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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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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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8:17AM PST on Jan 27, 2015

Most dog trainers do not recommend invisible fences. Not only are they ineffective for many breeds but unless you’re going to put collars on every critter that exists in your neighborhood, an invisible fence does nothing about keeping other dogs, coyotes, and other predators OUT of your yard. Strays and/or feral animals can come in and do whatever damage they wish to your dog and he is pretty much helpless to get away.

A better option is an affordable dog-specific fencing system like Pet Playgrounds which offers REAL climb, dig, and chew protection for any breed.

11:24PM PST on Jan 13, 2015

whats wrong with a 'fence' fence?

5:33PM PDT on May 29, 2014

There are humane considerations before you decide to use an electric invisible fence. Dogs can't become fearful or even aggressive because they don't know who or what is causing them pain. However, something else to consider is how ineffective they are. Invisible electric fences typically work about 70% of the time. I've seen lots of our customers purchase an electric fence only to turn towards our non-electric dog fence kit because their dog can simply run through the fence. Not to mention that if you live in an area with coyotes you have made your dog a sitting duck.

A non-electric dog fence can stop diggers, climbers, and jumpers AND keep out other animals and is far more effective than an electric fence not to mention more humane. I urge you to visit before you choose an invisible wireless electric fence to try and keep your dog on your property.

10:39AM PDT on Sep 11, 2013

In addition to behavioral issues, there are other factors to consider. Invisible fences are meant to keep dogs in, but it does nothing to keep intruders out, including but not limited to other dogs, wildlife, and dog thieves. A coyote or aggressive dog can enter the yard and attack the resident dog. A rabbit could run through the yard and the dog could completely ignore the fence because it's in pursuit of the rabbit. And, worse of all, a stranger could steal the dog and re-sell it or use it as bait for dog-fighting. Plus, electric fences only work if they have power. I've heard of many cases where dogs have runaway and gotten lost because the power source failed. There have also been incidences where power surges have caused the dogs to receive a much stronger jolt than normal, sometimes with deadly consequence.

Instead of relying on an invisible fence, what happened to people actually walking their dogs for exercise, training their dogs to stay, and only leaving them out with supervision? Even with a traditional fence, I would never leave my dogs out without being there with them to play with them and make sure they are safe.

7:18PM PDT on Jun 24, 2013

well Lisa I respectfully disagree with you as a matter fact I could not disagree anymore after being in the business for 25 years I have come across many incidents is where a dog would have been left at the pound if it were not for fence like this giving a dog the freedom to run and play this exercise is great for dog and in many cases an older person may not be able to exercise the dog correctly freedom like this gives a dog a second chance and many many cases. while I agree with you that a fence like this could certainly damage your dog if you do not train correctly doing it correctly with proper training professional help and a positive reinforcement within a controlled training . I have thousands of customers thatwould disagree with you in fact their dogs would also disagree with you the freedom that a fence gives a dog is amazing

9:52AM PDT on Jun 12, 2013

also if they escape they are unable to reenter

7:12AM PDT on Jun 3, 2013

thanks for sharing

10:53AM PDT on May 28, 2013


4:52AM PDT on May 20, 2013

These fences should be illegal. Thanks 4 this great article---will be forwarding to a friend!

11:55PM PDT on May 8, 2013

I do NOT like 'Electric fences!' We have a 'Regular fence.'

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Disclaimer: The views expressed above are solely those of the author and may not reflect those of
Care2, Inc., its employees or advertisers.

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