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

Yet I'm sure at least some of you will disagree with my assessment. Electric correction devices are overused tools designed for the lazy trainer and even lazier dog owner, you'll say, and they're only for people who haven't absorbed the notion that dogs almost never need such extreme kinds of correction.

To which I have this to say:

Despite the bad rap electric correction devices have received among animal welfare-minded people like us, the truth is that they're not all created equal. Because, as with everything, the devil's in the details. And in the case of electric fence devices, the details are usually to do with the following questions:

  • Has every other reasonable option for correcting the behavior been exhausted?
  • Is the dog behaviorally sound and free of any anxiety disorders that may predispose him or her to an adverse reaction to the corrective stimulus? (If not, reconsider. Some dogs — particularly anxious ones — have had serious behavior issues arise because they weren't screened well before being subjected to a novel stimulus like this one.)
  • Does the device offer very low-end settings for sensitive dogs? (It should. Ask to feel what it's like.)
  • Is a behavior professional involved in the setup and initial use of the device? (It's always recommended, even for a veterinarian!)
  • Does the behavior professional make follow-up visits to ensure it's still working according to plan and that the dog is experiencing no adverse effects? (Generally considered a must.)
  • Do you have a backup plan in case this fails? (If not, find one lest you blindly pursue a path without regard for your pet's potential adverse reaction.)

Note: Some dogs may never learn to associate the boundary with the stimulus. They'll simply stress out over it. In other words, fearful, sensitive or slow-learning dogs may not be good candidates. What's more, even if the device helps keep the dog on the property, it doesn't prevent other dogs from entering the yard, so no dog should be left outside unattended.

Seek Other Options First

Now, I know what you're still thinking. It just seems wrong, this idea that we would consciously elicit pain — no matter how slight — in order to achieve a desired response. We’d never do that to our children, so why are we willing to subject our dogs to it?

Nonetheless, my experience with this fencing equipment has offered me this not-too-popular perspective on the subject. But in case you're wondering how I approach my clientele when the subject arises, here's my party line:

In general, I still vote no to the use of electric correction devices for keeping dogs in the yard. Why risk an adverse reaction when most problems have so many alternatives? Yet there are some exceptions where they may be necessary, including electric barriers around pools to help prevent dogs from drowning or those that keep dogs from getting into traffic and injuring themselves.

So now that you've got the back story, do you still pronounce me guilty?

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