October 26, 2014

Barrier Frustration in Dogs

Author: Gail Brasie


What Does Barrier Frustration Look Like?

Barrier Frustration is a tough-sounding term for a fairly common issue many dogs and dog owners face. When handled properly, it’s a behavior that can be corrected; if not, that barrier frustration may morph into aggression.

What is Barrier Frustration?

Barrier Frustration in dogs can take several forms, but a few common examples of this behavior include:

  • lunging or pulling on leash when another dog comes into view
  • patrolling a fence constantly while in the yard
  • barking or scratching at the fence or a window whenever an interesting creature (dogs or people) goes by.

Barrier frustration is not exactly aggression, although it can turn into that if your dog has no other recourse and the behavior is not corrected. Chances are, when your dog is pulling like mad on the leash it’s just because she really really wants to say “hi!” to that other dog across the street and she cannot understand why you won’t let her! There are several good reasons to not do meet-and-greets on walks, so finding a way to redirect your dog’s attention here is key, since a lunging dog is annoying at best and potentially alarming or even dangerous.

As with lunging while on leash, dogs who prowl the perimeter of their fenced yard, barking away at the life on the other side, are not necessarily enacting aggression; they probably just want to be best friends with the dog who’s walking up the block. These are dogs who may benefit from time at a well-supervised dog park or other dog social outings, like having your dog’s friends come over for a doggie-date.

So, while barrier frustration is not inherently aggressive, if the owner punishes the behavior instead of correcting it properly, there is a risk of an increasingly frustrated animal beginning to display aggression instead, and this is red-light territory. If your dog has a lot of issues with barrier frustration that you’re having difficulty correcting, it’s suggested to see a veterinarian for referrals or a certified dog-trainer for aid.

If you’re in the yard and your dog goes off to patrol the fence, trainers and behaviorists suggest calling the dog back to you and distracting her with a game of fetch, or doing a quick round of training drills (sit, stay, come here) with treats. While on a walk, calmly redirect the dog’s attention to you when you see another dog and walker down the block, perhaps with a “leave it” and a treat, while also calmly changing direction or crossing the street.

A very important thing to remember about correcting barrier frustration is to stay calm. Your dog is already acting up; if you flip out your dog will flip out too. A dog you perceive as misbehaving can be embarrassing, yes, but remember to channel your best Zen or Jedi calm when dealing with these situations, and they’ll probably resolve themselves a lot more quickly.

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