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Dangers of Invisible Fences for Dogs

Dangers of Invisible Fences for Dogs

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.

She’s also a dog who requires, and is receiving,  a great deal of exercise. The other day, my sister mentioned that they were considering installing 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 can 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.

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.

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

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Read more: Animal Rights, Behavior & Communication, Dogs, Everyday Pet Care, Pets, Safety, , , , , , ,

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Lisa Spector

Lisa Spector is a concert pianist, Juilliard graduate, and canine music expert. She is co-founder of Through a Dog's Ear, the first music clinically demonstrated to calm the canine nervous system. Their new high-tech pet gadget, iCalmDog, is the portable solution to canine anxiety. Lisa shares her home and her heart with her two "career change" Labrador Retrievers from Guide Dogs for the Blind, Sanchez and Gina. Follow Lisa's blog here.


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11:31PM PDT on Sep 7, 2015


11:30PM PDT on Sep 7, 2015


7:30AM PDT on Sep 6, 2015

I don't like any sort of electrical shock; I prefer clicker training, or positive reinforcement. I think underground fences offer a false sense of safety, and a quick fix that is deceptive. Any dog can become excited and run through the electronic barrier, without thinking, then be afraid to return across the barrier to his yard and safety. This is known to be particularly true with big dogs. Electrical shock can create such a negative response that it overlaps into and affects other areas of behavior. Finally, given the prevalence of stranger abuse of animals, theft for resale, abuse of a dog as a means of recourse in a personal feud, it simply is not worth the risk. I have fences, though I watch my dogs; I walk my dogs. I'm responsible in every sense of the word for their well-being.

3:59PM PDT on Sep 4, 2015

This sounds like one of the worst ever dog training aids. Cruel, and an excuse for being idle. If you think you need one of these, regime your dog and get a pet you don't need to interact with, like a goldfish or a snake.

1:36PM PDT on Aug 31, 2015

I am deadly against electric shock methods for pets, in my case dogs. It is a lazy way of not training a dog, yes, it takes a fair amount of time, believe me it is worth it. If you cannot do it, do not have a pet. Training a dog well, spending a lot of quality time with them, they reward you with unconditional love and loyalty. It takes patience and time, but the benefits are huge. We have a 4 year old Rottweiler male and now a 5 month old female Dogue de Bordeaux (French Mastiff). A huge challenge, with patience and love they are getting along fine. This is a 60 Kg+ Rotti making friends with a 22 Kg puppy Mastiff puppy. The way the puppy is growing, she loves the Rotti and also my beard, she is so loving. Her name is Sylvia.

6:53PM PDT on Aug 29, 2015


8:07AM PDT on Aug 29, 2015

I don't like fences of any kind but I know they are necessary for the safety of the dog. Maybe it is because they cannot fathom being hurt by something invisible. I guess it is back to visible fences that they can jump or dig their way under!

4:44PM PDT on Aug 28, 2015

Good to know.

9:02AM PDT on Aug 27, 2015

Thank you for the very good information.

3:55AM PDT on Aug 27, 2015

Thanks for sharing though

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