Do I get a second chance on an invisible fence?
March 31, 2009 6:36 AM   Subscribe

I set up an invisible fence, trained my dog according to instructions, and all was good for six weeks. The she decided she'll take the zap in exchange for freedom. Can I ever retrain her?

Once a dog realizes the pros and cons of escape through an invisible fence, and decides the pros win, is it possible to ever get her to respect the barrier again?

The battery is new and the leads are definitely touching her neck.

We have tripled the flags along the border she always breaches, to remind her what's there.

The zap field is as wide as we can make it given our yard configuration.

She is extremely respectful of the fence when we're in the yard with her. When we turn our back, if she can see her pal dog two houses over, she'll take off.
posted by stupidsexyFlanders to Pets & Animals (22 answers total)
Is it possible to build a 'real' fence?
posted by RussHy at 6:41 AM on March 31, 2009

It seems like the only way you could get her to respect the zapper again would be to somehow increase the pain and discomfort it gives her for straying. I don't know how you'd do that, and doubt that you would want to.
posted by General Tonic at 6:49 AM on March 31, 2009

Response by poster: The question is whether retraining is possible. Thanks.
posted by stupidsexyFlanders at 6:57 AM on March 31, 2009

I have known a few dogs who made the decision that the freedom was worth the zap and no, they were never successfully retrained. One of them used to come home and sit just outside the electric field and bark to have it turned off so he could come in: he would take the zap to get out but not to get back in. From my purely anecdotal knowledge, about the best you can hope for is that as your dog gets older she will be less and less motivated to leave anyway.
posted by mygothlaundry at 7:06 AM on March 31, 2009

Best answer: You can't prove a negative, so take this as anecdotal evidence-- my folks have a Walker hound (extremely stubborn just like any hound), and he took just a few weeks to realize that if he got a running start the invisible fence jolt was worth sweet, sweet freedom. It was even more impressive because he had to run up a 5 foot real fence that they had already installed in a prior attempt to keep him in. He'd let out a yelp every time he did it, so it definitely stung but it was worth it for him.

I think if your dog has resilience and wanderlust, the invisible fence doesn't work. It's a good solution for obsequious dogs or ones that don't really want to go far from home without you. But it sounds like your dog is willing to put up with a lot to go running.

One thought I had and suggested to my folks, but they didn't try: maybe you could put your dog on a tie-out that extends to just past the shock perimeter for a couple of weeks. She might have a few negative encounters with the fence and begin to think that bolting past it doesn't get her anywhere. I don't have high hopes, but it's worth a shot seeing the time and money you put into the invisible fencing.
posted by Mayor Curley at 7:11 AM on March 31, 2009

We had a smilar experience with our Airedale when I was a kid. She gradually just learned to totally ignore the pain and walked in an out of the yard at will. It was actually worse when she sorta respected it because she'd sit at the end of the driveway waiting for someone to come out and get her.

I think you are screwed. We tried a bigger charge for a brief period of time but even that failed. Evenutally we just turned it off and stopped letting her run free in the yard.

Of course this was the same dog that learned how to climb eight foot railroad tie walls to escape, and used to intentionally slide down stairs 'cause it was easier then walking and apparently didn't hurt her. So YMMV.
posted by JPD at 7:13 AM on March 31, 2009

Did you install the fence yourself, or have it installed by a company? I ask because when my parents had their invisible fence installed, the company that did the installation was a great resource for training advice. Could you contact the company and ask for advice in retraining your dog? (Obviously not applicable if you installed the fence yourself.)
posted by geeky at 7:15 AM on March 31, 2009

You're asking if you can make her like freedom less or dislike the zap more via training? It's probably possible (and certainly impossible to prove otherwise), but highly unlikely: "training" isn't magic.
posted by toomuchpete at 7:16 AM on March 31, 2009

Anecdotal evidence here, but a fried had a dog that did just as yours. Until, that is, she tried it immediately after being washed. Apparently the shock is much worse when the dog's soaking wet. They said she stayed in the fence after that.
posted by Dorri732 at 7:17 AM on March 31, 2009

I think the question needs to be asked: why is she taking off and what is she looking for that she can't find at home? Is it exercise? Fun? Companionship? I think that if you get in tuned with her, teach her to *stay*, and give her regular runs in the *safe* wild (beaches, woods etc.) within boundaries of your commands the problem will resolve itself. You might want to enroll her in a training program as well.
posted by watercarrier at 7:20 AM on March 31, 2009

