Invisible Fences – Why Do This To Our Animals?

Our training groups (both the Karen Pryor Academy and the International Association of Animal Behaviorists) strongly recommend AGAINST a fence or any equipment that shocks animals via a neck device or any other device they can’t escape. There is way too much risk of creating reactivity.

These “fences” are banned in many countries because of this.  In an article published in the Journal of Applied Animal Welfare Science, Richard Polsky asks and answers the question:  Can Aggression in Dogs Be Elicited Through the Use of Electronic Pet Containment Systems?

All dog carers who are considering an electronic fence should read this published article in order to understand the potential side effects:

Can Aggression in Dogs Be Elicited Through the Use of Electronic Pet Containment Systems?

Old Fashioned Fences – Inspirations

Fencing can be beautiful, be a haven for wildlife, and keep our dogs from ever experiencing electric shocks and the ensuing fear.  Enjoy the slideshow of images we’ve collected for you – and feel welcome to contact us anytime as designing dog fencing in the Adirondacks is a passion of ours!

Wooden upright slats form a wilderness gate.
A hedge with woven wire hidden inside can be a beautiful fence - and keeps your dog from seeing and reacting to passing traffic.
A simple white picket fence is a classy option.
A more Adirondack style picket fence is an option for your dog!
A split rail fence (with woven wire added) is another option.
A Scandinavian fence (with woven wire added) is another option that fits in well to the Adirondack environment.
A living fence with native shrubs provides privacy for your dog as well as food and habitat for local Adirondack critters.
A living fence created with native vines.
A rustic design for fencing in the Adirondacks.
Mixing fencing with flowering shrubs is a beautiful option for your yard & garden.
A simple woven wire fencing with some landscaping works well for backyards.
Here is Kinna and Gene's former backyard in Keene Valley - a simple design costing less than $200 in materials.
Mountain Hooves & Paws training center fencing installed by Gene and Kinna.
Having fun with gate design!

The Industry – What They Recommend We Do To Our Dogs

In the above article, Richard Polsky describes exactly what the goal of the collar in a pet containment system is:

…the purpose of the receive collar is to deliver a painful electrical shock to a dog.

Why support an industry who recommends this for our animals?  As you’ll read below, not only do they believe we should deliver a painful shock to our dogs outside, but they’ve developed an indoors system to use shock on our dogs too.

We are including a quote from another must-read article for anyone considering installing an invisible fence for their dogs.  Eileen Anderson (a dog behavior author) explains what should be in the instruction manual for every invisible fence.  She begins with a rewritten version describing the actual process involved with hidden electronic fences (and eliminates the advertising language) :

  • The “Famous Brand” electronic fence system uses a shock collar connected to a radio transmitter with the goal of keeping your dog inside a chosen area. Electric shock has been used in laboratory experiments for decades for behavioral studies to put animals in a state of stress or fear and is also linked to increased aggression.
  • Plug in the transmitter in your house. The transmitter emits a 17.5 kHz radio signal. Your pet wears a shock collar that will be triggered by a change in the signal. The collar must be fastened tightly on the dog’s neck so that the probes will poke through the dog’s fur and press firmly into his skin. Even when not generating a shock, the collar is likely to be quite uncomfortable. [This is the same type of shock collar as used in other situations with adversive training methods.]
  • While the collar is receiving the standard signal your dog is safe from shock. When he approaches the boundary of the signal area he receives a warning beep. If your dog does not return, or goes through the boundary, he receives a shock to his neck that can range from a tingle to very painful, depending on the setting you choose. [No matter what, there will be an anxiety/fear emotional response in your dog – the manufactures count on this for their product to work.]  The instructions describe how you will test the shock on your dog when you adjust the settings, but there is no objective way to tell exactly how much it will hurt him, or whether it will effectively stop him at the barrier when he is excited. [The collar does not deliver “static” as they advertise – the current comes from a battery and delivers voltage to your dog’s neck – it’s the type of shock you’d receive from wired electricity in your house.]
  • Also, if he triggers the shock by going through the boundary, he will end up outside the designated area and free to go where he wants. He will probably not cross the boundary again to return to the yard.
  • The instruction manual describes how to train your dog to stay inside the boundaries. However, the “Famous Brand” electronic fence system can not be guaranteed harmless or reliable, nor does it have any way to prevent other animals or people from entering your yard.

*Electric Fences – What You Need to Know by Eileen Anderson

* If you’re still considering an electric fence, please read this article.

