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All the Reasons...

Confining Your Dog

Confining your dog to a fenced area is often not a popular concept.  Some neighborhoods don't allow physical barrier fencing because it can detract from the look of the neighborhood, and some individual owners don't like to use physical barrier fencing because of the upkeep and maintenance requirements.  I have lived both with and without physical barrier fencing... our yard wasn't fenced in our first home for the first several years... I walked the dog daily, sometimes twice daily... but we fenced the yard when we got the second dog.  I can remember the feeling when I walked over and threw open the back door, allowing the dogs to rush outside, off-leash... it was wonderful. I'll bet they loved it more than I did.  I continued (and still do til this day) walk my dogs regularly on-leash... but they also spend a lot of time with me out back, gardening or just hanging out.  Physical barrier fencing is the laziest way to make sure that your dog can't get loose. But, there are lots of people who think that their dog wouldn't dare try to get out -of-bounds (yes, I've heard them say this).  The cost of physical barrier fencing is no longer the obstacle that it once was, I think... the advent of the new portable electronic and GPS fences have lent some perspective to the options available, so far as pricing is concerned.  I would have to learn a lot more about these fencing options before I could be comfortable with them... and I wouldn't DARE use my dogs to find out how they work.

Your dog isn't out 'looking for mischief'. He's out doing normal doggy things. I just don't happen to like him doing these things in my yard -- and *I'm* a dog-lover... how do our non-dog-loving neighbors feel?  Your dog does not need to roam to be happy... he needs physical and mental stimulation -- both of these can be provided relatively easily (and inexpensively) in your yard and home. 

Is your dog an escape artist?


The very best way to KEEP your dogs from trying to find their way out of a fence is to provide both physical AND mental stimulation -- playing hide-n-seek with your dog is an exceptional way of accomplishing this. You can use people, toys, a stuffed Kong toy... you can hide it in the yard, in the house, wherever (try stuffing a Kong toy, and putting it under the edge of the coffee table -- make sure there's nothing of any importance ON the coffee table! lol)  Use the internet to find inventive ways to provide mental and physical stimulation while he's fenced in... the yard has to be THE fun place to be.


Fencing the yard doesn't have to be expensive -- but it does have to keep the dog safely confined. If the fencing in your yard doesn't keep your dog confined to your yard, here are some options:


Underground fencing:  My Personal Gripes 

I put underground fencing here in the discussion NOT because it's my next choice -- this type of fencing only comes into my list of possibilities before 'letting the dog roam free'... since this is absolutely not an option, and underground fencing is usually the first or second recommendation from owners and trainers, I'm putting the discussion here.  


Underground fencing is typically marketed as a safe, cheap alternative to physical barrier fencing. My personal feeling is that it's safer NOT to fence the yard at all, than to use underground fencing by itself... too many owners are given a false sense of security, through the use of this type of fencing. And, cheap? Not from what I've seen... it's typically cheaper to use physical barrier fencing, AND a lot less work!! You don't have to TRAIN your dog to stay inside a physical barrier -- it's just there! I hope that this section doesn't leave any room for doubt about how I feel about underground fences:


• Physical barrier fences are a deterrent to chasing rabbits, deer, and other dogs outside the boundary. Underground fences *are NOT*. (The dogs will often run past the barrier, then be afraid to come back -- because of the shock.)


• Physical barrier fences are a deterrent to other animals entering your property. Underground fences *are NOT*.


• Physical barrier fences are a deterrent to children entering your property, and hurting your dog, or being hurt themselves. Underground fences *are NOT*.


• Physical barrier fences are a deterrent to poachers entering your property for the purpose of procuring *your pet* for sale to a research facility or re-sale. Underground fences *are NOT*.

Underground fences SHOCK your dog.  That's how they're supposed to keep him within the boundary... but here's the rub: the shock has to be strong enough that your dog won't try it a second time.  If it's not at that level, and there's something fun (like a deer) outside the barrier, he'll just run through it to get to that Fun thing.  Then he'll be afraid to come back, because of the shock.

