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Are Electronic Fences Right for Your Dog?

By: Alex Lieber

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In the past few years electronic fences have come under debate over whether they are an effective, humane way to keep a dog within the yard. Proponents say that these fences, which emit a mild shock through a collar, teach dogs to stay within the yard. Opponents say the method is inhumane and simply does not work.

With most electronic fences, a wire is buried several inches deep in the perimeter of the yard set aside for your dog. Most perimeters run about 500 feet, which is the smallest package many electronic fence companies offer. Some offer packages with a minimum of 1,000 feet. Perimeters can be set up around other areas where you don't want your dog to go, like your garden for example.

Prices vary depending on the company and the package, but they can range from $500 to $1300. In the first few weeks of installing the system, stakes or flags mark the boundary. A transmitter in the garage or basement sends out a signal to a receiver-collar that is around your dog's neck. The collar beeps a warning as your dog approaches the boundary.

If he gets too close, a mild shock is delivered that causes some pain, although no physical harm is done. The owner says "No!" as the dog gets closer to the boundary to reinforce that your dog should stay within the perimeter. Dogs should be between 4 and 6 months of age and able to obey simple commands such as "sit" and "come." He should also be trained on the leash.

Are electronic fences right for your dog? Here are the pros and cons.

The Argument for Electronic Fences

The pain inflicted by the collar is mild and causes no injury. It can be set to different, yet safe, levels depending on the dog. A larger or more headstrong dog, for instance, may need a higher setting to keep him in the yard.

  • Some neighborhoods have restrictions on the types of physical fences that can be erected. An electronic fence is hidden or buried, except for flags or stakes that mark the boundary, and these are removed once the dog shows he understands he must stay within the perimeter.

  • In addition, many physical fences offer inadequate security. They are often too short – a golden retriever can leap over the standard 4-foot chain-link fence.

  • Careless people or children often leave gates partially or fully open, allowing the dog to escape. Some dogs even learn how to lift the U-shaped latch if it is not securely shut.

  • Dogs cannot dig under an electronic fence like they can with a physical barrier.

  • Perimeters can be set up around areas within the yard, such as gardens, pools, or even within the home. Your dog can learn to stay away from Christmas trees, for instance, using an electronic fence.

  • The collar and perimeter wire are water proof, and there is no danger of the dog being electrocuted during a lightning storm.

    The Arguments Against Electronic Fences

    Many people and some humane societies feel that attaching a pain-inducing collar is simply inhumane, even if the pain is mild, doesn't cause injury and is meant for a good purpose. However, on a practical level many feel electronic collars don't work.

  • Electronic fence companies stress that training is still vital to teach the dog not to cross the barrier. But willful dogs can still run past the barrier, in spite of the shock. Once they get past the barrier, there is nothing to get them to return.

  • Electronic fences don't stop other animals from entering the yard and attacking your pet.

  • For that matter, they don't stop people from going into the yard either. Your dog could be stolen or abused. Conversely, people, children especially, could be attacked by an aggressive dog. Manufacturers do not recommend the system for aggressive dogs.

  • Batteries run down, which means you have to make sure the system has backup batteries to keep the system operating.

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