my dog is friendly with other dogs. But when we’re on a walk or when he’s behind the fence in my yard, he lunges and barks at other dogs. I’ve been told that this behavior is caused by barrier frustration. What is that, and what can I do about it?

A. As a trainer, I work with a lot of dogs who are exhibiting barrier frustration. Over time, this behavior can escalate to more intense reactions on leash, and even off leash. For this reason, as soon as your dog shows even the first signs of barrier frustration, it’s important to get professional help, starting with your veterinarian.

Barrier frustration is different from aggression. Dogs with barrier frustration may be dog-friendly, but react when they are prevented from reaching potential playmates. Your dog may simply be excited about greeting another dog and may be acting out because he cannot reach that potential playmate. If he is punished for this behavior or is not taught an appropriate alternative response to the situation, his reaction to another dog may change from excitement and frustration to fear and aggression.

Certain triggers can escalate the intensity of the situation. A dog may be frustrated by a fence — even an invisible fence — because he cannot approach other canines walking by. Another trigger can be walking on leash; a dog may become agitated when he sees another dog but cannot approach. Both situations can cause a dog like yours to become agitated and appear aggressive, even if he is not.

Small cues can trigger barrier frustration. Directly approaching another dog, as often happens on walks, is more likely to cause a reaction than if the dogs were approaching each other at an arc. Meeting another reactive dog on leash may also trigger your dog’s barrier frustration, even if he would otherwise be relaxed with dogs who act nonchalant. The increased energy level and forward-leaning posture of an excited dog may trigger a bigger reaction than a dog who is calm and showing minimal interest.

Your dog also picks up on your reaction to the situation. Owners of dogs with barrier frustration often become anxious and nervous when another dog approaches, in anticipation of their dogs reactions. Stress-related behavior, such as tightening up on or jerking the leash, is often subconscious and involuntary, but is still apparent to your dog.

When the barrier is removed, this behavior is much less likely to happen, because your dog has more freedom to approach or move away from other dogs at his own pace. He can also use body language to communicate intent to other dogs. This is why most dog parks permit dogs to be off leash; it allows dogs to communicate and approach or withdraw at their own leisure.

Barrier frustration can occur at any age, but usually begins in early adulthood. Since barrier frustration rarely goes away on its own without training, but can intensify over time, it is essential to get professional help. Start by talking to your veterinarian or asking about a referral to a qualified trainer in your area, ideally one who uses positive-reinforcement methods for training.

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If you’ve got a dog who is frustrated or aggressive on the lead or behind a barrier, you can go it alone of course, especially if you’re armed with plenty of good resources, but having a good behaviourist work with you will speed the process up no end.

To identify barrier frustration, I ask one simple key question: what would your dog do if they weren’t on lead/behind a fence/in a car?

But it’s not just fences. It can be being behind glass doors or windows. It could also be being in a car. And it can also be being on lead.

Ultimately, that seems to come down to two things: aggression or frustration. I’m going to call it barrier frustration rather than lead or car or fence frustration, simply because dogs with one habit may well have the others. And it’s not so much about being in the car or on the lead as it is about being unable to get to a target because something is stopping you.

Barrier frustration is borne out of the need – the belief, even – that you absolutely must go and interact with this dog or that dog. It may look exactly the same, but barking tends to be more high-pitched than their usual barking, and you may find they whine or cry as well as pulling forward. It’s pro-social behaviour borne out of the need to interact. It’s usually also from a dog who has had lots of interactions with dogs off-lead and actually thinks they have a divine right to go and greet all dogs.

Barrier Frustration and How to Work on Making it Better

Like humans, dogs are capable of feeling left out and frustrated. When your dog can see something that he finds interesting but is unable to get up close and personal, he may experience barrier frustration. Whether hes behind a fence, looking out the window or walking on his leash, your dog can suffer from the associated unhappiness and aggression. By working and playing with your dog, though, you can alleviate his frustration over time.

The primary cause of barrier frustration isnt just the barrier — its what is on the other side. If your dog can see a squirrel outside the window, another animal on the other side of your chain-link fence or a pet cat outside his crate, he may become frustrated and upset. In cases like those, give your dog privacy — when he cant see what hes missing, he wont feel the same frustration. Closed windows, privacy fences and even a blanket draped over the crate are a few solutions that can help your dog cope.

By teaching your dog that being constrained by a barrier isnt necessarily a bad thing, you can train him not to become frustrated in certain situations. For example, some dogs experience barrier frustration when walking on a leash, and may tug and pull at the sight of another dog. When youre walking your pet and another dog comes within sight, offer your dog a small, special treat. Do this every time you pass another dog — eventually, hell feel happy anticipation when you see another dog on a walk, rather than frustration. Similarly, if your dog experience barrier frustration when you leave the house — it is sometimes associated with separation anxiety — offer him a special toy or treat that he only gets before you leave.

When you get frustrated with your dog, it only makes his own frustration more severe. If you want to help him cope with his barrier frustration, then, you need to remain calm whenever hes upset. If he barks at animals outside the window or tugs at his leash, for example, resist the urge to scold or yank at him. While you may need to implement the “no” command, showing the dog that youre exasperated will only worsen his own anxiety.

Dogs thrive on discipline, and a lack of direction and structure could be contributing to your dogs barrier frustration. By introducing discipline into your dogs routine, you give him something to focus on, and a clear system of good behavior and reward. For example, train your dog to remain by your side as you walk rather than pulling on his leash. Train him to perform tricks as a way of distracting him from whats happening outside the window or beyond the fence. While the extent and methods of his training may vary — enlisting a professional trainer will help — the end result is a disciplined and less-frustrated pet.

Tom Ryan is a freelance writer, editor and English tutor. He graduated from the University of Pittsburgh with a degree in English writing, and has also worked as an arts and entertainment reporter with “The Pitt News” and a public relations and advertising copywriter with the Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh.