Electronic Pet Fences

Electronic Pet Fences: What You Need to Know

Electronic fences, e-fences, radio fences, Invisible Fences™, pet containment fences: they all amount to the same thing. A system where your dog wears a radio controlled electronic collar that shocks him whenever he crosses a certain perimeter, sometimes marked (at least at first) with little flags. If you are considering this kind of fence, there are some things you need to know that the people who market them won’t tell you. The fences and accompanying collars are marketed as safe, painless, and foolproof by the companies that make them and the stores and individuals who sell them. And they seem to offer a simple solution for situations where it’s hard or not allowed to put up a real fence. Unfortunately, invisible fences are not safe, they are not foolproof, and they are certainly not painless. But you don’t have to take my word for it. There’s plenty of evidence, and it’s not on the side of the salespeople. I’ve got no vested interest. But the fence companies and installers do.


It Sounds So Safe and Harmless!

Here is the product description for one of the well-known electronic fence setups, quoted here for purposes of critique. “The “Famous Brand” wireless fence pet containment system is a revolutionary concept that provides the safest, simplest form of pet containment ever. Plug in the transmitter somewhere inconspicuous in your home. The transmitter emits a 17.5 kHz radio signal around your home. Your pet wears a lightweight receiver collar that “listens” for the signal. While the collar is receiving the signal your dog is free to run and play in your yard. When he approaches the boundary of the signal area he receives a warning beep. If your dog does not return he receives a static correction which is startling but not harmful. With a little simple training your dog will quickly learn his boundaries. The training of your pet is a key element with the “Famous Brand” wireless fence. Follow the easy instruction and training manual that is included.” I hesitate to reproduce this here because it is quite effective persuasive writing. With words and phrases like, “safest,” “simplest,” “inconspicuous,” “lightweight”, ”free to run and play,” “static correction,” “not harmful,” “simple training,” and “easy instruction,” it paints a picture of something benign, humane, and easy to use, that works consistently. Here is a rewritten version, omitting the warm and fuzzy language and using complete descriptions of the processes involved. “The “Famous Brand” electronic fence system uses a shock collar connected to a radio transmitter with the goal of keeping your dog inside a chosen area. Electric shock has been used in laboratory experiments for decades for behavioral studies to put animals in a state of stress or fear and is also linked to increased aggression. Plug in the transmitter in your house. The transmitter emits a 17.5 kHz radio signal. Your pet wears a shock collar that will be triggered by a change in the signal. The collar must be fastened tightly on the dog’s neck so that the probes will poke through the dog’s fur and press firmly into his skin. Even when not generating a shock, the collar is likely to be quite uncomfortable. While the collar is receiving the standard signal your dog is safe from shock. When he approaches the boundary of the signal area he receives a warning beep. If your dog does not return, or goes through the boundary, he receives a shock to his neck that can range from a tingle to very painful, depending on the setting you choose. The instructions describe how you will test the shock on your dog when you adjust the settings, but there is no objective way to tell exactly how much it will hurt him, or whether it will effectively stop him at the barrier when he is excited. Also, if he triggers the shock by going through the boundary, he will end up outside the designated area and free to go where he wants. He will probably not cross the boundary again to return to the yard. The instruction manual describes how to train your dog to stay inside the boundaries. However, the “Famous Brand” electronic fence system can not be guaranteed harmless or reliable, nor does it have any way to prevent other animals or people from entering your yard. That sounds like a different product, doesn’t it?


