Pushing Boundaries

I’m not a big fan of electronic containment systems where a collar delivers a shock to a dog when he approaches an invisible boundary. My general concerns include the frequency with which dogs escape these “fences,” their inability to keep unwanted people or animals out of the yard, and the fearful behaviors that some dogs develop after being shocked. Many of my clients decide to take these risks in spite of my advice, and I usually don’t push too hard to change their minds. I do have one opinion about these systems, however, that I persistently and adamantly repeat: do not use them in the front yard or anywhere near regular foot traffic.

Electronic containment systems seem to play a role in a large number of the dog bite cases that I see. These cases follow a predictable pattern. A dog is frequently confined outdoors without supervision in close proximity to passing pedestrians, joggers, bicyclists, etc. The dog regularly runs the boundary barking at passersby, becoming increasingly frustrated and agitated over time, until one day he charges through the fence to attack a passing person or dog.

I see a lot of these cases, and they almost never involve dogs whose confinement systems limit them to a backyard. The combination of repeated aggressive behavior, close proximity to traffic, the lack of a visible barrier, the fear of being shocked, and – obviously – the ability to charge right through the boundary (being shocked and thereby further agitated along the way) seems to lead to a lot of bites. In my opinion, using one of these systems to confine a dog close to regular traffic is asking for trouble. Additionally, if you regularly run, walk, or bike past such a dog and he makes you nervous, I would advise trusting your instincts and crossing the street well before passing that house.

I do have one exception to my adamant opposition to using these systems in a front yard. I’ve had several clients who enjoy their dogs company when gardening. These clients have created separate containment areas for their front and back yards. They only allow dogs off leash in the front yard under close supervision. We combine gardening with obedience training to keep the dog from barking or chasing passersby and to ensure an exceptionally reliable recall. I can’t say that this arrangement quite has my blessing, due to my broader concerns about these systems, but it is my favorite use of them and avoids most of the risk of aggression.

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