By Rachele Baker, DVM – Question: Ali writes: Many of my friends with large gardens (backyards) have electric dog fences to prevent their dogs escaping. It’s the wire you bury in the ground and the dog wears a collar which delivers a shock if he goes too near. They are very popular here. My dog gets out all the time and it has been suggested that I get one to keep him in but I don’t like the sound of it. I know they aren’t always effective anyway. Some dogs will risk it to get out and have their fun – mine being one of them I feel!
What is a veterinarian’s view of this? Does the shock hurt the dog? Does it do any psychological damage? Is there a better alternative in your view? Are there any products that you recommend?
Answer: Ali, your dog getting out all the time could cause many problems. He could get hit by a car or suffer some other injury. He could eat toxic substances. He could cause damage to a neighbor’s property. How does your dog get out? Do you have a traditional fence that your dog is getting out of? Is he jumping over or digging under a fence? Does he bolt through an opened gate or the front door of your house?
I do not have any personal experience with invisible fences. I have usually lived in suburban areas in houses with backyards fenced with traditional fences. To find out what other veterinarians feelings were about invisible fences, their experiences with them, and their clients’ experiences with them, I did extensive research in an online veterinarian discussion forum called VIN (Veterinary Information Network).
Many veterinarians on the VIN discussion forums said that they used invisible fences on their properties for their own dogs and they loved their invisible fences. Many expressed high praise for the professionally installed brand Invisible Fence. Some veterinarians reported that they had heard complaints from their clients about some of the other brands.
Several of the veterinarians said they tried out the shock collars on themselves before using the shock collars on their dogs. One veterinarian said that she walked over the invisible fence with three shock collars in her hand. She described the shock she received as “not pleasant.” Another veterinarian said he tried the shock collar on himself before putting it on his dogs and although the sensation was not pleasant, it left no burn or blister. Neither of these veterinarians specified the level of shock that they caused themselves. Some computer collars (shock collars) only have one “correction” (shock) level. Better brands have multiple correction levels and, during the training of your dog to respect the invisible fence boundaries, the computer collars are set to the lowest possible level to achieve a response based on your dog’s size and temperament.
Several veterinarians on VIN said that the use of invisible fences has greatly decreased the number of dogs brought into their hospitals for trauma and injuries from being hit by cars. One veterinarian said that in the early 1970′s on some nights he would have three dogs hit by cars brought into his hospital in one evening. With people now using invisible fences, he now sees less than one dog that has been hit by a car in an entire month.
Some veterinarians on VIN had seen dogs with skin injuries including sores and puncture wounds from the prongs on the computer collars. This can occur if the computer collar is left on the dog 24/7 due to the pressure of the prongs on the dog’s skin. For this reason, the invisible fence companies advise that the computer collars should be removed at night.
One veterinarian on VIN wrote that there was a thunderstorm while she was at work one day and when she returned home, her dog was sitting on the porch jerking continuously. The computer collar or the unit had shorted and was shocking the dog repeatedly. It burned two holes in his neck and he was frightened of thunderstorms thereafter. About a year after that, one of her clients came into her hospital with his dog and reported that his dog had experienced the same thing.
Several veterinarians on VIN reported that some of their clients had issues with the computer collars generating random shocks. Another veterinarian said she had never heard anything negative from her clients that used Invisible Fence brand but that she had heard from some of her clients who had installed systems themselves that those clients had experienced issues with lightning strikes/fires and random shocks. Another veterinarian reported that her neighbors purchased a cheap brand and when it got hit by lightning it blew a hole in the back of their
house and started the house on fire.
Training a dog to respect backyard boundaries with a shock collar must take into account each dog’s unique temperament or psychological problems can result. Some dogs are very sensitive and it does not take much “correction” to get them to respect the boundaries. If the person training the dog to the invisible fence uses more correction than a dog requires, they may scare the dog so that the dog may be afraid to go into the yard or he may begin urinating or defecating on the patio or in the house instead of in the yard. Several veterinarians on VIN had seen these types of problems develop in dogs that had been trained to an invisible fence.
I watched the Invisible Fence Training Video to observe how training to the invisible fence boundaries was accomplished. Their training program takes approximately four weeks with practice sessions for ten to fifteen minutes two times a day. Training starts out with the computer collar only emitting a noise (no shock) when the dog approaches the boundaries. One ten to fifteen minute session in the training program is spent bringing the dog close enough to the boundaries with the shock collar that the dog receives a shock. One or two shocks may be enough to teach the dog to respect the invisible fence boundaries so the dog may never be shocked again throughout the training program or thereafter. Click on the photo below to view the Invisible Fence Training Video on YouTube:
There is concern that invisible fences can cause a dog to become aggressive. If a dog
runs towards the invisible fence boundary when he sees another dog or a person walking near his property and then gets shocked by the computer collar, the dog may then associate the shock with the dog or person on the other side of the invisible fence (or with a dog or person that is on his side of the invisible fence) and then attack that dog or person. Instances like this have occurred.
Alternatives to an invisible fence would include a traditional fence around your entire garden (backyard). This can be very expensive but is probably the best alternative. If you cannot afford to fence in your entire property with a traditional fence, you might consider fencing off a section of the yard as a dog run. Another alternative would be to install an overhead dog trolley between two trees or posts. I installed an overhead dog trolley for my dog some time ago when I lived in a house on an acre of land that was not fenced. The trolley worked very nicely for allowing her to go outside, go potty, and get a little exercise. I would not recommend leaving a dog unattended for long periods of time when they are using an overhead dog trolley.
If you already have a traditional fence and your dog is escaping, make sure to check your fence for loose boards or other damage. Remove any dog houses, woodpiles, or other tall objects near the fence if your dog is jumping over the fence. Make sure to extend fencing below ground if your dog is digging under the fence. If you have a gate on the fence that sometimes is left open, make sure to install a mechanism so that the gate shuts automatically.
If your dog is bolting out of your front door when the door is opened, you can work on training your dog to “sit” on command when the door is opened instead of running through the open door. Alternatively, you can make sure that your dog is shut in another room, put in his crate, or leashed before opening an exterior door.
I hope these suggestions help.