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THE FALLOUT OF INVISIBLE FENCES


I'm really saddened to repeatedly come across posts complaining of unwanted, "problem behaviours," only to discover that the dog in question is being left unsupervised, for long periods of time, wearing an invisible fencing e-collar. There seems to be a great deal of misunderstanding surrounding how they work, and a massive lack of appreciation of how aversive they are. Of the Five Freedoms set out to protect the welfare of animals, these devices violate three of them:


*Freedom from pain, injury, and disease

* Freedom to express normal behaviour

* Freedom from fear and distress

–Karen Overall, Manual of Clinical Behavioral Medicine for Dogs and Cats, 2013


The name "invisible fence" sounds harmless enough, doesn’t it? I have to say that I hadn’t heard of these until a few years ago, even though they are legal to use and are available to buy in the UK **(they are illegal to use in Wales- the use of shock on dogs and cats carries a £20,000 fine and up to six months jail term):







For those unfamiliar with invisible fences, they are an electronic underground containment system which provides an invisible boundary for your pet. As your pet approaches the perimeter, a transmitter sends a radio signal along the fenceline, which is then detected by the receiver on your pet’s collar, and delivers an electric shock to your pet’s neck. Doesn’t sound so harmless now, does it? I can’t even imagine what it must feel like to live with the threat of being zapped in my own front yard, which should be a place of safety.


Even with some training in place to learn where the border is, what if something were to frighten your dog and he accidentally runs through the barrier, layering pain on top of fear? That in itself is going to be traumatic, then you have the additional dilemma that he no longer feels safe in his home environment.


Speaking of safety, these fences do not provide the security that a solid, traditional fence does; what if the system fails, or is incorrectly set up; there might be a power cut, or the batteries might run out. What then? Or, what if your dog is so agitated by something that he runs through the fence, despite the shock? Even if the fencing is effective in containing your dog, it will not prevent others from gaining access. What if he were to injure someone on your property, or cause an accident in the street? How do others know that your dogs are, indeed, contained, and not loose?


Let’s say that your dog really likes children, and rushes to the boundary when the neighbours’ kids walk past, but in his excitement to approach, he triggers the system and receives a shock. The first time, he might be taken by surprise and be a bit confused, but after the second or third time, as he learns that children being close at hand means that he gets hurt, he might try to chase them away to protect himself. We know that, with or without our influence, dogs are constantly learning and making associations, and we cannot control what they might pair the shock with. It isn’t much of a stretch to picture the potential for disaster here.


Unfortunately, one of my own dogs has first-hand experience of this, after weeing on an electrified cattle fence whilst out walking with some friends and their dogs. Poor Trigger nearly jumped out of his skin when he felt the shock, and he immediately rounded on his best friend, who was right next to him. From that moment onwards, Trigger became terrified of his former friend, because he believed that he had caused the hurt; this clearly demonstrates that we must not underestimate the impact of single event learning and the risk of long-term trauma.


It has been proven that the use of shock is damaging to canine welfare; there is a real risk of electrical burns to the neck, it causes stress, fear and anxiety, contributes to frustration and aggression, and renders your dog extremely vulnerable. A physical fence is always going to be the safest, most humane option, providing you with peace of mind, as well as protecting and containing your dog, but supervision is the only fail-safe way to ensure everyone’s safety.


Invisible fences are a disaster waiting to happen- ditch the devices and supervise, for safety's sake!


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