If you visit the website of any invisible fence well known brand, you can instantly see how any claim of science behind the efficacy of the product immediately breaks down. One well known company says “the possibilities are endless” of using shock/pain/fear to solve behavior issues.  They have even brought the reality of shocking animals inside the house in order to:

  1. Keep them off of furniture,
  2. Out of trash cans,
  3. Out of certain rooms in the house,
  4. Off certain rugs,
  5. And they even claim you can shock dogs and cats inside to happily keep them from interacting with each other

As positive trainers who represent a humane and ethical approach to working with animals, we unequivocally can not recommend supporting companies who would do this to our animal friends.

Anywhere you go in our training world, there are anecdotal reports of clients’ dogs who are stressed because of invisible fences.  This stress can take place within the households as well as outside of the households.  Here is the first paragraph of the article as well as the link to find out more:

A 10 week old terrier mix puppy that refuses to go outside. A year old hound that bites three visitors on their faces within a two week period. A 10 year old, happy-go-lucky Golden Retriever who mauls the mailperson. What do all of these dogs have in common? They were all contained within electric fencing systems…

Does Electric Fencing Condition Aggression?

Sadly, we now know to ask if a dog has been subjected to an invisible fence when we hear from new clients about dog reactivity issues – especially dogs who have bitten a human or who seem to be stressed in general about many things.  We recommend the owners replace the electric fencing with either a safe tether system or safe physical fencing.

Unfortunately, we have first hand experience on the emotional long term effects of shocking dogs.  We were just involved with a case where a dog was subjected to a shock collar and developed a biting behavior because of the intense reaction to the shock. He was trained positively with us for at least 8 months but never became safe. As a result, he was almost euthanized after 4 months of trying to find him a home.  It was traumatic for us (we were his advocates while he was at a shelter) as well as an awful experience for him (he would randomly bite people who handled him when he was excited/adrenalized). Fortunately, four days before his euthanization, someone stepped forward to adopt him who could offer a farm experience with very limited exposure to humans.

So, this is why we’re being so blunt. The emotional trauma experienced by dogs is real and can be difficult to undo.

We highly recommend a simple woven wire fence and to make sure it doesn’t run along the road. In other words, having a fenced in area out of sight of the road and potentially leading out a back door of the house is the most desirable.

There are no positive dog training professionals who recommend these types of “invisible fences.” The fence originated from an industry, not from science and behaviorists interested in humane treatment of animals. Therefore, they are sold without any warnings of the emotional side effects and actual cases of dogs turning aggressive.

We have seen, too, many multi dog households where the dogs are making associations with each other and the environment as the reason for the shocks.  The tension level is so high – because going outside is not a happy, carefree experience but rather one based on fear of being hurt (the shock will need to be painful and scary to “teach the dog a lesson” as they say – and it will only work in the future if the fear/pain level was so extreme they’ll avoid anything they think will cause it to happen again).  This fear of something they can’t see and visually process (it’s on their neck, not something they touched) is so hard to undo as dogs are such visual species and they trust us so much.  They have no understanding of why something that used to feel good and safe (ie: collars, being in the yard, seeing others in thier environment) is now suddenly painful.  Confidence levels of dogs where shocking them is used to “teach” are low.  Dogs will either internalize this stress or externalize it.

Here are some additional insights – you’ll be convinced that you won’t ever want to subject any dog to wearing a shock collar:

Electric Pet Fences: What You Need to Know

We’ll end this review with a quote from Karen Overall (courtesy of Eileen Anderson) about what freedom really should mean for our animals:

“Freedom” for your Dog?

The marketing materials of the electronic fence companies often feature photos and videos of dogs romping on huge, lush green lawns without a care in the world. They promise “freedom” for your dog, over and over again.  We (USA folks in particular) are practically wired to have a positive response to that word. But frankly, is a dog alone in a yard, with an automated electronic shock collar strapped tightly around its neck, really free?

It’s a myth that [electronic fences] provide dogs with more freedom. In fact, these devices violate three of five freedoms that define adequate welfare for animals:

• Freedom from pain, injury, and disease
• Freedom to express normal behavior
• Freedom from fear and distress
–Karen Overall, Manual of Clinical Behavioral Medicine for Dogs and Cats, 2013

And, for reference, here are the five freedoms.  These were developed in the 1960s with regard to humane treatment of agricultural animals and still referred to as the gold standard for keeping both companion and agricultural animals today:

  • Freedom from hunger and thirst
  • Freedom from discomfort
  • Freedom from pain, injury, and disease
  • Freedom to express normal and natural behavior
  • Freedom from fear and distress

Again, sorry to be so blunt, but after experiencing the lasting effects first hand too many times, we are joining our training community fully on this issue!

~ Gene and Kinna as well as our inspirations of present and past, Laddie, Britta, Sessan, Shawnee, Tomte, and Twinkle