About Electric Shock

In order to make an informed decision about using an electronic fence, you need to understand a bit about the effects of electric shock on animals. The shock collar and e-fence industries go to great lengths to make the shocks induced by collars seem benign, calling them “stims,” “taps,” “sensations,” or “pressure” but they are inarguably electric shocks. In experimental psychology and animal behavior studies, electric shock is the standard laboratory method to scare or hurt an animal and put it into a state of stress. Shocks are sudden, painful, and usually unlike anything the animal has ever felt before. There are studies of dogs trained with shock collars, including with trainers experienced with the method, that show longterm negative behavior changes centering on fear and stress. The shocking mechanism of collars for electronic fences is the same as that of other shock collars. The two most recent studies of shock collars showed that shock collars are detrimental to dogs’ welfare. This article summarizes the findings of the recent studies along with some previous ones, and also has links to the studies themselves: The End for Shock Collars? Shock collars used for electronic pet fences can likely cause all of the problems referenced by the studies. In addition, there is often no human supervising the dog. (That’s a major reason for having a fence.) That absence increases the chance of the dog associating the shock with events in the environment and causing the problems delineated above, and means that there is no one to help if the collar malfunctions. There is one study specifically addressing electronic fencing systems: Can Aggression in Dogs Be Elicited Through the Use of Electronic Pet Containment Systems?
The answer to the question posed in the title is that is sure looks that way. Dr. Polsky is appropriately conservative about making broad generalizations but his data are strongly indicative of problems. He analyzes five cases of dog-to-human aggression specifically associated with being shocked by an electronic fence and charts the situations and specific behavior of the dogs. He cites previous research that has shown that shock-induced aggression is typically intense and vicious, with repeated bites. (It should tell us something that shock is also used in laboratories to induce aggressive behavior in animals.) In addition, aggression induced by shock tends to be without the warning signals that dogs usually give when prompted to aggression by external events, and this was borne out by the dog attacks associated with e-fences. Dr. Polsky’s final statement is as follows:
…manufacturers need to acknowledge the risks involved and make consumers aware that the systems are not foolproof and that some dogs could attack a person as a result of having received electric shock.

Following are some of the problems that can easily befall dogs whom people try to contain with an electronic fence.

Problem #1: Your Dog Is Not Safe
An electronic fence may keep your dog in but it can’t keep anything else out. Electronic fences leave your dog unprotected from humans, animals, or anything else that comes by your house or into your yard. The electronic fence offers your dog zero protection over being teased, harassed, or stolen by humans, attacked by other animals, or ingesting or interacting with anything inappropriate that someone tosses into your yard. The boundary of your yard may not even be clear to passers-by. Unlike with a physical fence, there is absolutely nothing between your dog and the rest of the world. Even if you have the biggest, most imposing dog in the world, it is still vulnerable to harm in this situation. That’s a deal breaker right there, before we even get to the harm of the actual shock.

Problem #2: The Shock Can Easily Be Associated with the Wrong Thing

Sign advertising the brand of an electronic fence
Dogs (and humans) learn by association. We see this all the time. Dogs pay attention to what things might predict other things. You are getting out the clippers means they’re about to get their toenails clipped. Your picking up the leash means they are probably about to go for a walk. They develop emotional responses accordingly. This means that your dog can very easily come to fear and/or aggress towards people and other dogs due to the fence and collar, because if he sees anything that excites him and causes him to run across the boundary, either to flee or aggress, he will get shocked. If that pattern gets repeated just a few times: see mail carrier, get shocked, the appearance of the mail carrier will be associated with bad things happening. There is also the possibility that if you have more than one dog enclosed in such a way, they may become aggressive to each other as a result of receiving shocks. This could happen because of association, if a dog comes to associate the shock to proximity to its yard mate. Or it also could be simple redirection, where an animal aggresses towards something present and convenient if it can’t reach the thing that is scaring or bothering it. Even if you have set up a visible boundary for your dog and followed the training instructions for the electronic fence, that training can never be guaranteed to “stick” during every possible situation. While your dog is calm and just hanging out, he may well stay within the perimeter to avoid being shocked. But if something catches his interest and gets him excited, he may well forget about the perimeter entirely or not notice the warning sounds. This is a terrible thing to happen to a dog who is already afraid. For instance, he fears the UPS truck. When it comes he tries to run away, crosses the perimeter, and gets shocked. Now the UPS truck is even scarier because it has come to predict sudden sharp pain. Equally tragic is what can happen to a friendly dog. Let’s say you have a retriever mix who loves kids. He gets really excited whenever he sees them. Here come some kids. Maybe they are even carrying a ball. Your dog rushes forward to greet them, hits the perimeter, and gets shocked. That doesn’t have to happen many times before your dog comes to associate kids with being hurt. You may have lost your dog’s friendliness forever, and he may become aggressive. You will have no power over what your dog associates with the shock. Electronic fence collars are automated electronic devices and do not care why the dog is approaching the boundary. The dog will get shocked no matter what. Bad experiences like this increase the likelihood of the dog developing fears and even aggression.
Problem #3: Your Dog Can Still Get Out: Then What Happens?

