Q. My neighbor’s dog throws a fit of barking and growling whenever my dog goes near our fence line. It upsets my dog and he barks back. Should I be concerned?

Although some dogs that fight across a fence are truly a danger, the vast majority are aggressive only across boundary lines, not when off-leash around other dogs. However, the pent-up frustration of being unable to reach the dog on the other side of the fence can result in a fight if the barking dog ever does get access to his canine neighbor.

When Fence Fighting Turns Dangerous

One of my Pugs was recently a victim of fence fighting. My neighbors have a Rottweiler who barks incessantly when my dogs go outside. He spends the vast majority of his outside time patrolling, and the moment my Pugs step a paw in my yard, the barking and growling begins. While Willy was not bothered by this behavior, Bruce was extremely stressed-out and started barking back.

To manage the situation, I taught Bruce to come when called whenever the neighbor’s dog would bark. My fence is sturdy, but it had small gaps underneath, which I blocked off to prevent the dogs from getting at each other.

Unfortunately, this wasn’t enough. Unbeknownst to me, my neighbor had a friend’s Rottweiler in his backyard. I let Bruce out and both dogs started barking, which prompted Bruce to go investigate. Within a matter of seconds, Bruce had a seriously injured paw that required 10 stitches and four different antibiotics. He spent a month wearing a cone before the gash finally healed.

Stop the Behavior Before It Escalates

One way to defuse fence fighting is to arrange a meeting between the two dogs in a neutral territory. Dogs should only greet if both are well socialized and nonaggressive. The dogs should approach each other, on-leash, by parallel walking at a distance of 60 feet, without moving toward each other. Reward the dogs for heeling and doing other obedience work. Gradually move the dogs closer until they can walk next to each other and remain relaxed.

Once the dogs are able to be near each other, let them do a quick head-to-tail greeting, still on-leash. If the greeting goes well, arrange future meetings and even work on off-leash playdates. Simply allowing access to play can stop barrier frustration.

Fence fighting can have serious repercussions, and not just on neighboring pets. Some dogs will redirect their aggression on people or other pets within the home, which can turn a bothersome situation into a dangerous one. Unfortunately, in many situations, like mine, there is little that can be done; after all, you cannot change your neighbors’ approach to dog training, and problems may persist even if your own dog has been properly trained.

Can’t Make Friends? Keep Your Dog Safe

For those with less cooperative neighbors or aggressive dogs, there are other solutions. Block visual access along open fence lines. For example, block off chain-link fencing with nylon strips. Supervise your dog every time he is in your yard until the fence fighting is eliminated. In some situations, supervision should continue even if your pet has been trained not to respond, because the other dog may still inflict harm — which is what happened with my Pug.

If possible, coordinate outside schedules with your neighbor to work out times when you can each have your dog outside without the other dog being there. If that’s not an option, consider adding a second fenced-in area inside your yard that is removed from the boundary line; this gives you a place to leave your pet whenever he cannot be directly supervised. Keep his time alone outside to a minimum, though; if your dog gets plenty of interaction, he’s less likely to fence fight out of boredom.

Train your dog to come when called, particularly when the other dog is around. Start with your dog on the end of a long line. Call him back to you whenever he looks over at the fence line or when the other dog barks, and reward him with tasty treats. Eventually the sound of the other dog barking will become your pet’s cue to come back to you.

Fence fighting is a serious issue that requires both pet owners’ involvement to eliminate. If your neighbors won’t cooperate, it’s up to you to protect your pet. Although my Pugs are much calmer now and the fence line is more secure, I still supervise my dogs’ playtime in the backyard because under the right conditions, it only takes an instant for things to go very wrong.

I consider myself very blessed that Bruce is healed and he's tail-wagging happy again.