Invisible Fences: One Vet's Take on These Electric Correction Devices

Dog wearing shock collar

At the risk of raising your hackles and possibly earning your eternal contempt, I’ll confess: I use electric correction devices on three out of four of my dogs. But before you unleash your best animal welfare-based wrath on this positive-training devotee, read my story first and make up your own mind as to my guilt.

No one said keeping four dogs was going to be easy. It's even harder when the dogs you call family happen to come with all kinds of health care concerns and problem behaviors. After all, I'm a veterinarian, so that's just how it goes; I can handle it. But when they all started finding various and sundry ways to escape my one-acre homestead (in search of neighbors bearing food, mostly), I was stumped.

For once, I had no tools to make the digging-under stop or the sneaking-through cease. My yard is just too darn big! So after years of shivering over vehicular near misses and lots of hand-wringing in general, I finally relented and had an underground fence installed around the perimeter of my property.

Teaching Boundaries

In case you've never heard of one of these systems, let me explain how it works:

Underground fences (also known as invisible fences) consist of a long strand of wire professionally installed under the ground, a home base control box that ties into your house's electricity and a collar with a small box attached to it that buzzes with a brief current should the dog wearing it decide to cross the "invisible" line buried below.

The idea is that a dog trained to wear such a collar will learn to avoid the areas where the wire is laid. But this feat is typically only safely and humanely achieved after a significant training period. During this time, evenly spaced flags will line the perimeter, thereby offering visible cues, which makes it easy for dogs to recognize the significance of the boundary. Dogs are effectively trained to avoid the area by very gradually advancing them toward the perimeter, cautioning them as they approach. When the line is crossed and they hear a beep, they have 10 seconds to back up before they get "tapped."

"Tap" is my word for it. Because with the system I elected, it's really not the zap you might expect from a device designed to administer an electric current for correction. Instead, it's more of a tap-tap sort of prickle sensation. But it's true that not all dogs are as willing as mine to fear the simple tap-tap and forever avoid the fence line. (In fact, I think mine are more than willing to stop at the sound of the warning beep.) Some need to have the setting for the machine cranked up to its highest level. All dogs are different.

Differences in Devices

In any case, there you have my confession, but it's far from a mea culpa. Indeed, I feel like I've made not just a sound decision to help solve a serious safety issue (which is currently fully resolved), but elected a perfectly humane approach, too.


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