Barrier Frustration and Why it Matters to You and Your Dog
I 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.
But I occasionally notice this behavior crop up in other places.
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.
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?
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, 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?
I have been a professional dog trainer and pet sitter for over 20 years. I am a Certified Professional Dog Trainer, through the international Certification Counsel of Professional Dog Trainers. I have trained and worked with police, Schutzhund and personal protection dogs. I trained Assistance Dogs in a men’s prison and ran my own nonprofit organization to take adult dogs from shelters and to train them to assist children and adults with disabilities, at no charge to my clients. My nonprofit organization and I were nominated for several awards of merit and even made the front page of the Denver Post. I was a veterinary technician for many years, where I learned about all aspects of health and preventative medicine. I have trained and worked with exotic animals and cheetahs. I introduced a temperament testing program in my local shelter and sat on the board of directors. I volunteered with my dog “Mr. Snitch” and helped local children learn to read. I have attained obedience titles and several blue ribbons. I am constantly in search of ways to continue my education and excellence when it comes to animals, their behavior and their health.