Posted by on July 23, 2015

Invisible Fences – What You Can’t See

This is a true account of a pet owner who installed an invisible fence.   The lessons she learned at home were later reinforced in her class work and practical experience as a professional dog trainer.

When we first moved to our new home, we were thrilled by the open space and beautiful views, but we faced a dilemma with our Bernese Mountain Dog: our open acreage would not safely contain our pet.

Looking Good…

An invisible (electric) fence seemed like a great solution. This system keeps a dog within a set of predefined boundaries without a physical barrier. The dog wears an electronic collar which delivers a mild electronic shock if the dog ignores its warning signal.  It was more affordable and less of an eyesore than other types of fences and relatively easy to install.  In most cases, dogs quickly learn to stay within the boundaries to avoid the shock. Once properly trained in its use, our dog could go outside and roam the property without constant supervision, so we thought.


What a Shock…

Although the shock delivered had to be fairly painful in order to deter the dog from venturing across our boundaries, we felt the Bernese would easily adapt. We quickly installed the fence, put the collar on our dog and went outside to test the system. After the first shock, our dog became confused and frightened and could not determine where to go.  This caused him to get caught in a loop and he shocked himself repeatedly until he jumped up in the air and did a complete 360 just to stop the sensation.  We immediately turned off the fence but the poor dog’s heart was racing.  Totally traumatized, he retreated to our porch and wouldn’t leave for more than 2 weeks.  Needless to say, our affordable investment turned into a total waste of money.   Since then we have never again and never will turn on the invisible fence.

Weigh the Options…

When considering containment systems for your pet, keep in mind that an electric fence doesn’t guarantee that your dog will stay safely in your yard.  If his motivation to cross the fence line is high enough, he can still get out.  Also, an electric fence is a form of punishment.  Punishment as a training technique can lead to some unfortunate and dangerous associations. A dog restrained by an electric fence may learn to associate the shock (the punishment) with something completely unrelated to the fence. For instance, if the dog runs up to the boundary to greet another dog and is shocked, he may associate the other dog with his pain. Even a friendly dog can become agitated, fearful or even aggressive when a stimulus is consistently associated with pain or a threat.

The invisible fence offers full sight of other dogs or people as they approach, but prevents the restrained dog from greeting them. This can lead to barrier frustration. As the dog’s frustration increases, the chance for aggression or fear-based behavior also increases.


Changing Our Behaviors…

Although the invisible fence was more cost-efficient and convenient, we felt strongly that it was wrong to use shock to train our dog, and we weren’t willing to take the risk of harming him physically or emotionally. We opted instead to forgo fencing and committed to never allowing our dog outside when we weren’t with him.  We taught him recall commands and used a long line for potty breaks. These techniques have been well worth it to guarantee our dog’s safety and emotional health as well as to ensure we all have time for bonding and play.

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