The electronic dog fencing debate continues

Eleven years ago, Linda Teasley and her husband wanted to give their two puppies – Goldendoodle Noodles and English Bulldog Sheba – access to their yard so the dogs could run and play. But to do this, they wanted to secure their half-acre property.

Having already suffered from their local association’s laborious design review process when planning to build an addition to their home in Northern Virginia, Teasley did not want to revisit the process of building a fence. “They make it really difficult if you do something that they don’t like,” she says.

Instead, the couple installed an electronic fence, a so-called containment system in which dogs wear collars that send electric shocks to their necks if they attempt to cross a buried wire.

Today, many pet owners in the United States are making the same choice, as a growing number of owner associations, as well as cities and counties, place restrictions on the types of fencing allowed – physical and electronics – and where they can be installed. built.

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Interestingly, there is a pretty fierce debate about the safety and effectiveness of these systems. Thousands of American pet owners swear by them, but many more would like to ban impact collars, which would end the use of electronic fencing. Shockproof collars are already illegal in a number of other countries, including Sweden, Switzerland, Germany and Wales, and some states in Australia.

Let’s take a look at how the system works.

Electronic containment systems can range from a DIY kit that costs a few hundred dollars to over $ 1,000 if you go with a full-service product that includes professional installation and dog training.

To begin with, the sensor wire is buried along the perimeter of the area in which the dog is to be contained. Then small flags are placed along this line so the dog can see the boundaries. Different techniques are used to teach the dog to stay in the yard, but basically for the first few days the shock function on the collar is not used. Instead, the dog hears a warning beep from the collar, and then the owner yells, dances, sings – whatever it takes for the dog to get off the line and come home for some delicious treats and praise. Essentially, the dog is trained to recall when he hears the beep.

Once the dog reliably retreats from the beep, a consequence for ignoring it is added: if it ignores the beep and crosses the wire, it will receive a shock. Ideally, the dog only needs to be shocked a few times before learning to respect the beep and back away. But, no matter how well the dog learns to stop when he hears the warning beep, for the system to be effective, the collar must be worn at all times when the dog is in the yard.

Sounds pretty straightforward, right? Well, let’s look behind the curtain.

Shock collars are an aversive tool, which means they use pain and / or fear to motivate the dog to stay in the yard.

Proponents describe the shock the dog feels as similar to the zap we feel when we touch a TV after stepping on a carpet. It is said that the dog is not injured, that the sensation is minimal. But the pain and fear thresholds are different for each animal, just like for each person.

So the question is not whether this sensation scares or hurts us, it is whether the shock scares or hurts the dog enough to prevent him from leaving the yard. This pain or fear must mean more to the dog than chasing squirrels or feral cats or kids playing soccer or any other thrilling adventure that lies beyond the invisible line. This is how aversive the shock must be.

Some dogs are motivated to stay put, some dogs are so afraid of shocks that they won’t go out into the yard at all, and some dogs don’t care a bit and hover over the shock.

Greyhounds tend to fall into the “hover over everyone” category, says Michael McCann, who has worked with Greyhound adoption and rescue groups for 25 years. “Greyhounds will hunt anything they see,” he says, “plastic bags, leaves, rabbits, just about anything.” And because greyhounds are fast – at a speed of 40 miles per hour – by the time they hear the shock collar warning beep, they’re likely to be on the other side of the limit before stopping. , if they do it at all.

The Teasleys ended up scrapping their electronic fence about two weeks after it was set up, as Sheba ran and hid upstairs when the collar was put on her and Noodles simply walked through the ‘fence’, ignoring the shocks. “I call it my madness,” said Teasley, music therapist. “I didn’t train them,” she says. “That was a big part of the problem.”

Beyond the system that doesn’t work, any time a dog experiences pain or is injured there is a risk of developing fallout behaviors, says Niki Tudge, Certified Dog Trainer and Behavior Consultant and President from the Pet Professional Guild.

