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Leerburg Dog Training Blog

The best source for dog training news, tricks and treats, right from world class leaders in dog training.

The best source for dog training news, tricks and treats, right from world class leaders in dog training.

Invisible Fences?

Last week I was contacted by a customer about an incident that involved his neighbor and the neighbor’s two dogs that have been contained by an invisible fencing system over the last 2 years. He was not sure whether what he was witnessing was aggression or play and looked to Leerburg for some insight into the behaviors displayed by the dogs.

The customer said that these dogs routinely barked and ran the boundary of the yard whenever anyone walked by (with or without a dog) These dogs are males, both powerful working breeds that are often banned or regulated in certain cities and insurance companies. The owners of the dogs reassured our customer that these dogs are playful and would not bite under any circumstance. For me, this is a red flag and confirms that this particular owner really doesn’t understand dog behavior. Many friendly dogs will and have bitten when frustrated by a barrier whether that barrier is solid or electronic.

The man that contacted me had been walking around the neighborhood without a dog, he passed the yard containing the 2 dogs and they ran to the boundary and were carrying on and barking as usual. As the man approached his own home both dogs came bounding across the boundary of the yard, barking loudly. The man then had to decide whether to confront the dogs and stand his ground or go inside his home. Since he was close to the door of his house he stepped inside as the dogs ran after him.

He expected the dogs to simply turn around and run home but the larger of the two started charging the door and jumping against the window. The other dog stayed close but only barked. After this incident, our customer called the owner and was again reassured that these dogs would never bite. In the following week, the dogs crossed the boundary two more times and did the same behavior at the homeowner’s doors and windows.

This is about the time I was contacted for advice. I told him that I have a general distrust of invisible fences unless they are used with direct supervision. By direct supervision, I mean an adult human outside to keep an eye on the dogs. I also told him that it was possible the batteries in the collars were bad or the underground wire may have been damaged in some way. Sure enough, they were in one of the hurricane areas and had been flooded which had compromised the function of the fence. Both the dog owner and our customer gave the dogs the benefit of the doubt and still believe that they would not bite. They blamed the chainsaws and clean up efforts in the area and said that the dogs were probably just “overly excited” by the abnormal activity in the neighborhood.

I think that in very specific situations invisible or underground electronic fences have their place but for me, the cons outweigh the pros. I don’t want people, strange dogs or other animals coming into my yard while my dogs are outside.

Some dogs will simply take the correction and run out of the yard if the stimulus across the boundary is appealing enough (a deer, another dog, someone on a bike, etc) If they decide to come back, they are corrected if they try to cross back into their yard.

These fences can and do fail, sometimes with tragic results. I realize that physical fences are not perfect and that gates can be left open or dogs can jump over or dig out. I know that for some dogs an invisible fence is fine. My parents had one in their yard for their elderly Corgi and there were not any problems but I do not think they are for all dogs or all situations.

Here are some points to think about. Even if they were overly excited by something, how would you feel if the 2 dogs mentioned above lived next door to you?

How would you handle the neighbor?

Even in a dog with no history of easily identified aggression, can overexcitement turn into aggressive behavior?

Do you feel that the average pet owner really understands dog behavior and body language?

I’m throwing this out there because I get a lot of emails from people who don’t make the connection between a dog in a highly excited or aroused state of mind being capable of biting someone. Most pet owners equate a biting dog with a “mean” dog, not their friendly family dog.

I’m interested to hear your thoughts on this topic. Thank you for taking the time to visit our blog!


  1. Avatar
    November 2, 2017

    I too believe that any dog can and will bite under the “right” conditions. I would never trust a dog to be fully contained by an underground fence. Even an older, well boundry trained dog may break out under stimulus. The owner’s car coming down the block may trigger a “gotta go greet” response. The other reason I would not trust one is too many people and rescues are “saving” dogs of aggressive breeding and not taking precautions to avoid these dogs from becoming overstimulated and tragedy happening.

