Problems with invisible fences

Keeping your dog in the yard without sacrificing the view with a fence sounds like a win! The face value looks good. There are several problems with invisible fences and there’s very solid reasons behind why most trainers don’t recommend them. 

What is an invisible fence?

An invisible fence is an electric dog fence. The wiring is buried underground and forms a perimeter of where you want to keep the dog in. The dog is punished via electrical stimulation if they get too close to the perimeter or cross it. There is no physically visible fencing at all. 

What this is like for your dog

Let’s look through the dog’s eyes for a minute. You as a well-meaning owner have just paid a pretty penny for an underground fence, and it’s been installed and is ready to go. Your dog has no clue about it except that now they wear a collar with a receiver on it and that in the days prior there were some strangers doing things in the yard. Today is day one. 

Your dog goes out into the yard as always. He wants to investigate what the strangers were doing again, wants to sniff where they worked as this is a new smell to the yard and worth revisiting. There may even be little flags stuck in the grass to mark the fence location, these are also very interesting; they move and are new fixtures.

Your dog approaches with curiosity and has zero clue that he is about to be punished severely for a completely normal behavior that he has enacted in his own yard every day in complete safety. 

He gets too close to the perimeter. The receiver beeps to as the dog enters the space close to the fence. Your dog may react with curiosity or by being mildly startled, or even not at all at the new noise. It has zero relevance to him. He has no warning for what is going to happen when he takes his next step. Out of nowhere the collar shocks him. There is no source, nothing to tell him where or why this happened, just a painful shock, and attack from an invisible assailant in a place that has always been safe before. No smell, no way to see it coming, just unexpected pain.

This is utterly terrifying

Let’s look at a second scenario. Your dog loves to chase wildlife. You love to watch the wildlife and so the compromise is the electric dog fence. Installation is the same, everything goes without a hitch. It is now day one and as luck would have it there are deer in the distance that you know your dog will try to chase. 

Your dog goes about his business in the yard and does his daily check for the deer. His anticipation is visible and he decides, like several times before, to try to catch one. He runs full force towards them. He doesn’t hear the collar beep. He crosses a perimeter he has zero idea exists and is slammed with the most painful feeling he has ever felt in his life. Totally unexpected, unwarranted, and terrifying. He’s forgotten about the deer and is now running away from an invisible, intangible thing that has just tried to kill him.

Maybe he hasn’t lost his mind completely to his fear and panic yet. Maybe he tries to come back. When he turns towards the yard that has been his sanctuary, and to the home he has always been safe in, seeking only comfort and escape, he is punished again for trying to cross the perimeter.

Most dogs do not make it back across the fence once they’re out. And why would they? You’ve just walked through invisible fire once, you’ve tried to go back to safety but have found the way closed to you. You don’t understand how this is happening or why, all you know is that now the world is different and you must contend with something dangerous and potentially life threatening that you don’t understand.

Invisible fencing for dogs is in no way humane

It is day two. You’ve managed to get your dog back home. Their system is still flooded with stress hormones from the day before. They are on edge, they can’t settle, and are uncomfortable. You let them into the yard. They don’t want to leave the doorway. They don’t want to go into the yard. If they do it is hesitant, unsteady steps, trying to watch, listen, and smell the thing that so viciously attacked them the day before. It is not safe outside.

Dogs deserve better than trauma

It is not ethical to subject a dog to this kind of “training”. The attitude of “he will learn” not only is false, but speaks to a level of disregard for the wellbeing of creatures under one’s care. The massive problem with invisible dog fences is that it’s punishing the dog for breaking a rule they were never told of, one they were never taught, and also one that they have pretty much no ability to figure out themselves.

The only way for ANYONE to figure out an electric fence is to repeatedly try to find the perimeter and where they are “safe”. This requires the dog to understand where the punishment came from and also understand the concept of a perimeter, which I guarantee you your dog doesn’t know. They just know that something extremely scary happened to them for no reason they can discern. Even worse it was completely imperceptible, no smell, no real warning, no way to see it coming, no way to know something horrific was about to happen. The yard is a nonlethal minefield for your dog.

Invisible fencing teaches nothing but fear

If it’s not something you would want to be subjected to, odds are that you shouldn’t be subjecting your dog to it. I can think of no one that would want to play a guessing game in their home of which items are safe to touch or interact with, or which ones will get them shocked. If you did play you would quickly see hesitation and anxiety go up in the person playing, totally involuntarily and even if they knew the rules of the game. Now take away the person’s knowledge of what’s happening, take away the rules, take away any indication of impending punishment, and you will get what the dog goes through. 

The problems with invisible fences linger

The fear and anxiety doesn’t go away once you stop using it. Just like us, after traumatic events a dog doesn’t just snap back to being happy go lucky. In my experience these fears are long lasting and usually not just confined to the yard with the fence, but follow the dog into all new environments.

Maybe the shock came when they were sniffing a bush; they didn’t associate it with the invisible fence, how could they, all they know is sniffing that bush = massive punishment. For some dogs this means that they will think that all bushes in your yard or in the world now have the potential to attack them. This kind of association is very common with any sort of electrical corrective device, and is not limited to just invisible fences or sniffing bushes.

Is it worth the cost to your dog?

Most electric fences are the same cost that you would spend on a good trainer who uses humane methods. You can have a trauma free dog who doesn’t bolt out of your yard, who listens when you call them, without ever having to subject them to the stress of an electric fence. There are better ways to do things.