“What is happening is that dogs start to generalize in pain to what they see and hear around them,” she says. “Then you end up with dogs that become reactive and aggressive towards children who cycle by or passers-by. “

For this reason, cities like Overland Park, Kansas state that electronic fences cannot be used in front yards and that they must be at least 10 feet from public driveways or neighboring property lines. Council Bluffs, Iowa, goes one step further. Not only can the system not be used in the front yard, the owner must be with the dog when the dog is outside.

Equally of concern is that electronic fences are not actually fences. No physical barrier will secure a dog within the perimeter or prevent other animals or people from entering. “Generally speaking, the electronic containment system is something that is an illusion of containment,” says Kenneth Phillips, a dog bite lawyer.

In fact, “electronic containment systems are not generally considered to be a type of boundary fence as required by ordinances in various cities and counties across the country,” Phillips said. Municipalities that include information about electronic fences generally state that they cannot be used for a dog with a history of aggression.

Not having a physical fence in place can be dangerous, not only to passing people and animals, but also to the dog in the yard.

In December 2015, McCann, who has led numerous Greyhound search and rescue missions, received a call from his vet to help him find Dimitri, his 15-year-old Terrier mix. Dimitri was in his yard with his two siblings when a coyote entered the yard and dragged him. McCann grabbed his infrared camera and went looking for Dimitri; after more than an hour, the search team found the severely injured little black puppy a few hundred yards from his home. He died two days later.

More recently, in April of this year, a man in Anchorage, Alaska, shot dead a seven-year-old chocolate Labrador Retriever named Skhoop, also “contained” by an electronic fence. Jason Mellerstig had just moved into the neighborhood and told police he felt threatened by the dog, who was roaming free in his yard.

“My dog ​​was in a radio collar fence,” Skhoop owner Dave Brailey told Anchorage reporter Craig Medred. “The dog does not come out of the yard. If she walks out of the yard, she is shocked. She knows exactly where the line of the shock collar is. It worked like clockwork. She was like a little queen. She would sit in the front yard and would just be happy.

Given such accounts, as well as the fundamental question of whether it is still okay to use pain or fear to train a dog, it’s no surprise that collars are banned in other countries. While groups, including the Pet Professional Guild, push to ban shock collars in the United States, some rescue organizations, including greyhound groups, will not adopt any dogs from a home that uses an electronic fence.

Jody Karow offers a unique perspective on the debate. From 2007 to 2011, before becoming a certified dog trainer, she was a salesperson and then sales manager for Invisible Fence in Minnesota. Now surrounded by the voices of the powerless training movement, she has heard countless arguments against the use of shock collars for containment.

“What makes my perspective so different is that I have sat down with people in their homes and listened to thousands of stories,” she says. “I can’t shake these stories no matter how much knowledge I have. “

A customer who had to do an installation had to cancel because his dog was tied up and running after an animal. When the dog’s leash tightened, the collar sank into his throat so hard it collapsed his windpipe, and he died. “I’d rather see a dog on Invisible Fence than a bond any day,” Karow explains.

So it seems that, as is the norm, there is no absolute black or white to this question.

The Humane Society of the United States adds another layer of gray to the equation.

“We definitely want people to be aware of the pros, cons, and security concerns of electronic fences,” says Cory Smith, director of pet policy and protection, “but ultimately, if a fence electronics is what is going to allow someone to keep their pet by eliminating some kind of problem, so we want them to do that.

Val Moranto and her husband are in the pro-electronic fence camp. “We love it,” she said. “It saved our puppies from running on the country road where cars go by at full speed.” Dogs are afraid of shocks, she says, but it has kept them safe on the property.

“We don’t want a physical fence around the yard. We bought in an open country setting so as not to be fenced in, ”explains Moranto. For this couple, the electronic fence was the preferred choice. “I feel like it’s both selfish and altruistic, if that makes sense.”

Well said. It does.

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