Barrier Frustration and Why it Matters to You and Your Dog

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barrier aggressive, cage aggressive, cage brave, crate aggressive, yard aggressiveI have a dog with a problem.

Actually, both of my dogs have this problem to a degree.

As I have mentioned in the past, I have very high drive herding dogs that have been bred to be police/protection dogs.

They have an amazing desire to chase things that move.

It takes a lot of training and a lot of patience to keep them from doing that whenever they would like.

I have taught them to give me eye contact and focus while we heel so that I can control their behaviors and what they are allowed to look at.  Click on the link to find out more about that training!

Don’t get me wrong, I also allow them to lure course, do protection work, and dock dive and all of those sports allow them to use these instincts to their and my benefit, while also teaching them to control themselves.

After all, in order to learn to use your instincts, you also need to learn to control them!  To find out how to use your dog’s instincts, click here

But I occasionally notice this behavior crop up in other places.

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Cage Brave

Some people call this being “cage brave” where a dog lunges, leaps and growls in his cage, kennel or crate.

But I think this term misinterprets what is going on in the dog’s mind.

I don’t think the dog is being “brave” or even really showing aggression, although sometimes it looks like that.

Don’t get me wrong, a normally aggressive dog may also suffer from this condition or problem and sometimes it is hard to tell when you are on the receiving end.

But many times you will see a dog who literally plays with a dog during play time one minute who is hurling himself in and around his kennel threatening to kill the dog the next minute.

Or a dog that knows and loves a person one minute, threatening to lunge toward or bite him the next (yes even his owner).

It is because the dog can’t freely get to what he wants.

If he was loose, chances are you wouldn’t see any of these behaviors.

Frustrationbarrier aggressive, cage aggressive, cage brave, crate aggressive, yard aggressive

It is all born out of frustration.

The dog sees (or sometimes hears) another dog moving or a person passing and in his mind he wants to go too, so he begins to get worked up.

These dogs often race up and down if they have a kennel or other space where they may do so jumping and barking and again sometimes growling, snarling and lunging.

The frustration turns into a frustrating aggressive visual display.

I guess it would be like parading toddlers who were going on an outing like the zoo past a toddler that is not going.

Some toddlers would get sad and cry, and then there are some that would get more aggressive in the face of frustration.

Yes, the majority would cry (bark) but there are a few… I think we can all admit we have seen or been these toddlers at one time or another.

Dogs Can’t Rationalize

But dogs can’t rationalize.

You can’t sit a dog down and tell him that he will be the next one out.

You can’t tell him that he just came in and so he won’t be going out with this group.

He is stimulated by movement (especially herding dogs), noise and frustration and so takes it out on whatever is closest.

In some respects, having a toy or something that he can bite and thrash may help some dogs settle down or at least project their frustrations onto something safe.

Otherwise these dogs can end up hurting themselves by biting the fence or bars, breaking open their tails, or hurting their legs and feet.

If You Work in a Kennel

If you work in a kennel, it is your job to try your hardest to keep these dogs from getting worked up.

Sometimes blocking them visually sincerely helps them from getting overly worked up.

Putting them in a corner area where you can get them out quickly and where you can keep other dogs from parading past is also key.

Have a long run of more docile dogs that more easily tolerate other dogs walking past.

Overly aggressive, anxious, or self injurious animals should have their own space and not be subjected to lots of other dogs going past.

This will make YOUR job safer!

The less worked up a dog is, the safer he is to handle.

The opposite is also true, the more worked up a dog is, the less trustworthy and more dangerous he is to handle.

My Own Dogs

Even my dogs suffer from this problem.

My female dog, who is normally super sweet all of the time, gets a little boundary frustrated first thing in the morning when she and my other dog go outside.

She is 95% more likely to nip the face of the other dog (hard) and then run outside to go potty.  I haven’t figured out why mornings matter, but she has been trying to tag the dogs in her life since she was a puppy.

I have taught her to respect and not nip the other dogs, but it is still a daily struggle.

And, if one of my dogs is crated next to the other and I don’t let them both go at pretty much exactly the same time a tantrum ensues.

My Malinois was pretty much deemed dangerous at the clinic I work at.

I couldn’t figure it out, because although he doesn’t really care for other people, I have never considered him really “dangerous”.

The problem was, that he is like an angry toddler with ADHD and rage.  He was hurling himself toward anything that moved (even me when he didn’t realize it was me) and trying to bite.

I put him back in a secluded run in our hospital side where those behaviors are now gone totally.  He is in the corner and nothing parades by him and he is able to contain his excitement with other dogs around now.

Interestingly to note, the kennel next to him is often filled by a Golden Retriever with the exact same problem; breed doesn’t matter!

