Home
Karen B. London
Print|Email|Text Size: ||
Fence Fighting
Avoiding aggression can look silly

At first glance, these dogs seem comical as they bark and display at each other through the fence. It’s obvious that they could move over just a few inches and actually reach their opponent. Yet both of them determinedly stay where there’s a fence between them and display rather than move over and fight in the open.

Their behavior shows a lot of self-control and a disinclination to fight. Dogs often choose not to be aggressive when they have another option. It reminds me of the importance of avoiding situations in which dogs have no way out. The fence gives these dogs an out—a way to avoid being aggressive.

Neither of these dogs wants to fight. They are both showing a common sign of fearfulness—the fear grimace, which is when they pull back the corners of their mouths. The fear grimace is a facial expression that allows us to see many of the dogs’ teeth, which is why it looks so menacing to us, but it is a behavior that indicates fear. In addition, the dog on the left approaches with its weight back and continues to lean back rather than charge forward. That is also a sign of a dog who is afraid rather than confident in the situation.

I have seen this type of fence fighting behavior before, and have had many people share stories with me of similar situations. Once, I even saw two dogs run along opposite sides of a fence barking, and then, when they unexpectedly come to a break in the fence, head back to the fence and continue fence fighting, all in a charmingly synchronized way.

It looks funny, but I think they both deserve gold stars rather than laughter for their behavior. Good for them for avoiding violence and handling the situation with some visual and vocal displays instead.  I wish people chose this route more often. Dogs who choose fence fighting over actual fighting deserve our admiration, not our disdain, though I must admit I always have to fight the urge to laugh anyway.

Print|Email

Karen B. London, PhD, is a Bark columnist and a Certified Applied Animal Behaviorist specializing in the evaluation and treatment of serious behavior problems in the domestic dog.

CommentsPost a Comment
Please note comments are moderated. After being approved your comment will appear below.
Submitted by Premier Dogs | July 13 2014 |

Excellent article - cheers for that. Yes, people just don't see the 'display' of behaviour as being an effort to make 'trouble' go away. Instead, they see it as a desire to instigate or pursue and, with all of the notions of 'dominance theory' that still exist, it just takes people headlong down the path to aversive methods and practices. Hopefully, sooner than later, modern behavioural science will be the terms of reference for all questions of behaviour. Thanks again!

More From The Bark

By
Karen B. London
By
Karen B. London
By
Karen B. London
More in Karen B. London:
A Dog in Front and a Dog Behind
Resembling Our Dogs
Favorite Facial Expressions
Handler Stress Improves Dog Performance
Greeting Old Friends
Problem Solving Recalls
Dog Fire Hydrant
Learning to Handle Stairs
Knowing Human Names
Stick Close!