By Jodi Hartley

The saying is “fences make good neighbors,” but not all fences create the intended result, especially when it comes to our dogs. Unfortunately some dog parents live in residential developments that don’t allow physical fences or have large acreage that makes it financially difficult to fence in. In these types of situations, many dog owners will look at invisible fencing to keep their dog contained in the yard.

Invisible fencing seems like a win-win solution for people who can’t have physical fences. However, there are numerous drawbacks to consider before you make the leap.

Invisible fences may keep your dog in your yard, but it doesn’t keep other dogs, predators or people out.
Your dog may learn not to leave the yard, but an invisible fence provides zero deterrent to keep out other dogs, pets, wild animals and people. Other dogs can come into the yard and fight with your dog, other pets such as cats can enter the yard and be hurt or killed by your dog, and wild animals such as foxes or coyotes can easily access your dog. Stealing pets also has become a lucrative criminal activity, and anyone can come into your yard and steal your dog. Stolen dogs are often sold to other people, sold for medical research or used for dog fighting. Your dog also can be taunted or tormented by anyone coming by.

Invisible fencing relies on negative punishment for training instead of positive rewards.
Because the dog must experience pain from the shock of the collar to learn its boundaries, the dog may learn to associate that pain with something other than the invisible fence. A happy, social dog may turn fearful or aggressive after getting shocked over and over again when it runs to the boundary to greet another dog or person walking near the yard. The dog learns to associate other dogs and people with pain. This leads to pent-up frustration and aggression that can result in more barking, growling and lunging at the boundary and may become dangerous to visitors, delivery personnel and even family members. Neighbors, children or people who regularly walk near your home may also become fearful of your dog if he is lunging, barking and growling at them, and they see no physical barrier to the dog reaching them.

Dogs can become afraid of leaving the property or even the house.
In the initial training portion of the installation of an invisible fence, flags are posted around the yard to designate the boundary. The dog learns that when he approaches the flags, the warning signal goes off, and if he goes past that, he gets shocked. Once the dog has learned the boundary, most people remove the flags. Even if not removed by the owner, the flags typically aren’t made to withstand any length of time in the elements. Once those flags are gone and there is no longer any physical boundary for the dog to see, it becomes difficult for the dog to know where the boundary is. He may become afraid to even go out into the yard because he can’t determine the boundary. This can lead to him becoming afraid to leave the house at all. Dogs may begin eliminating indoors and being fearful of going on walks or in the car (for which you ALWAYS have to remember to remove the electronic collar).

Invisible fences don’t contain every dog.
Prey-driven and highly social dogs may very well risk the shock to go over the boundary to chase a squirrel or other animal or to visit with other dogs or people. The dog knows it will get shocked again if he goes back into the yard so he doesn’t. He is then left wondering around and could be hit by a car, picked up by animal control or taken in by someone else who may not try to reunite your dog with your family.

Access to the yard doesn’t mean your dog gets enough exercise
Most dogs don’t exercise themselves. In fact, most dogs will walk around their yard and sniff or lie down. They rely on you to take walks and play with them for exercise. Having an invisible fence allows dogs to freely enjoy their yard, but no type of fenced yard is a substitute for walks and play.

Some dogs may never experience any of these negative behaviors or situations, but he will be in the minority. Consider if you are willing to bet on your dog not developing issues caused by an invisible fence. Is it worth the many hours and expense of re-training your dog if he does develop behavioral problems, gets attacked or is stolen? A physical fence is always a better choice than an invisible fence. If it isn’t possible for your situation, the better choice is to always take your dog out on a leash or fence just a small portion of your yard that your dog can enjoy.