What is the situation after the dog runs through the perimeter and gets shocked? He’s outside the fence, in the presence of whatever triggered him to dash through the perimeter, and he has just received a painful and startling shock. Unless you are right there to take action (and if you were always there, you wouldn’t need the fence) one of the following things will likely happen.
1. Your dog will keep running and get lost;
2. Your dog will attack the thing that was associated with the shock (leashed dog, kid with ball); or
3. If your dog hasn’t been poisoned towards kids yet, maybe the friendly kid will try to lead him back to your house. And make him cross the perimeter and get shocked again while he is walking with the kid, who may even be touching his collar. What do you think your dog will do then?
Veterinary behaviorist Dr. Karen Overall reports that there are cases of humans being bitten when they pulled dogs over the boundary of an electronic fence. [Manual of Clinical Behavioral Medicine for Dogs and Cats, 2013, p. 108-109] The thing you would hope for, that the dog would wait calmly just outside the perimeter, waiting for you to get home and turn the fence off or remove his collar, is not likely to happen. You got the fence because you didn’t figure the dog would stay in the yard in the first place. Once the dog is outside the perimeter, you are pretty much in trouble.

Problem #4: The Collar Can Malfunction or Be Set Incorrectly
Don’t forget that, as with any electronic device, the collars can fail. I know of at least once case of a dog who was under continuous shock because of a short in the collar. You can see a shock collar injury from an e-fence collar in one of the links below. There’s a more subtle problem as well. The methods that the instructions describe to decide the setting for the individual dog depend entirely on the dog’s response to the shock. In general, you are instructed to experiment on your dog, starting with a very low setting and raising it until you see a reaction. Unfortunately, a response from the dog is not an accurate way to calibrate how much pain they are experiencing. We all know dogs who are very stoic about pain (as well as some who appear to be very sensitive). And the dials of many shock collars do not have equal gradations, so, for instance, the difference between 3 and 4 can be the difference between annoying and terrifying. So it is guesswork. Guesswork with your dog’s life and wellbeing at stake. In addition, the pain experienced by any dog can vary with changes in the environment. The humidity and even your dog getting a haircut can change how well the prongs in the collar conduct electricity into his body.

Problem #5: You Could Be Liableelectronic pet fence
If the first four reasons didn’t convince you, consider this. If someone comes legitimately onto your property and your dog harms them, you could be held liable. As discussed in Problem #1, e-fences provide no safety to your dog. They also provide no safety to others from your dog. Your dog already may have an increased propensity for aggression due to previous shocks. As described in Problem #2, he can come to associate the warning signal with scary things in the environment, again because of previous shocks. So what happens when the utility man comes onto your property? In most communities there are provisions for delivery people, mail carriers, utility workers, and meter readers to legally enter your property. They are not trespassing. They probably can’t even see a boundary. So when someone comes on your property and startles your dog (already easily stressed and startled because of his history of being beeped at and shocked by the fence), what if he bites them? He can get right to them without danger of shock because there they are, right inside the boundary with him. Veterinary behaviorist Dr. Karen Overall reports that there are “numerous reports of human injury under exactly these circumstances.” [Manual of Clinical Behavioral Medicine for Dogs and Cats, 2013, p. 108-109] I am not a lawyer and don’t play one on TV, but it doesn’t take much legal knowledge to realize that in many communities you will be held liable. Your community will probably consider your dog, who is not subject to a physical restraint system like a fence or a tether, out of control. The utility man had a right to be on your property and expect safety. If you had had a physical fence, he would have had to ask you for entry, but why should he if he doesn’t even see a boundary? No electronic fence company, or individual who sells them, has any control over what comes into your dog’s environment. But you are responsible for what happens there.


