Last winter, I pulled over to help a young Labrador back to the safety of his yard. He was playing in the snow bank opposite his home on a very dangerous stretch of wooded road. I knew this dog lived on the other side of the road as I had previously witnessed the charging and barking behavior that he and his littermate indulge in when dogs are walked past their property. I questioned whether he’d go home or not because, in doing so, he’d have to endure a ‘correction’ on his invisible fence collar. What I saw instead was that he knew how to avoid the shock… he paced back and forth along the edge of his property in the road until he located the highest point in the snow bank. He backed up and got a running start and cleared it! The ice and snow insulated him from getting the full shock. The fact that this dog had figured that out was no more a surprise to me than the fact that his owner could hardly care less that her dog was on the other side of the road.
A few years ago, I witnessed another invisible fence incident. This one was very disturbing indeed. While waiting at a traffic light, I was instantly aware of a man carrying a broomstick. As soon as the light turned green, I pulled over to intervene on the dog’s behalf. Somehow I knew where this man was headed and what he was intending to do with that stick. I talked with him and was able to get him to give up his plan of retaliating on the Australian Shepherd who he thought was going to attack him when he had jogged past the dog’s property just a few minutes earlier. As I had seen many times before while at that traffic light, the dog chased and barked at all who passed by his property. What this passerby did not know was that the dog ‘could not’ get to him on the sidewalk. Does that really matter though? Of course not!
Through the years, I’ve met dogs that have at one time or another had the freedom of having a yard, or rather, had time alone in the yard. While some dogs seem not to be effected by the collar correction, others are adversely effected. For those, the after effects can linger. Take for example, a yellow lab had lived the first 5 years of life in the city, going everywhere on a leash and with human company and supervision. The introduction of the IF was a terrifying experience for her and resulted in an unwillingness to go further than 10 feet from the house, unless she was not wearing her new heavy collar. Fortunately, her guardians stopped using the IF system altogether.
In my client base, she was the only dog who was obviously adversely affected by the IF system. Others have been indirectly so. A next door neighbor dog had busted through the fence to greet a dog and was hit by a car. Another bolted after wildlife even while experiencing the effects of chemotherapy. She was lost for exactly two weeks… for she was likely disoriented from not knowing the area (they had just moved), having drugs on board and possibly the jolt of the collar correction when she left the property. It is often the case that dogs go after things off the property because they are left to act freely. In an adrenaline rush, they probably do not feel the shock that normally inhibits leaving. Some dogs come back through the fence while others ‘cannot’ when the adrenaline rush is over because they’ve ‘come back to their senses’.
Calls to help fix behavioral problems that result from the use of the IF come in pretty regularly. If the request is to remedy issues specific to the initial IF collar training or installation, I usually refer them back to the company whose installation personnel ‘trained’ the dog on the collar. More frequently I receive calls about ‘fence running’ at other dogs and people, aka, aggressive behavior. The presence of the fence can embolden some dogs and provoke others. What do I recommend to the owners of such dogs? Well, first things first involve a commitment to not leaving your dog unsupervised in the yard. This is the hardest part for many people, especially when considering the cost of the fence installation, but it is a necessary first step in order to affect behavior change.