He is not overtly aggressive either, but he hits his tail so hard as he races back and forth watching the other dogs that he has to be in an isolated space in order for him to be happy and safe.

How Does This Apply to the Average Dog?barrier aggressive, cage aggressive, cage brave, crate aggressive, yard aggressive

So how does this apply to the average dog, if you don’t work in a kennel or board your dog?

You would be amazed at the number of dogs out there that have some kind of form of this frustration.

You know the dogs you see barking and racing across their yards, threatening any person or dog that passes?

Yes, these dogs too suffer from some barrier frustration.

Most of them are also left out for too long allowing the frustration to build and grow and most are in some kind of barrier where they can see everything pass (invisible fencing, or chain link).

People think leaving their dog outside all day is better than leaving him in a crate.

I have seen, seemingly normal dogs, build this frustration to the point of aggression if tested.

For instance a dog learns to bark, wildly growling and lunging at a runner that passes every day.

At first he just wants to get out and greet or run with the runner.

The frustration grows each day as the runner passes and the dog can’t get out; then one morning the gate is left open and the dog gets out to chase the runner; and inflicts a bite.

For many months the dog has envisioned running, chasing and biting the runner and is now given that opportunity.

He may not have started out with an aggression issue (in fact he may be totally social when he is with his owner), but the frustration of the situation and daily visualization can create aggression!

In fact

In fact, the dog thinks HE is being tormented by the runner.

Imagine being tormented in your own home day after day for months.

Wouldn’t you want to go out and sock the daily tormenter in the face?

It is better for everyone if this dog is left inside or crated.

Being inside and occupied is safer for everyone involved.

Your other option is to get a wooden fence or put up a barrier so he can’t see passers by.

Any Dog Can Suffer from Barrier Frustration

The key is to catch it early, give the dog something else to do, and keep it from escalating!

Have you ever had or seen a dog with this problem?

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There are 15 Comments

  1. lynn says:

    We have a recent rescue, we have had him just over 6 mos. He was 18 months old when we adopted him. We know his abuse was being crated in a cage approx 20 hours a day in a cage not even big enough to turn around in. No food, no toys, no nothing…. just himself. He is extremely smart and strives to please but just can’t seem to pull i together. He has major impulse control issues and get tunnel vision. We know this is due to the abuse. We have experienced varying degrees of resource possession issues and have finally reached the point where he no longer snaps and bites but we can’t figure out how to stop the the ongoing issues. If he sees an item he wants and can get it, he takes it, He steels items out of the dishwasher, the recycle bin, off tables, and things that are inadvertently dropped, Yet minds his manners for training sessions and when it is time to eat. He will sit and even obey several rapid relay commands,he will also wait until he is told that he can have a treat when it is placed on floor or in your hand. If given the drop it/give it command he will eventually give it up if you are patient but will snap and try to bite if you try to “forcefully take it” How do we get him over this. He also occasionally “lashes out” snapping out at my husband feet for no apparent reason when he walks by. Help! After 6 months of this my husbands patience is wearing thin.

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    Minette Reply:

    Manners are not obedience. Sounds as if he has obedience but not manners.

    I put my dogs on leash and work with them through their impulsivity and don’t allow the stealing or the biting. If he was on a leash, chances are you would not either!

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  2. Jerilyn says:

    Hello my dog has bit 3 dogs, each one of these are dogs the kinda rushed her or they were outside, 2 were of leash and the last one was not on leash and the other dog approached quickly. My question is how do I train her to relax and approach slowly? I know I have to make sure the other dogs are leashed also to slow them down. It happens so fast, and now she is becoming less trustworthy. She shows no aggression to people.

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  3. Ruth says:

    My dog is 8 and the last couple of years she becomes aggressive when I open or close the windows. She will bark and lounge at me and the window and seems like she could bite me but turns away and gets a bone. I do not know how it became an issue for her and how to correct the behavior. She also barks at gunshots and some other noises. Is this all anxiety related? If I try to pet her to calm her am I reinforcing the behavior? I thought that the noises hurt her ears or gets on her nerves. I could use some advice in dealing with it.

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  4. Michelle says:

    Hello, My son has a 5 year old fixed female dog that is extremely barrier aggressive. She only goes out to potty and then comes back in the house. She was free to walk around the house until about 6 months ago. Anyone comes to the door she just barks and growls like she is going to chew them up. She and my “not fixed as she is sensitive to anethesia” 8 yr old mastiff (they have been together since she was a puppy) were in the yard to potty with my 8 yr old male and the new neighbor comes out and for some reason he has decided to park his trash can up against the outside of my fence and she started jumping and snarling at the fence and then she jumped on my mastiff also standing right beside her at the fence barking and started biting and snarling and really fighting her and didn’t want to stop. It took a bit to break them up. This is probably the 4th time it has happened. This has also happened in the house when someone knocked on the door. My son has now put his dog in a crate since that altercation and now he only lets her out to go potty or exercise break while my mastiff is put up in another room then puts her back up as he was tired of her acting like that with my dog. They can be perfectly fine together for a long time and then one thing like that happens. I hate to leave her crated so much but I don’t even know what to do if something happened and my son wasn’t there to help. As it is if she gets aggressive in her crate at someone knocking on the door or even hears the mailman put the mail in the box she just barks and growls like she is going to break out of the crate.