In case you didn't get the hint about this type of fencing: I won't help you teach your dog boundary training using electric shock, if you don't have other options in place first.  That said: 


I’m a canine behavior counselor, so I've actually studied the pros and cons inherent in each type of fencing... and I only use positive reinforcement methods.  I HATE anything that shocks — except in a case where it could mean life or death.  I won’t recommend an underground fence unless there is also a physical barrier fence (if allowed), AND all other options have been exhausted.  Something you need to understand, tho… there is a chance that the shock will teach your dog aggressive behavior, when the shock gets paired with (for example) trying to see the dog/people walking by.  In a case I consulted on several years ago, a rescued Saint (6 yrs old) got shocked while peeing… he refused to go outside to pee after that.  In a case like this, the dog had to be re-homed… because you can’t teach a dog that the INVISIBLE fence is no longer there.  All else aside, tho, I’d use one if I was forced to... thru all the dogs I've owned and rescued in my life, it's never been necessary, because I look for other ways.

One more thing… don’t be gentle… people who set the shock low often find out that the dog will keep trying, especially if something Really Fun is out there.  In order to be effective, you have to set it high enough that he’ll only try ONCE.  If you set it too low, he’ll jump because he really wants what’s on the other side, then he’ll be afraid to come back. 


Teaching the Dog to Stay in His Yard WITHOUT a Boundary ... can't be done with any amount of reliability. You can't teach a dog (or any other organism) NOT to seek out reinforcement... and if there is anything cool and exciting outside of your property, that will provide reinforcement for your dog to leave your property. Here's what happens: the dog is rewarded for leaving your property by getting to chase a rabbit, or playing with another dog, or eating a neighbor's cat's food -- and when he comes home, you smack him with a newspaper, or yell at him, or do whatever punishing thing it is that you've decided will teach him his boundaries. What has he learned?? That *coming home* will cause him to be punished. He MIGHT associate the punishment with his leaving the yard... and he might NOT. If he does, then he'll stay in the yard -- unless there is something outside his yard that outweighs the punishment that he knows is coming. If he doesn't, though, you've just punished him for no reason... the punishment hasn't taught him anything that you intended, and you've likely associated the punishment with YOU, rather than with his boundaries -- you've sacrificed his TRUST in you, and completely compromised your recall. All in the name of saving a few bucks on fencing.

Ideas for Teaching Outlets for His Energy (and keep him in the fenced yard)


Teach him to play hide-n-seek for his favorite toys, chewies, treats, and people.


Allow him to dissect things (under supervision only, of course!) like toys; boxes (put a chewie in it -- you can smear it with peanut butter, so that he knows there's something good in there!)


You can dip an old (clean) dish cloth in beef broth, tie it in a knot, put it in a zippered bag, and freeze it -- your dog will love this! (Please -- take it out of the plastic before giving it to your dog!)


After he's figured out the basics to hide-n-seek, you can make it more challenging by doing things like stuffing a Kong toy with corn chips or popcorn, plug the opening with peanut butter, cream cheese, or cheese whiz, and put it in a 3-pound butter bowl. Don't seal the lid, at first -- maybe just a little, but not all the way. Make it easy at first, so that he has the chance to learn that there are good things hidden in there -- otherwise, he may lose interest. Once he's got the hang of it, start hiding that for him, too.


Build a sandpit for him, in the backyard. Mark it off with landscaping timbers, remove the soil to a depth of about 2 feet, and replace the soil with play sand (he'll stay much cleaner, digging in sand!) Then, use the pit to hide his toys, chewies, and butter-bowl treasure chests.


Teach him to retrieve -- it's easy to do, and has many useful functions! You can actually give him jobs to do, around the house -- simply by using a system of keywords to designate individual objects (teach him your language!) in combination with commands.

There are lots of cool ideas out there -- build equipment for him to play on, set up play dates with other dogs -- find things for your dog to do that utilize his mental abilities, and you'll lessen the chances that he'll make his own doggie-games out of leaving the yard!

Brenda Rushman CCBC

Underground Fencing...
No Boundaries?....
Outlets for his Energy...
Access to the Yard...


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