Barrier aggression in shelter dogs is common since they spend most of their days in a kennel. Understanding the long-term effects of barrier aggression in shelter dogs can help you decide if adopting a shelter dog is in your best interest.
What Is Barrier Aggression in Dogs?
Dogs exhibit barrier aggression when they have a visual barrier between them and a stressful stimulus. Since dogs can’t act on what is causing them stress, they become highly frustrated and aggressive the longer they have to endure the stress.
Examples of barriers that can make dogs aggressive are:
- Screen Doors
Signs of Barrier Aggression in Dogs
Dogs in an enclosed environment with the ability to see outside of it are most susceptible to barrier aggression. That’s why shelter dogs are the ones that are most likely to experience it.
Signs of barrier aggression include:
- Barking excessively
- Lunging at the barrier, such as the kennel door
- Snarling at other animals and people
- Tearing up items
- Pacing back and forth
- Breathing heavily
Why Dogs Become Aggressive with Barriers
Dogs have territorial instincts. Most dogs don’t act on their territorial instincts until they become highly frustrated, which is why barrier aggression is often called barrier frustration. The aggressive behavior that results from the barriers is a combination of instinct and learned behavior.
In a shelter environment, dogs see each other act out territorial aggression. When dogs see other dogs become frustrated, they also become that way because they feel as though that’s normal. As they spend long periods of time together, they start exhibiting similar behavior.
Many shelters will work to reduce barrier frustration as much as possible. It’s one of the reasons some dog shelters don’t allow potential adopters to enter the kennel area. Dogs that see people they don’t know become stressed out, which leads to the barrier frustration since they can’t get close enough to know if they are a threat or not.
To further decrease unwanted dog behavior, shelter staff members will often kennel similar size dogs next to each other. This keeps smaller dogs from being next to much larger dogs.
Shelter staff will also separate highly aggressive dogs from the rest of the dogs to keep aggressive displays to a minimum. Those with true aggression (a serious threat to people and other animals) are quarantined and undergo intense behavior modification.
If you’re interested, our Pitbull Hera went through this and now she is a great dog. You can learn more here.
To summarize, a frustrated dog can snowball into a group of frustrated dogs that can then lead to unwanted behaviors in and out of the shelter.
The Benefit of Barrier Aggression in Shelter Dogs
Many dog owners train their dogs to protect their homes by containing their dogs with barriers. Dog owners then present a stressful situation to the dogs causing them to react. The stressor is then removed. This teaches the dog that aggression is what will keep the territory safe.
While protecting a home is a great benefit of barrier aggression, it can cause more harm than good. Barrier aggression in shelter dogs can quickly get out of control resulting in huge problems.
The Problem with Barrier Aggression in Shelter Dogs
The problem with barrier aggression in shelter dogs is that many dog owners don’t want their pups to be hyper-aggressive. Aggressive or reactive dogs can lead to dog bites and other injuries. It can also cause a dog to engage in destructive behavior – a behavioral problem that leads to ruined furniture and other personal belongings.
How Do You Fix Barrier Aggression in Dogs?
The best way to fix barrier aggression in dogs is through behavior modification. A reactive dog must learn how to control impulsivity and emotional responses. A dog trainer who knows how to handle a dog’s barrier frustration is a good idea. Dog trainers know how to set up exercises and what to do to change the aggressive display upon presenting a stimulus.
How to Train Your Barrier-Aggressive Dog
If a professional dog trainer isn’t in your budget or you’d like to know how to control your dog’s aggressive responses yourself. The following tips can help you train your barrier-aggressive dog.
Ask a Friend for Help
Have someone help you with the training. Let that person know he/she will be completely safe because the training plan is with a leashed dog.
Identify a Barrier
Identify the barrier your pup despises the most, such as a car window, baby gate, fence, etc.
Choose a Stimulus
If you know what stimulus will frustrate your dog the most, get that ready.
Use High-Value Treats
Have high-value treats available for positive reinforcement.
Place Barrier, Present Stumulus, Reward
Place the barrier and then present the stimulus. When your dog’s body language changes signaling a threat is near, give a command such as sit, stay, or halt. If your dog listens, toss treats to your dog.
Correct Behavior and Repeat
If your dog doesn’t listen, pull back on your dog and make him/her sit.
Take away the stimulus.
Repeat the action of presenting the stimulus. Give a command. Toss treats if your dog obeys. Correct your dog if he/she doesn’t obey.
Behavior Modification for Barrier Aggression Dogs
Adult dogs may need much more work than puppies or even older dogs who simply don’t have the energy to be as aggressive as when they were younger.
Once your dog understands the positive association between remaining calm and receiving a treat, you can start to present different types of stimuli that also cause aggressive behavior.
The above training plan works on many different types of dog aggression, such as resource guarding. It’s all about presenting the stimuli, teaching appropriate behavior, and then taking it away with a reward for good behavior. If the behavior isn’t good, no reward should be given. Just repeat the presentation of the stimulus.
Learn more about how to deal with resource guarding here: Dog Guarding Food But Not Eating or Stop a Dog Growling Over Food
Adopting a Shelter Dog with Barrier Aggression
Just because a dog has barrier aggression, it doesn’t mean you shouldn’t adopt it. A dog’s behavior can be changed with consistent training.
Many shelters will work with dogs with territorial aggression before they are available for adoption, so you can rest assured your dog’s behavior won’t be uncontrollable.
If you ever do experience any type of aggression (resource guarding, territorial aggression, barrier aggression, etc.), feel free to call the shelter or a veterinarian for advice. Many shelters will work with new adopters to ensure the placement is a success.
Giving a rescue dog a good place to live is so rewarding. No one truly knows what these pups have gone through in their life. All they need is love and guidance to understand what is good and bad. If barrier aggression in shelter dogs concerns you, we hope we’ve made it less scary.