Redirected Aggression and Barrier Frustration

Learn what redirected aggression and barrier frustration are, and how to keep from being bitten.

Jolanta Benal, CPDT-KA, CBCC-KA
6-minute read
Episode #108

A listener writes, “I have a three-year-old male dog who constantly patrols up and down my fence and barks. Last week I adopted a seven-month-old female dog. She will bite my male dog's neck every time he runs up and down the fence barking. The last time he cried out. The female does not show any other aggression so it baffles me why she does it when he gets riled up by strangers walking by.” My listener wonders what this behavior means and how to fix it.

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Dogs Who Patrol the Yard Get Frustrated and Agitated

Let’s take a close look at what’s going on in my listener’s backyard. We’ll call the male dog Zippy and the female dog Dogalini. Zippy “constantly” patrols the fence. Up and down, up and down. He’s not rolling in the grass or snoozing under a bush or playing fetch with his guardian; he’s amped. To make matters worse, he can hear people, dogs, whatever passing by. If the yard doesn’t have a privacy fence, he can see them, too. But he can’t investigate them. He can’t greet them or run them off. He’s frustrated. Barkbarkbarkbarkbark.

Meanwhile, Dogalini’s cranking too. She hears the passersby, sees the passersby, can’t get to the passersby, and up go her adrenaline and her heart rate and she’s amped and right there is Zippy barkbarkbarking and whammo! She goes for his neck.

The trainer term for Zippy’s behavior is barrier frustration. It’s likely that his behavior includes a big component of territorial aggression, as well, but that’s a topic for another day. As for Dogalini, we’re looking at barrier frustration followed by redirected aggression.

It’s not a sure thing that either Zippy or Dogalini would bite whatever’s outside the fence--minus the fence, their response might be quite different. But with respect to Dogalini we do know that, at least under some circumstances, she will lash out when frustration and agitation mix.


About the Author

Jolanta Benal, CPDT-KA, CBCC-KA

Jolanta holds professional certifications in both training and behavior counseling and belongs to the Association of Professional Dog Trainers and the International Association of Animal Behavior Consultants. She also volunteered with Pet Help Partners, a program of the Humane Society of the United States that works to prevent pet relinquishment. Her approach is generally behaviorist (Pavlovian, Skinnerian and post-Skinnerian learning theory) with a big helping of ethology (animal behavior as observed in non-experimental settings).