Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Invisible Fences

Electronic Containment System or Ambush Predator?

Much has been written about electronic shock (training) devices in their various forms. With all models a dog wears a collar fitted with an electronic device with two metal rods touching the neck of the dog, delivering electric shock.

Just a tingle, or a terror?

Delivery systems fall into three categories: 1) A person must press a button on a handheld remote control to initiate the shock; 2) The collar has a microphone to detect (barking) sound and trigger shock; 3) A buried wire emits a signal detected by the collar, triggering shock.

I will address the third category known as Electronic Containment System (ECS). It is sometimes called invisible fence, hidden fence, buried fence or some variant of that theme, making it sound less threatening.

I prefer to call them devices designed to ambush a hapless dog that comes close to the trap. They relieve the owner of direct responsibility for delivering shock. “The dog can avoid the shock by staying away from the boundary” they rationalize.  “It’s not my fault, the dog did it to himself.”

Consequences of electronic shock are well documented in the Pet Professional Guild “Position Statement on The Use of Shock in Animal Training” including 26 references.

I consider ECS an ambush predator due to the insidious nature of the beast. During installation a wire is buried just under the surface in a boundary perimeter which the dog is unaware of.
Dogs are unaware human beings consider little parcels of the natural world their property and then divide claims with the aid of professional surveyors who measure a residential lot. Dogs do not read documents prepared by attorneys with legal descriptions of the precise boundaries of said property.  They just live there.

All a dog knows is that it depends upon and trusts a human caretaker to be a faithful steward. Stewards have a responsibility for those entrusted in their care to keep them safe and sound, so man’s best friend does not suspect their caretaker has laid a trap that he cannot see, buried beneath a property boundary he cannot conceive of.

In a process purportedly meant to “teach” a dog the boundary so he learns not to cross it, the owner leads his trusting furry family member to the edge of the yard and intentionally forces him into proximity so the collar delivers a shock.  Yikes!

Would any rational parent lead a toddler into the street to be struck by a car to “teach” the toddler to stay out of the street?  Dogs, after all, are much like toddlers in terms of cognitive and emotional development.

Some models deliver an electronic sound such as a beep prior to the shock. At first, the beep is just a meaningless sound.  Since the owner is setting the dog up to fail, the dog learns a lesson through associative learning: beep predicts shock, equals pain and fear.


For owners who proudly declare they “only” use the beep function and never shock their dog (again) I must report the beep has the same physiological and psychological effect as the shock. It triggers a startle response.  Click here to read full article.

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