Is it really ‘Freedom’ for your Dog?
The marketing materials of the electronic fence companies often feature photos and videos of dogs romping on huge, lush green lawns without a care in the world. They promise ‘freedom’ for your dog, over and over again. We are practically wired to have a positive response to that word. But frankly, is a dog alone in a yard, with an automated electronic shock collar strapped tightly around its neck, really free?
It’s a myth that electronic fences provide dogs with more freedom. In fact, these devices violate three of five freedoms that define adequate welfare for animals: • Freedom from pain, injury, and disease • Freedom to express normal behavior • Freedom from fear and distress–Karen Overall, Manual of Clinical Behavioral Medicine for Dogs and Cats, 2013
I know that many, many people who install electronic containment fences have their dogs’ best interests in mind. The salespeople have told them the collars don’t really hurt the dog. They may figure in any case that a little “tap” once in a while is worth it for their dog’s safety. I hope that this article will help shed some light on the truth about electronic fencing.

How to Keep Your Dog Safe This Holiday Season

Five things to keep your dog safe during the holidaysCharlotte Dog Training

  1. Train, don’t complain. Dogs rely on us to teach them acceptable behaviors. Jumping up, stealing food, barking, and digging are normal dog behaviors. Unfortunately for dogs, they are also behaviors few people find enjoyable. The arrival of holiday houseguests often introduces ample opportunities for dogs to engage in unwanted activities. Even trained dogs can benefit from brushing up on basic skills. Help remind your dog what’s expected of him by practicing and rewarding desired behaviors on a daily basis. Basic obedience can help keep your pet safe and happy.
  2. Use the magic of management. In a perfect world our dogs would behave beautifully under any circumstances. When we live in the real world, management tools are a wonderful way to help create and maintain calm under challenging conditions. For example, if your dog is an avid counter-surfer, consider baby-gating him out of the kitchen when preparing the five-course feast. Baby gates, crates, tethers, and x-pens are all useful tools to help ensure correct behavior even when around high-level distractions.
    Whenever possible, give your dog something to do rather than letting him become unemployed and seek out trouble. Complex food delivery puzzles (Buster Cube, Kibble Nibble, Kong, etc.) are wonderful ways to keep dogs happily entertained. A secret stash of his favorite chew bones will also be helpful.
  3. Respect each other. Avoid forcing your dog on non-dog people, and don’t let guests force themselves on your dog. You may generally live by the motto of “Love me, love my dog,” but a holiday party is not the best time to prove your point

Likewise, your second cousin might think it’s adorable when Little Johnny tries to ride your dog like a rodeo cowboy. Don’t be afraid to step in and toddler-wrangle. Set clear ground rules for  how your dog is to be treated and if necessary, politely remove your dog from the situation if guests are unable or unwilling to follow them. Watch your dog closely for signs that he’s  uncomfortable, such as yawning, lip-licking, turning away, or actively trying to get away from the situation.

If you know your dog has fear or aggression issues, do everyone a favor and help guarantee success by completely avoiding interactions that can trigger unwanted or unsafe behavior. It’s  better to safely confine a dog away from the party than to risk a bite and undermine training progress.

  1. Decorations or disasters? Be mindful of holiday decorations. Strings of lights, breakable ornaments, poisonous plants, and glowing candles can attract curious canines. Management and supervision is a must during the holidays.
  2. Leave the leftovers. Rich, fatty foods can cause stomach problems ranging from simple upset to pancreatitis – inflammation of the pancreas resulting in pain, vomiting, and dehydration. Dogs with this serious condition often require hospitalization for treatment. Ask that guests refrain from feeding table scraps and be sure to dog-proof your garbage. Be especially mindful of cooked bones.Keep your local emergency vet’s phone number handy, along with driving directions if you’re not familiar with its location.Holiday festivities can become hectic.
  3. Don’t forget to relax and spend quality time with your dog!

Teaching Your Dog Emergency Downs!