    • Avatar
      M. R.
      November 2, 2017

      Definitely, any dog can bite under the certain given circumstances. They are animals, not people; we can’t know what is going on in their brains, they can’t talk. Unfortunately, some times even with people we don’t know what they can do under certain circumstances.

  2. Avatar
    Doyle Nightengale
    November 3, 2017

    I would suggest that you record this aggression on your cell phone camera for future reference. You may not need it but someone else may, hopefully not!

  3. Avatar
    November 10, 2017

    As a professional dog walker, I HATE invisible fences. I can’t tell you how many times dogs with these ‘fences’ have come following me down the road while walking past with a client’s dog. Sometimes they are just curious; sometimes they are following behind barking aggressively at me and my dog. Thankfully I have not had to physically encounter any of these. So far screaming has worked.

    In fact, this happened just the other day – and where was the owner? Nowhere. Their dog is barking like crazy, following us off the property and into the middle of the street. So their dog is barking, another dog (mine) is barking like crazy and someone is yelling “NO!!” etc, at the top of their lungs outside their house – and the owner can’t even bother to come outside or poke their head through the window to see what is going on. Ugh!

    The other scenario that happens is that the ‘fenced’ dog hears us walk by from the backyard, and then comes running full-speed from the rear of the property, barking like Cujo, straight towards us, and then stops suddenly at the edge of the property. Yes, the collar technically works, but obviously these people have no idea what runs through the mind of someone walking their dog by the house when they see that. It’s very stressful, for me and the dog I am walking. There is often no signage to let-passers by know there is a fence present. Drives me insane.

    I personally don’t think invisible fences are a very good option in most cases. I feel the dogs that can be trained to stay on the property within the borders probably didn’t need this type of restraint anyway. I would NEVER trust one of these things to hold my dog on the property. I would NEVER just let my invisible-fenced dog outside by himself for any length of time.

    Unfortunately, I think the general public has a poor understanding of dog behavior and dog body language. I say this, because it seems that most (not all) people I encounter on walks think that all dogs are friendly with all dogs, friendly with all people, and want to be pet always and want to meet every other dog. Even when the dog I am walking is barking and growling at them, they think it means that the dog wants to play with them. They don’t get it.

    So, I can’t say that I totally fault the neighbor. He was never trained properly in dog body language (but also never bothered to learn it for himself). He probably believes that his dogs won’t bite. But what you don’t know can kill you. 😛

    I would write the neighbor a strongly worded letter (send certified) explaining all the incidents in detail, and express how they made me feel. Explain that it is possible for an aroused dog to become aggressive, even a friendly one, citing a book or video reference (this site even!). And possibly explain that if there are any other incidents, you will be reporting this to animal control, the police, etc. There may already be justification, depending on leash laws.

    Just have to hope the next incident is not too serious I guess.

  4. Avatar
    December 7, 2017

    The ubove was interesting to read, my family have never considered an invisible fence an option, as we have always had a working type dog, and consider it our responsibility to protect our borders.
    We gaurd our dogs wile they gaurd us.
    The comment about how people think only “mean” dogs bite hit close to home.
    A good friend of ours got a young dog from us (English Shepherd ) , we weren’t sure he was right for her but she liked him because of how he played with toys.
    He fit in better than I thought he would initially, but due to her lack of ability to be the dominant member of the pack, problems insued.
    We had recommended that she have a dog run for him for when she was busy, or had company over, she didn’t like the idea.
    One day when her grandchildren were over, she had him in a soft kennel right in the room with them, and a three year old fell off the couch on to him .
    After that , he distrusted that entire branch of the family, and nipped the mom when she put her arm over the fence on a different day.
    One of the children was nipped at one time as well.
    They told their mom, our friend, that her dog was mean , and should be put down.
    (They had a nice tolerant family dog and saw no need to teach the kids respect for other dogs.)
    As he later nipped the calf of a young student of hers that backed up too fast toward him, she relented, and decided to have him put down.
    Thankfuly the vet wouldn’t do it right away, and a home with some sheep (and knowledgeable dog owners ) was found.
    How’s the saying go: “good fences make good neighbors ” (and protect our dogs!).

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