Crossing That Fence When You Come To It...

8631df0a-ef14-40b5-a832-43b4c9dbd70f Story and photo by Chad Love

Late last season on a quail hunt in Kansas, my old dog Jenny, who has crossed thousands of barbed wire fences in her day, zigged when she should have zagged while negotiating a fence and ended up with a fair-to-middlin’-sized gash on her haunch.

Luckily it was superficial and didn’t require staples, but it got me to thinking about how dogs learn to negotiate the hazards they’ll encounter in the field, specifically fences and cattle guards.

I’ve never really “trained” my dogs, per se, a right or wrong way to crawl under or through a barbed-wire fence. What I have done with all my dogs is introduce them to fences as puppies and just let them figure out on their own the best way to negotiate a fence.

I don’t know if that’s right or wrong, but I’ve found that with enough practice in a controlled environment, eventually all my dogs learn how to get through a fence without trying to run straight through it.

However, all barbed-wire fences are not created equal, and if I’m hunting an area with a wicked-looking, tight-as-a-drum five-strand barbed-wire fence with lots of sharp barbs and very little room for a dog to crawl through, I’ll physically help my dog crawl under the fence, either by holding up the bottom strand and then guiding them under or sitting my dog, crossing the fence myself and then gently pulling them under the fence to me.

Although the thought of your dog getting hung up on a barbed-wire fence is scary, equally scary is the potential for injury from cattle guards. Many farms, ranches and even public hunting areas that allow grazing utilize cattle guards rather than gates, and if your dog hasn’t been introduced to a cattle guard and tries to run across one at full stride, broken legs or worse are a possibility.
Again, I always try to introduce to my puppies the hazards they’ll face as dogs, and I do the same thing with cattle guards as I do with fences, although I will generally carry my dogs across cattle guards rather than let them try to tiptoe across them.

Thus far I’ve been lucky in that none of my dogs have been seriously injured crossing a fence or cattle guard. But maybe that’s my problem: maybe I’ve just been lucky and by not specifically training for fences I’m courting eventual disaster?

Does anyone train for those scenarios or have any pointers on how to teach your dogs about fences and cattle guards?

Chad Love is editor of Quail Forever Journal