Both lived in homes that had fenced yards. One was allowed appropriate access; the other, not so much. Both grew up to be very different dogs when it came to responding amid distraction and how they valued humans. The differences were probably due in part to their fenced yard access.
As I mentioned in that column, there is a Dog Three.
That dog lives on a property with an â€śunderground containment system,â€ť otherwise known as an invisible fence. In reality, this fence is based in the use of force, specifically, electrocution.
Many possible fates await Dog Three, none particularly desirable. Each depends on the nature and breed of the dog.
For some dogs, electric fences are hardly containing, offering a false sense of security for their people. Dog Three may, in fact, withstand the electrocution and be rewarded by having fun elsewhere.
Some dogs, especially those who are particularly large or prone to intensely pursue movement, cannot be reliably contained by an electric fence. That is true to such a degree that I wouldnâ€™t even consider an electric fence for a herding dog or even a big Lab. All bets are off when a squirrel runs past. The snow load we have here makes the fence an even less reliable containment system. And once the dog is out, what happens when she tries to re-enter?
Dogs are no dummies, either. I have heard of dogs that figure out when the battery is dying. To top that, Iâ€™ve also heard of dogs that learn how to drain the battery â€” by standing in the â€śbeep zoneâ€ť until it dies â€” and then exiting the yard.
Invisible fences also allow everything and anything to enter the yard, including other dogs, moose, porcupines … you name it.
So to recap: Some dogs can find their ways out of an invisible fence, and other critters can certainly get in one. In essence, there is no fence.
All of that also says nothing about the behavioral fallout that can result from the use of an electric fence. Thereâ€™s no knowing in advance whether your dog have one of the potential reactions. Because dogs learn by association â€” as well as by the consequences of their actions â€” one of the following could occur with Dog Three:
First, the dog may come to fear the yard as a whole. Electric shock is certainly forceful feedback, more traumatizing to some more than others. But there is no doubt, and Iâ€™ve seen it myself, that some dogs find the experience so unpleasant that they learn to fear the yard altogether. Inadvertently teaching a dog that her yard is unsafe is not humane.
Some dogs come to associate the beep that sounds before the shock with the shock itself so strongly that similar beeping sounds can undo them.
The second scenario: The dog may develop aggressive behavior along the perimeter of the fence line. Why? As he approaches every passer-by he is delivered a shock. How would you feel if you felt pain with every person you attempted to meet?
We see many dogs exhibiting aggressive behavior along the perimeter of the electric fence toward anything that passes, including cars, people, children on bikes, other dogs. What do you think will happen if that dog becomes so hyper-aroused that he breaks through the containment system? What happens if something or someone walks into the yard?
While there are many products and ways to train â€” and â€śretrainâ€ť â€” a dog to an electric fence, none are recommended.
And the fences can malfunction, which can result in horrific behavioral fallout and electrical burns. Although I have not heard of this with an electric fence collar, I have seen it with an electric bark collar. The emotional scars lasted the rest of the dogâ€™s life. Using electricity as a â€śtrainingâ€ť tool has been banned in areas of Europe, and for good reason.
Many loving and responsible dog owners are not aware of the possible behavioral repercussions of electric fences. Unfortunately, more and more homeowners associations are prohibiting the use of hard fences. And a hard fence is often more expensive to install.
A fenced yard is no substitute for regular exercise and interaction with a human. A large fenced yard is hardly necessary to own a dog, especially here in Teton County. With all the public land on which to exercise a dog here, fenced yards are not really as necessary as in other places.
Of course, electric fences are just the tip of the iceberg. There are many other permutations of using electrocution in the name of â€śtraining,â€ť a subject for another column. In short, just because we have access to a tool doesnâ€™t mean we should use it, especially when thereâ€™s potential to do our beloved dogs more harm than good.