Electronic fences are a control device. That said, electronic fences can be a blessing or a curse – not only for the dog but for the human as well. An ‘electronic fence’ is a set of devices, usually underground wire and transmitters, that deliver a noise, shock or unpleasant spray via a collar to a dog approaching the boundary. The wire is buried a foot or so under the ground along a perimeter of 500-1000 feet and as the dog approaches it a signal is sent to the collar, activating the deterrent.
Electronic fences are expensive, but some Home Owners Association rules or city ordinances forbid regular fences leaving few options. Useful for those who want to avoid or can’t erect a regular front yard fence, it becomes even more desirable for those with no back yard fence at all.
The potential downsides, though, are many.
Sometimes viewed as a substitute for needed training, dogs require careful instruction in dealing correctly with an electronic fence. Shocks or disturbing noises aren’t automatically and instantaneously interpreted correctly by dogs. They have to be taught to associate the shock or noise with the limit of allowed movement.
Systems can be shorted, by lightning strikes (unusual) or by careless digging at the perimeter (less unusual). Flags mark the boundary after initial installation, but they’re intended to be removed after the dog has been trained. Sometimes, though, they’re left in place and get knocked down or dragged away by lawnmowers, kids and other causes. Once down their tips can point up and have the potential to produce a harmful puncture.
Particularly assertive or unintelligent dogs chasing ‘prey’ will sometimes barrel past the barrier, oblivious to the temporary shock. Being on the wrong side of the fence discourages voluntary returns home.
And, of course, many reasonably believe that electric shocks are a cruel or at best counter-productive way to solicit desired behavior from a friend and companion.
But, everything in life has risks that need to be weighed. Dogs confined solely indoors except when leashed don’t experience needed opportunities to run. In some locales, dog parks or other areas that make possible free running can be hard to find or far away. And running is a deep-seated need of almost all dog’s natures. Frustrate that need and you produce a maladjusted dog.
Fences of standard height can be forded by large dogs, but accidents can produce punctures from chain link and scrapes from wooden fence tops. Even when the initial wound is minor, dogs have a tendency to worsen them by biting and scratching, producing hot spots. That means a trip to the vet. Sometimes an electronic fence is actually safer in the end.
No ‘one-size-fits-all’ recommendation is likely to be satisfactory given the wide variety of living circumstances, breeds and individual dogs and training regimes. The best that can be said is to consider all the facts, not least of which are the physical and psychological health needs of the dog. Then make an informed choice.
Just be prepared to disable the fence if it proves to do more harm than good.