I wanted to share a quick story:
I came home the other day from a ‘Chuck-It and Frisbee- Play’ with my 4 yr old Border Collie. I pulled up into my driveway, parked, got out and went around the back, opened the tailgate and told him to ‘WAIT’. He diligently followed my orders. He did not have a leash on him while he was in the car (I always take them off in case they can get tangled). I then gave him his Release command ‘That’ll Do’ and that is what he did, he jumped out of the car while I grabbed the leash. First he ran in the direction of my front door but suddenly made a beeline towards the street.
I immediately knew that there was something there he didn’t like as he was barking as he was running. I’m sure my heart probably skipped a couple of beats!
Border Collie Dog Training
I immediately yelled ‘DOWN!’ and he lied down right at the edge of my property! I ran over to him and put his leash on, realizing at that point that there was a dog tied up in the front of the house across the street. A dog that has charged Yukon twice in the past and that he is afraid of! I also realized that a few seconds after leashing my dog up, a car came flying by!
Ok, we as trainers are not always perfect. We are all just human and make mistakes. Should Yukon have been, as the law states, on the leash? Yes! Could this have been avoided? Yes! But again, I’m only human.
But: it was a PERFECT emergency down and kept him out of trouble and alive! I am so glad we practiced this a lot while playing in the front yard since he was a pup!!!
If you want to watch how I practiced it when he was still a puppy, please feel free to watch this video of Boundary Training (and more):

Should I Spay/Neuter my Dog and When?

As a dog trainer I get this questions all the time from my clients. I am not a veterinarian and can’t make any recommendations as it will depend on many factors, however, because of the health risks associated with it, especially when done in a young dog, it’s worthy of a discussion. I am not saying that dogs shouldn’t be spayed or neutered; that’s a personal decision best left to the pet owner. Like vaccines and most routine veterinary procedures however, vets spend a lot of time discussing why you should spay or neuter your dog, but spend very little time talking about why you shouldn’t. The goal of this article is to give you the information your vet doesn’t, so you can make the best possible decision for your dog.

Spaying A Dog - K9-BootCamp









Abnormal Growth

At the heart of the matter is how spay/neuter affects the dog’s hormones. When a dog’s reproductive organs are surgically removed, the sex hormones they produce also disappear. The sex hormones are responsible for more than just sexual behaviors and one of their responsibilities is regulating growth.

Breeders can readily spot the difference between an intact dog and a neutered dog: neutered dogs have longer limbs, narrower heads and bodies, and they are lighter in bone. When the sex hormones are removed, the growth hormones are missing important regulatory input and the bones continue to grow longer than they ought to. Studies have proven this to be true (Salmeri et al, JAVMA 1991).

In each long bone there is a growth (epiphyseal) plate, which is a band of cartilage found near the joint. This growth plate lays down bone as a puppy develops and, as it builds bone, the bone becomes longer and the puppy gets larger and taller. Once maturity is reached, this growth plate turns into bone and the puppy’s full height is reached.

When dogs are sterilized before maturity, the closure of some but not all growth plates may be delayed and this would be especially true if a dog is sterilized when only some of his growth plates are closed.

The dog’s elbow and stifle joints are similarly designed. Above each joint is one bone, and below are two bones. One bone effectively sits on two. What would happen if one of those bones underneath the joint stopped growing before the other bone and they ended up being different lengths? It would be very much like building a house on a slope: the weight of the home wouldn’t be evenly distributed and there would be increased load at the lowermost corner of the house.

There is research that supports this. Whitehair et al (JAVMA Oct 1993), found that spayed and neutered dogs were twice as likely to suffer cranial cruciate ligament rupture

Chris Zinc DVM PhD DACVP explains, “…if the femur has achieved its genetically determined normal length at eight months when a dog gets spayed or neutered, but the tibia, which normally stops growing at 12 to 14 months of age continues to grow, then an abnormal angle may develop at the stifle. In addition, with the extra growth, the lower leg below the stifle likely becomes heavier (because it is longer), and may cause increased stresses on the cranial cruciate ligament.”

