Dangers of Invisible Fences for Dogs

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My sister recently adopted a five year old mixed breed large dog. Stella is her first dog since childhood and she is turning into a wonderful family dog, even though the shelter told her that she had some reactive issues and would be challenging to train. I'm so proud of my sister for only using positive reinforcement training protocol. Consequently, Stella's reactivity issues have greatly diminished and she is turning into a very happy, well-adjusted dog.

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She's also a dog who requires, and is receiving, a great deal of exercise. My sister mentioned the other day that they'd like to install an invisible fence for Stella so that she can get more exercise. The statement came from someone who cares very deeply for her dog and wants the best for her. I listened carefully and then stated my opinion.

As my readers know, I am an advocate of force-free dog training. While an electric fence may look invisible, it's damaging effects are very visible, and generally increase in harmful behavior over time. An electric fence is simply an electric collar with a very large perimeter. An electric shock is sent through a special collar when a dog gets too close to the perimeter of the fence. An underground wire provides the shock and a high-pitched noise is sounded as a warning. However, many dogs have been known to cross the perimeter of the warning area when they are fearful due to other sounds, such as fireworks or thunderstorms. Also, dogs learn by association. When they run up to the fence and are shocked, they learn that what is on the other side of the fence is not safe. Even the friendliest of dogs will develop reactive and aggressive issues. They are actually being punished (by shock) when they run up and greet someone who is very friendly. That new association can quickly lead them to believe that everything should be feared and nothing is safe. Then the aggressive issues expand to other areas beyond the yard and invisible fence.

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As Victoria Stilwell, Animal Planet's dog trainer on It's Me or the Dog, said in her recent Positively newsletter,

"Dogs contained behind electric fences tend to become more reactive and in some cases more aggressive toward strangers and even family members because of anxiety and frustration. Recent studies show that dogs without previous aggression problems are more prone to attack family members when the systems are activated. Only a proper fence will keep people or other animals out of the yard and offer more protection. Keep your dog inside your home and take him out for regular toilet breaks and walks or invest in a solid fence around your yard. It is a much safer and more humane and effective containment option than an electric fence will ever be."

I know a man who had an invisible fence system in his yard and also built one into a room in his house, to keep his dog out of the living room. Unfortunately, the man took ill one night and passed out on the living room floor. Sadly, the dog did not cross the boundary of the living room to help him after his fall. Even though the dog hadn't worn the collar in years, he still associated the living room as unsafe territory. The man deeply loved his dog and meant no harm, but the dog became one of the most fearful dogs I've ever met.

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Have you had experiences with electric fences? Thanks for sharing your thoughts in a comment below.

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Marie Anne Legaspi

An electric fence keeps dogs in. What about other dogs, coyotes, bears nd strangers coming into your yard? Get a regular fence nd train your dog.

April 19 2013 at 12:41 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Melissa

I have never seen the problems that the writer is talking about with invisible fences. I've dog-sat for people with them, walked past neighbors homes that use them, and eventually used them myself. Most dogs adjust and learn to live with the fences. They are more calm and don't charge at new people or animals who pass by because they become used to seeing them. I've seen more aggression problems with physically fenced yards because the dogs can't see whats over them. They tend to bark more and dig to escape these fences and bombard new comers either from fear or over-excitement. I would recommend the fences. They have always worked well for me and produced well behaved animals with freedoms traditional fences can't provide.

April 10 2013 at 10:54 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
jnyhan

Our dogs quickly learned when the batteries in their collars went dead, and then would run full speed out of the yard (this was a radio-wave set-up). Otherwise it worked well.

April 10 2013 at 2:22 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
joebearinmaine

When this type of fencing came out they had no warning or adjustment. Just full shock, aaarrrhh. The ones on the market today have multiple warnings and levels of \"stimulation\". With some models you have the option of a hand controller so you can train your dog away from the house such as a park or the beach. A little stimulation is much better than a dead dog in the road. In part of my kennel I also use an electric farm fence. It works great.

April 10 2013 at 1:07 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
dturb

Not completely unrelated but a little. What is your take on collars to stop barking dogs? I would think it would be similar to the electric fence. We have a basset who recently has decided to bark at anything and everything and nothing nonstop. Nothing has helped. We finally bought a shock collar. It says it does not hurt the dog but I have seen her respond to it and must hurt. I do not want to traumatize the dog, but the barking has to stop.

April 10 2013 at 12:20 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
tlevesoor67

The article says recent studies show invisible fences make dogs aggressive, but all the comments to the article rave about invisible fences. Maybe this is a case of research study meets the real world.

April 09 2013 at 8:11 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
DRILLER

well you did ask for comments on this story here goes.
I'm an OLD guy who cannot chase down the dogs anymore, I have a companion dog(chocolate lab) a beagle-boxer mix, a Dingo named Ironically "Dingo" and a Japanese Chin, quite a herd, we recently moved out in the country, great for the dogs right? nope they decided chasing cars and trucks was a fun thing, Too late to fence the front yard, because I just fenced the pasture, and filled it with cows and a couple horses, next best thing, I went to tractor supply where I had gotten the fence charger, picked up 800' of "fence string" and a couple dozen "push-in" posts, went from the back corner on one side, around the front to the back corner on the other side, picked up a "fence charger" specially rated for dogs chickens and rabbits, I plug it in rarely now because the dogs learned the boundary in about a week and will not approach closer than a foot from the fence, yes they yipped the first couple times they touched it, The bigger ones were harder to teach because the fence is so weak, the chin just walks under does what he wants and walks back in, (fence cant zap through all that hair) the rest will chase a car along the road but stop at the end of the property, and will NOT get over the fence Onto the road. dogs are trained, everybody is happy.

April 09 2013 at 7:14 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
eloise

I have trained three dogs to an invisible fence. A regular fence for my yard is not an option. One dog defied the fence once. Never again. And she had been a roamer. My present dog obeys the boundaries and we seldom use her collar. Just once in a while to remind her. This arrangement is much better than having to be on a tether when outside which would be necessary without the invisible fence.

April 09 2013 at 6:48 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
amentrj

We have had an electric fence for years. We have a cockapoo and a silky terrier, and both know what the boundary is. They are both friendly, overly so, to strangers, and have shown no side effects. I would not put such a design in my house, but outside it allows the dogs, especially the terrier, to run around and pretend he is hunting the birds that fly away.

April 09 2013 at 5:12 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Marilyn

I have had several dogs trained on an invisible fence. If you are unable to train your dog properly, Invisible Fence will train them for you for a fee. My dogs learned in a couple of days where the boundary lines are. A signal goes off a couple feet before they get shocked and they have made their boundary a couple of feet before the signal, so other than the first couple of days training them, they have never gotten shocked again. It is a wonderful tool. I think the majority of dogs benefit greatly from having an invisible fence. If your dog is more difficult to train, pay to have the Invisible Fence experts train for you. It is at a low cost, and they guarantee results. None of the 7 dogs I have had trained on invisible fence have ever suffered behavior problems nor has anyone who I know had a dog suffer behavior problems because of the fence.

April 09 2013 at 3:28 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

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