I do not think you can reliably retrain the dog without resorting to inhumane levels of pain (the manufacturers of the fence will tell you differently). This is one of the many reasons why invisible fences suck.
posted by biscotti at 7:20 AM on March 31, 2009

BTW - *increasing the pain*? OMG. Please don't.
posted by watercarrier at 7:21 AM on March 31, 2009

Do you have a furry dog? Consider shaving the area where the contacts sit.
posted by unixrat at 7:42 AM on March 31, 2009

So they do make stronger collars for dogs that like to ignore them. My neighbors across the street had the same issue and it seems to be working for them. My parents dog figured the stand near the line and wear down the battery with the warning noise, then freedom thing. They had to have the line redone and a new system put in, but now the dog stays in. It was the same as yours, she'd stay in if they were home, but as soon as they left of the day she was off. However, with the new and improved system she doesn't leave and they are back to using the fence with no problem, as are my neighbors, so I'd talk with whomever did your fence, see what their suggestions are.
posted by katers890 at 7:56 AM on March 31, 2009

I had a dog who would take flying leaps over the invisible fence, yelping at the shock but determined to reach freedom. We were never able to retrain her. So, anecdotally--no.
posted by peanut_mcgillicuty at 8:10 AM on March 31, 2009

My parents had a dog who loved freedom and nothing could keep her in. They didn't have an invisible fence (shocks hurt), but a real fence that this dog would climb like a monkey, even after she got old and arthritic. No amount of training helped. Watercarrier's suggestions are good and might help, but this dog seemed to just need to roam. Yours may be the same.
posted by Mavri at 8:36 AM on March 31, 2009

Best answer: I'm surrounded by certified dog trainers, and almost all have expressed how poorly these fences work for the most part. Once dogs learn how to get around them or go through them (we recently had a conversation about this), there's really no way to train it out of them. The problem is that even if you get it to the point where she's 80-90% great about not leaving the yard, there's always going to be the small chance that she'll get out and get hit. You can work on her impulse control when you're around, but your problem is when she's alone.

Is she a completely outdoor hound, or is she just getting let outside for exercise and running? If she's mostly an indoor dog you might want to think about getting a non-tangling zip line to put her on when she's outside, provided it's not all day.

Be very careful about the level of shock she's receiving as well, and please don't wash her and then let her go through the fence. These collars can cause all sorts of health issues if used at high levels, or even at low levels during a long period of time. The shock collars used for behaviour modification can also cause all sorts of weird behaviour problems, too.. although I'm not sure if this applies to the electric fence as well.
posted by Breo at 8:52 AM on March 31, 2009

Seconding Breo on the 10% risk. We had a dog that would stay in the yard most of the time, but once every few months he'd decide that chasing the squirrel on the other side of the line was worth it. The last time he made a break for it he was hit by a car outside our neighborhood. We had a real fence installed when we decided to get a new dog, and it hasn't been a problem since.
posted by bluloo at 9:26 AM on March 31, 2009

double fence?
posted by A189Nut at 9:27 AM on March 31, 2009

I know this doesn't answer your question, but a zip line worked well for our dog.
posted by KokuRyu at 9:51 AM on March 31, 2009

Best answer: I think there are a lot of good suggestions here and clearly you'll take whichever one suits your appetite for pain and your style of training.

Have you (or anyone, actually - I'm curious) tried the product at I'm not vouching for it but it seems to focus a lot on perimeter training. Perhaps it could work for you.

I have no similar experience, but in your situation I would probably turn off the electric fence for a week or so, use a zip line or similar, let the dog realise that there's no electricity all of the time, and then turn it back on. You might find that once she gets used to being able to get out without the shock, she's less willing to go through the pain in order to get out. Then, I would suggest that you turn it on sometimes and off other times. You might find that the uncertainty would discourage her from trying. After a few weeks of that, if she's exhibiting clear apprehension near the boundary, I think you could turn it back on permanently.

Good luck.
posted by gwpcasey at 10:33 AM on March 31, 2009

Electric fences suck, putting aside the ethics, they just plain don't work for a lot of breeds and individual dogs. Often, they end up working in reverse, keeping the dog out of the yard once whatever motivated them to ignore the shock is gone.

Think twice about leaving an unsupervised dog on a line either. It'll keep your dog from leaving, but it will do nothing to keep anything from getting in and your dog won't be able to get away if something happens. Your dog will likely come to realize its vulnerability, so that if a few loose dogs come through it'll be more reactive, which might set the other dogs off and lead to a fight in which your dog is at a severe disadvantage.
posted by Good Brain at 11:00 AM on March 31, 2009

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