“Invisible fences:” Pros, cons, worthwhile?

Most dogs enjoy hanging out outside and investigating their yard, barking at the birds/other dogs/FedEx truck/USPS truck/the wind, and laying in the sun.  You do, however, want your dog to stay at home in his own yard while he’s enjoying the outdoors.  The best method for keeping your dog safely contained is a functional fence, either a chain link or wooden fence that’s tall enough to dissuade your dog from challenging it, and sturdy enough to contain your dog if something should come by and challenge your dog’s authority in the neighborhood.

The fence also protects your dog from outside nuisances, like rowdy neighborhood kids with sling shots and pellet guns, and loose dogs wandering by on the street–a good fence will not only keep your babies safe at home, it will also protect your furkids from many different elements which you may not even have considered as threats.

Fencing can be expensive though, and there are some neighborhoods which don’t allow homeowners to install a functional fence in any part of their yard.  If you’re a dogparent or are planning to become a dogparent, it’s best to investigate your neighborhood’s zoning rules regarding fencing before buying a house there. Seriously, it’s quite the bummer if you can’t use your own yard in the way you’d like just because of the subdivision’s bylaws, and this may not have been something you’d considered before buying a house.  Learn from our experiences and check out the neighborhood’s zoning and bylaws before you buy!

Although your dog may love the Great Outdoors, you probably don’t want to hang out him every minute he spends outside.  You do still need to take measures to keep him safe and secure though, and that’s where a fence comes in.  And don’t even get me started on the “backyard dog chained to his dog house” situation–if you’re going to chain your dog outside, be aware that you’re putting your animal on the defensive by leaving him exposed to every other animal to come into HIS yard and challenge him, while forcing him to stay in one spot–he can’t even run away and hide from another aggressive dog who’s roaming loose!  Chains also restrict a dog’s movement and can cause injury to his back and neck.  Would YOU want to be chained to your desk at work, or to the sofa in your livingroom?  Didn’t think so.  Please don’t chain your animal!

Some dogs just naturally stay in their own yards, having no desire to ‘go walkabout’ or chase joggers or cars or other animals.  These petparents are fortunate indeed!  But I still wouldn’t trust furkids completely.  They ARE animals, after all, and as such they operate by a different set of motivators of which we are completely ignorant.

What about invisible fencing?  It’s invisible, so your yard looks the same as it did before installation, provides a barrier (of sorts) to keep your dog in your own yard, and doesn’t cost as much as traditional fencing.  The idea behind invisible fencing is that positive and negative reinforcement TRAINING keeps your dog inside the boundaries of your yard.  Essentially, the fence is as effective as your training was thorough.  Right after the fence is installed, and during the initial training period, you use flags as a visual marker to show your dog the boundaries within which he can roam.  When the dog approaches the boundaries while wearing the electric fence’s matching collar, he may receive a small warning shock, or hear a warning tone or click that tells him he’s getting too close to the boundary.  Showing your dog this warning zone, and rewarding his immediate return to the safe zone, reinforces his presence in the yard positively.

If he attempts to cross the boundary, he experiences a real, live shock that is intended to dissuade him from wanting to leave the yard.  I’ve seen some dogs who’ve learned to respect the invisible fence boundary completely, but I have some reservations about their effectiveness.

First of all, the boundary is only effective as long as your dog stays inside it.  If your dog manages to figure out that after enduring one big shock he can roam free, what’s really to keep him in?  Worse yet, if your dog DOES manage to bust out of the invisible fence, he’ll get a shock when he tries to come back IN to his own yard.  Negative reinforcement training for returning home!  FAIL.  This is kind of like laws intended to control illegal firearm possession and use:  ‘If guns are outlawed, only outlaws will have guns.’

Another problem I have with invisible fences is that (like a chain) they keep your dog in the yard, but they don’t prevent other animals from entering the yard and threatening (and possibly injuring) YOUR dog.  That would be kind of like handcuffing yourself to the kitchen sink faucet, while propping the front door open and letting any Tom, Dick or Harry wander in off the street.  Think about it:  You’d feel pretty vulnerable, chained to the faucet, while strangers rifled through your DVDs and sampled the contents of your refrigerator, wouldn’t you?  Think of how your dog might feel if all the loose dogs in the neighborhood could come into HIS yard, but he wasn’t allowed to run away and hide.  He might feel threatened, and forced to defend his territory, and being confined, he’d be at a disadvantage.

Invisible fences also don’t prevent people from stealing your dog.  Granted, regular fences don’t always prevent that either but a four-foot cyclone fence with a lock on the gate will certainly slow down a bait-dog-napper more than an invisible fence would do.  A privacy fence also offers your dog protection from rowdy neighborhood kids, and by blocking his view of the outside world a little bit, might keep your dog a tad bit quieter.

Regardless what type of fence you have or are planning to install, please don’t allow the fence to be a substitute for your presence.  I myself am guilty of just letting my dogs out the backdoor to hang out in the yard, when I should be spending time with them out there.  Whether it’s playing, exercising, training, or just enjoying the sun with your furkids, be with them when they’re outside–you’ll both be happier for it.

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