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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