Fencing for dog owners
Dogs are notoriously adept at escaping from yards, whether it’s by digging, climbing, chewing, or even learning to open a gate! And once a dog is loose, it can cause serious problems. It is in danger of being injured by a car or by another animal, pestering neighbors or their pets, being stolen, or getting picked up by animal control.
If you’re planning to adopt an outdoor dog, or if your dog spends time unsupervised outdoors, it’s important to learn what causes this behavior and what type of fencing solutions can help you prevent it.
How is your dog getting loose?
The first step if you have a problem with a canine escape artist is to determine how it is getting out of the yard.
First check any gates. If you’re sure the gate was latched when the dog escaped, it’s possible that someone has opened it from the outside or that the dog has learned how to open the gate itself! In either case, you might need to install a lock.
If gates are intact, check for gaps chewed in the fence or holes dug underneath it. Dogs can squeeze themselves through surprisingly small spaces, and of course the smaller the dog, the easier time it will have escaping this way.
If there is no physical evidence to show how the dog is escaping from your yard, it’s likely that it is a climber. Many breeds are very good at this and can use the rails inside a wood fence or the mesh in chain link fence to get a foothold.
Getting to the root of the behavior
According to the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, dogs have a number of possible reasons for wanting to escape a yard. Among the most common are boredom, sexual roaming, fear of something in the yard, and separation anxiety. Here’s a look at how the ASPCA recommends addressing each problem:
Boredom. Dogs are pack animals and thrive on social interaction. If left alone in a fenced yard for long periods of time, they become frustrated and desperate for company. To combat boredom, try to spend more time with your dog. Take it for daily walks, teach it tricks, and play with it more often. Keep interesting dog toys in the yard and rotate them periodically. You could also consider getting another dog for company. Alternatively, keep your dog indoors or take it to “doggie day care” when it must be left alone for long periods.
Sexual roaming. The sexual urge is very strong in unsterilized pets, and it may be extremely difficult for a fence to restrain them. This is one reason it’s important to have pets spayed or neutered at an appropriate age.
Fears. If you think your dog might be escaping your yard due to fears, try to pinpoint the phobia. Many dogs will bolt in a thunderstorm or if they hear fireworks or loud construction. Also consider that the dog might be being teased by children. If you can’t leave your dog indoors in such cases, it’s important to provide a “safe” place in your yard, such as a doghouse, where the dog can retreat if it is frightened. You might need professional help to desensitize the dog or to obtain a prescription for anti-anxiety medication.
Separation anxiety. If your dog has a strong attachment to you and escapes from a fenced yard shortly after you leave, its problem might be separation anxiety. If this is the case, seek professional help to recondition the dog and obtain anti-anxiety medications.
Factors to consider when choosing a fence
If you know how your dog is escaping from your fenced yard, you can tailor a solution to solve your specific problem. (Keep in mind, however, that your dog might simply find a new way to get through your fence!)
For a climber. Some wood and chain link fences are pretty easy for larger dogs to climb. If that is your problem and you don’t want to replace the whole fence, you may need to add an extension to the top of the fence that is angled inward 45 degrees. Another option is to install rolls of bamboo fencing on the inside of an existing structure. The material is slick, and a dog will not be able to climb it. Masonry walls and ornamental fencing also prevent climbing.
For a chewer. Dogs can sometimes chew their way through older wood fences, especially if the fence is already damaged. To discourage a chewer, replace any damaged fence boards immediately and spray them with vinegar or some other bad-tasting substance to train your dog to stay away.
For a digger. If your dog is digging under the fence to get out of the yard, you can try sinking pavers or large stones along the fence line or using a wire mesh to secure it. A more permanent solution is to dig a trench several inches deep along the fence line and fill it with concrete. Keeping the dog away from the fence in the first place can also be effective for chewing or digging. Try planting shrubs along the fence or simply laying down chicken wire along it to make it uncomfortable for the dog to walk.
Problem cases. It is very difficult to use punishment to retrain a dog to stay in a yard, because it will only work if the correction is given at the moment of the escape and if the dog does not see you administer the correction. While you are improving or replacing your fence to keep your dog contained, it might be best to keep it indoors or to have someone else look after it while you are away. Because of the potential for injury, dogs should be chained in a yard only as a last resort.
Underground or “invisible” fences
Used properly, underground fences are an extremely effective way to keep a dog within a predetermined area. Keep in mind, however, that they do not keep other dogs, wild animals, or children from entering your yard and harassing your dog.
How it works. An electric dog fence—also called a wireless dog fence, an underground fence, or an invisible fence—works by using a transmitter to broadcast a weak radio signal. A wire, strategically buried along perimeter of the area where you want to keep the dog confined, picks up the signal just like an ordinary radio antenna. The dog wears a lightweight receiver on its collar. When the dog approaches within a few feet of the buried wire, a warning tone or beep is activated. If the dog continues beyond the barrier, it receives a startling and uncomfortable static shock. Some underground fencing systems use two levels of correction: an extremely mild one to help the dog grasp the importance of the warning beep, and a stronger one of it proceeds out of the designated area.
Training your dog. An important step in installing an invisible fence is training the dog to understand its boundaries. Until the dog learns the perimeter, it’s a good idea to mark it with rope or flags. To train a dog to stay within an invisible fence, put the radio collar and a leash on the dog. Lead it near the marked border and wait for the collar to start beeping. Then run away from the fence and encourage the dog to follow. Repeat this many times, and soon the dog will associate the beeping fence with running in the opposite direction. Eventually, the dog will attempt to cross the barrier of the fence despite the warning signal. Oftentimes, the first unpleasant experience is all a dog needs to understand the meaning of the warning beeps. Once the dog understands its boundaries, you can remove the boundary flags a few at a time.
Invisible Dog Fence.