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  5. Michelle says:

    One note after that altercation the neighbor started parking his trashcan against his own house thankfully. Even though I always check to make sure they aren’t outside in their yard before I let the dogs go potty I can’t control if someone randomly wants to walk out in their own yard or be in their garage working. I just don’t even know if I dare try to let both dogs be together again in house or out. My mastiff is getting older and is considered elderly at 8 yrs I think but I do so hate that the other dog spends a good portion of her time in the crate.

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  6. Liz Ward says:

    I have recently changed the fencing around the play/potty area so my dogs can’t see out. It has made a huge difference in the everyday calmness. They went from nuisance barkers to normal communication barkers almost immediately. I can now leave the door open so they can come in and out at will. This really does help! Thanks for the article!

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  7. janet says:

    my male neutered dog is great in the car except when the car is parked and a person either walks by or is seen by the dog a distance away, the dog goes crazy barking, showing teeth, looking like a pit bull on a bad day. I know the car will be safe….no one will break-in but it’s not something we taught him or really want him to do….can you offer any help. thank you.

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  8. Michelle says:

    I have heard that it’s not good to put privacy fence all the way around. I was told the dogs need to be stimulated but sounds, sites & smell from outside their yard.
    I have a 1 year old Great Dane & she can jump a 5′ fence.
    How do I keep her from jumping the fence & is it ok to use privacy fence all the way around

    [Reply]

    Minette Reply:

    I am not sure where you heard such odd advice but of course it is good to use a privacy fence. A dog can still hear, they don’t need to be constantly visually stimulated and frustrated.

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  9. Sassy says:

    Hi,
    I have a foster dog lab mix,that needs to meet people with a barrier between them, then after a few minutes he is fine, I let the person in and he is jumping and kissing them like an old friend. This is his only bad trait
    On a leash or loose..entirely different dog meeting person without a barrier. Barking, lunging, growling. I tell person to go behind the gate, 2 minutes later, old best friend.
    In order to or him to become a therapy dog for his owner (disabled navy vet) I would like to resolve the issue.

    [Reply]

    Minette Reply:

    lunging and growling is never acceptable and NEVER EVER For a service or therapy dog; period!

    I also don’t believe that a barrier magically changes behavior in this way, I certainly would not trust this dog until evaluated by a boarded veterinary behaviorist to get at the root of the problem.

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  10. Sassy says:

    I understand that. They are in search of someone to train him. He was not aggressive but bc of the way he is, 3 little dogs attacked him! The park said he had to go. He is a great watch dog.
    They got him from a shelter and there is no way he had this behavior and being a black dog,there or he never would have made it out. I switched him over to Taste of wild, salmon to try to calm the liver energy. They had him on kibbles n bits.,ugh!

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  11. Ellen says:

    Oh Lord! I have a neighbor with this problem and they just don’t get it. A year ago they took in their daughters dog who although appeared to be well trained when she visited always had an air of ‘fear’ about her. The dog was never leashed and would recall but they would constantly HAVE to recall her. When the dog was handed over from the daughter and came to live with them permanently – they of course put the dog with their other two dogs. They all live in the house with a doggie door that gives them all day access to a small pen at the side of their house. The dogs are never walked or otherwise exercised. You could see trouble coming a mile away. Sure enough, here we are a year later and this seemingly well trained dog is now a nightmare for the neighbors (me). It is so frustrated that if it sees or just hears me in my own yard next door while she’s in her house – she’ll come charging out that doggie door with hackles raised and snarling up a storm all the way to the pen fence where she continues this for a good 5 minutes or longer. Occasionally they will let her out of the pen – OFF LEASH!! in an unfenced yard and sure enough as I unsuspectingly come around the corner of my own home the darn thing charges me, ignoring their recalls. It’s terrifying. I’ve asked them to put her on a leash – they wouldn’t and I finally had to get by-law involved. I’ve tried to explain to them what I felt was the dogs issue and of course I’m just the a**hole next door and what do I know. I fear for the future of this dog.

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  12. R says:

    How can I stop our puppy from biting at our shoes and ankles when we are walking?

    [Reply]

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