Canine Behavior/Dalmatian


My 2 year old Dalmatian just started running through her electric fence while we are away at work. We've also noticed some other body language we've either never seen in her before or only when she's very afraid like in a thunderstorm. The new behaviors are shaking off and bending her body sideways (not in a happy way) for awhile after we've gotten home and she's in the house. We have a cornfield next to us and we thought maybe the sound of the dry rustling corn spooks her, but she will happily run through it if her 'dad' is with her. When we are in the yard she will go also and is happy when she has a ball to chase, but when she has to be by herself while we do yard work she will bark at the field or sit tensely and stare at it. When I come home at lunch she is anxious to get in the house but paces and whines looking for 'dad' and sometimes does nervous lip licking or tongue flicking before she gets into the house. Does this sound like fear of sounds or like an animal has come into the yard while we are away and scared her? The worst thing for us is finding her outside the yard on the country road. We are afraid she's going to get hit. I could increase the perimeter a little, but not sure it will help.

Thank you for your question. You clearly have a good foundation of canine body language and are recognizing many signs of stress or concern in your dog. For that, you deserve major Kudos! Many people don't even know that licking the lips is a sign of stress.

Now, is it fear of sound or fear of something else? I can't say without observing her personally. But it is fear of something. It may very well be both. The noises of the corn field could be disconcerting and there may also be a person or animal that's upsetting her. Or it could be crows/person or other animal coming from the corn field and so the two things are intertwined... Or it could be the invisible fence and not the corn field.

I can tell you that many, many dogs develop such fears when collared to an electric fence. For the fence to be effective, the dog must dislike the sensation of the zap sufficiently to deter them going through. So, from that perspective, the fence itself causes fear in the dog. Then, if kids or animals or other things are outside the fence line and taunt the dog, this can increase the dog's defensive displays (barking, snarling, growling, etc) when such things come near their fence. Or if the dog is naturally more of the "flee" rather than the "fight" type, it can increase their stress signals such as cowering, hiding, lip-licking, yawning, scratching, avoiding, etc.

That your dog is breaking through the electric fence tells me that on at least some occasions, there is something on the other side of the fence that is more enticing to her than the fear of getting zapped is scary. In other words, getting through the fence to get to the thing she wants is more motivating than the consequence of going over the fence line is deterring.

The problem here is: let's say she sees a cat or a squirrel and she MUST chase it. The motivation to get out of the perimeter is high and so she blasts through the fence line and her adrenalin may be so high she doesn't even notice the temporary zap. But, then after she's done chasing whatever it was that caught her attention, her adrenalin subsides and she heads back to your yard. But now, getting close to the fence line is deterring because she doesn't want to feel the zap. So now she's stuck outside the yard and off your property.

Also, many electric fences malfunction and instead of being a temporary zap just as she's close to the fence, it can continue to zap endlessly (or repeatedly) once she's crossed the line. I don't know that this is happening to your dog, but it is a possibility with many electric fences.

That your dog is showing signs of fear, but has also broken the fence line, suggests that the yard itself may be becoming an uncertain and untrustworthy place because she sometimes gets out but then can't get back in.

I understand that some localities have rules about building fences, but you may want to consider another form of enclosure for your dog - other than the electric fence as it is almost certainly adding to her fear at this stage. If you can't fence the yard, you may consider a large kennel that can be set up so when she is out unsupervised, she is contained. There are many places that sell easy to put together kennels that are 5X10 or 5X20. You could feasibly get more than one and set them up so that one leads to the next and she has an even larger area. Just make sure that a portion of it has proper covering and a raised area to lay down on so she can be out of the elements if it's raining or snowing. Or perhaps, she can have potty time and then spend the day inside the house when you're not home, with potty time the first order of business when you get home.

Making the yard a happy place with fun and games and treats and positive training while you're home with her should help to make the yard a good place again. But remember, it may only be that the yard is scary for her when she's alone. If that's the case, then no matter how awesome the space is with you and her 'dad' there, it will still be scary to her and stressful when you're out. So, even with a lot of positive reassurance while you're present, adjustments to the yard and/or her confinement or routine may need to happen to help her over the fear.

You may also want to set up a video camera when you're out to see if you can determine what's triggering her fear as this can help you hone in on what kinds of changes would be most beneficial to your dog.

outdoor dog kennel options

Good luck. Please feel free to followup if I can be of any further assistance.

Jody, APDT
Los Angeles Behaviorist  

Canine Behavior

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Jody Epstein, CPDT- KA, APDT


IF YOU BELIEVE YOUR DOG IS ILL OR INJURED, PLEASE CONTACT YOUR LOCAL VETERINARIAN IMMEDIATELY. THIS IS NOT THE FORUM TO ADDRESS URGENT MEDICAL ISSUES. I AM NOT A LICENSED VET AND HAVE NO DIAGNOSTIC SKILLS. ***I have been answering questions on All Experts for over 5 years now. I enjoy being able to offer assistance in this forum. I do need to be clear, though. If you’re looking for free advice about a specific behavior question, you MUST submit your question to me via All Experts. If you bypass All Experts and write to me directly through my website, I will ask you to submit via All Experts. On the flip side, if you’re local to Los Angeles and you wish to speak to me privately about an in person consultation, please go through my website. I appreciate your assistance in keeping my volunteer work on the volunteer site.*** I can answer questions about the following canine behavior issues: obedience, timid/fearful & fear-based aggression, nuisance behaviors, families that are expanding with either new human or new animal members. If you have potty training questions please first read my trio of blogs at If you still have questions after reading the blogs you can post your specific questions here. PLEASE be as specific as possible when asking a question. Give me a detailed example of the situation - dog's behavior, body language, circumstances surrounding the issue, what the consequences are (another dog's response, your response), etc. I can only provide insight if I can get a picture of the whole scenario. If I ask for further details, please provide them. In person I would normally observe for at least 90 minutes to assess the situation and the dynamics before offering tools and suggestions to modify it. In writing it is ever so much more difficult. Thank you for your participation in the process.


I have been professionally modifying behavior and training obedience for 7 years. I have owned dogs my entire life. I have just changed the name of my business. It is no longer Good Dog! Dog Training. The new name is Nutz About Mutz!. If you see previous questions with the Good Dog! website information, that is my response.

I am a Certified Profession Dog Trainer - Knowledge Assessed (CPDT-KA), #2133301 ; I am a member in good standing with the Association of Professional Dog Trainers (APDT), #77763 ; I am an AKC certified Canine Good Citizen evaluator (CGC), #71253

Publications ; ; Multiple articles in the local pet magazine Pet Press (found across Southern California)

I have a graduate education in animal behavior and learning. (While I completed my coursework and did the requisite research, I did not defend a dissertation. I am qualified, but not certified and so technically not a doctor. This is commonly referred to as Ph.D.-ABD which means All But Dissertation.) My educational focus was with non-human primates, but my personal interest is with domestic dogs and their relationships with humans and other animals. I continue to educate myself to canine-specific behavior through extensive reading, online interactive workshops, vidoes and attending canine behavior conferences.

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