Additionally, sterilization can cause a loss of bone mass (Martin et al, Bone 1987), and obesity (Edney et al, Vet Rec Apr 1986). Both of these factors could lead to an increased risk of cranial cruciate ligament tear. Furthermore, spayed/neutered dogs are greater than three times more likely to suffer from patellar luxation (Vidoni et al, Wien Tierartztl Mschr 2005).

Hip Dysplasia

Dogs who are sterilized before the age of six months have a 70% increased risk of developing hip dysplasia. The authors of this study (Spain et al, JAVMA 2004), propose that “it is possible that the increase in bone length that results from early-age gonadectomy results in changes in joint conformation, which could lead to a diagnosis of hip dysplasia.”

There is more evidence that spay/neuter can increase the risk of hip dysplasia. Van Hagen et al (Am J Vet Res, Feb 2005), found that of the sample dogs diagnosed with hip dysplasia, those that were neutered six months prior to the diagnosis were nearly twice as likely to develop hip dysplasia.

Interestingly, a study by Dannuccia et al (Calcif Tissue Int, 1986), found that removing the ovaries of Beagles caused increased remodeling of the pelvic bone, which also suggests an increased risk of hip dysplasia with sterilization.


Although not technically a joint issue, osteosarcoma is a cancer of the bone. This bears mentioning because spayed and neutered dogs are twice as likely to develop this deadly disease (Ru et al, Vet J, Jul 1998).

In another study, male Rottweilers, a breed susceptible to osteosarcoma, were nearly four times more likely to develop osteosarcoma than intact dogs (Cooley et al, Cancer Epidemiol Biomarkers Prev, Nov 2002). In fact, Rottweilers spayed or neutered before one year of age had a 28.4%(males) and 25.1% (females) risk of developing osteosarcoma. Interestingly, the researchers concluded from their results that the longer the dogs were exposed to sex hormones, the lower their risk of osteosarcoma.

Playing Roulette

There are other related risks with spay/neuter, including an increased risk of many cancers, hypothyroidism, diabetes, urogenital disorders, cognitive impairment, obesity and adverse vaccine reactions – not to mention the risk associated with the surgery and the anesthetic. These risks should all be considered when it comes time to decide if spay/neuter is an option for your dog.

What does seem to be clear is that the risk of joint disease in particular is greatly exaggerated if the dog is sterilized before the growth plates close. It’s important to remember that the sex hormones do play a synergistic role in your dog’s growth and development and their removal will create imbalance in the body. Just what the fallout from this imbalance entails remains to be seen, as research into the effects of sterilization is in its infancy, even though hysterectomies on humans and spay/neuter on dogs has been accepted as a normal procedure for decades!

The age at which the growth plates close is entirely dependent on the dog and the breed. In general, the larger the dog, the later the growth plates will close. In giant breeds, this could be nearly two years of age.

Behavioral Development

I can’t help but think that altering dogs at such early age has an effect on how they cope, learn and communicate with other dogs. Removing organs that produce hormones necessary to develop from baby to adulthood will have an effect on behavior. With more an more early spay and neutering we are seeing an increase in behavior problems. Ranging from Fear to Aggression.


People who are involved in rescues and shelters may have a different view on this and they are certainly entitled to it. When considering if and when your dog should be spayed or neutered however, it’s important that you make the decision based on facts and try to steer clear of an emotional response that may affect the health and longevity of your dog. It’s really not for me – or your vet – to dictate what you should do with your dog.

Happily, there are alternatives to the complete removal of the sexual organs. Vets are starting to experiment with zinc injections to sterilize male dogs. This leaves about half of the circulating testosterone available to the body. Vasectomies and tubal ligations are also becoming more popular and they have the happy consequence of less interference with the sex hormones – and your dog gets to keep his reproductive organs right where nature intended them to be.

You have a choice in whether and when your dog is spayed or neutered and how important it is to you that his/her sexual organs and hormones remain in place. Once your dog is spayed or neutered, you can’t reverse your decision, so dig a little deeper and you just might find a solution that you and your dog can live with, happily and healthfully.