This summer, we replaced our old, rotting dog-permeable fence with one that is strong, tall, handsome, and only dog semi-permeable. We also added a second, Invisible Fence. My husband thought I was a bit ridiculous to insist that we install TWO layers of fencing to our backyard, but he has come to see the light.
The way I figured it, no fence is foolproof. Or, in this case, dog-proof. We needed to remove our dilapidated fence, to be sure, but wanted to replace it with a more private, solid version. We knew this would not be enough to contain our tiny dogs. And given their propensity for finding and following rabbit scent trails, it was only a matter of time before they would find their ways out of the inevitable gaps in the physical fence and be on their way to freedom - and be squashed by a truck.
So, we also had an Invisible Fence installed. For the uninitiated, an invisible or underground fence essentially is an electrical forcefield generated by a wire that is laid in a shallow trench around the perimeter of a space. The animals to be contained within, wear collars that have a transmitter with two metal prongs that touch their necks and deliver a mild electrical shock if the transmitter crosses over the wire. I have felt the shock a number of times, and though it is very unpleasant, it leaves no lasting pain or injury. It does get one's attention, however, which is the point.
Once we had the wire installed where we wanted the dogs to be contained, we had a period of several weeks in which we trained them (still on leashes) to avoid the boundary lines, marked with little, white flags. They were wearing the transmitter collars, with the correction (shock) switched off, but an audible beep turned on. When they crossed over the wire, a beep would sound, and we pulled them back, and made sounds to scare the bejeezus out of them. We trained them to fear the beep and hate those flags, essentially.
Though it was tedious, it was an important step in teaching the dogs their new boundaries before we took the system "live" and turned on the correction. Once we decided they understood, we had the system turned on, but continued to walk them on leashes for about a week. Why? Because they would inevitably walk across the wire, and when they did, receive their first doses of correction. Because every dog's pain tolerance is different, it was important to observe how they reacted to this, and to make sure they moved back INTO the safe areas of the yard to avoid the shock, rather than farther over the wire, to continue to be corrected. Some dogs panic when they feel the correction, and run the wrong way - not learning anything in the process, except to be fearful to go outside at all, so it is an important point to be present and ready to act when the dogs are in the initial phases of this training.
This was especially true for our oldest dog, Shultz, who does not hear the beep, which means he has no warning of a correction coming a second later. This created a bit of a scarier learning process for him, because he would meander into the field and get shocked without warning. At first, he was fearful of any area of the yard that had zapped him, and eventually, stuck to walking only in the center of the yard. He has become more adventuresome as the weeks progressed, and is beginning to wander around more freely and taking wider sweeps of the yard in the process.
In our experience, we found three of the four dogs learned very quickly and efficiently and can now be trusted never to cross the field.
And then there's Miriam. She is our 14-lb menace to society. Ok, not really, she's actually very sweet, but apparently also very tough. I have our Invisible Fence guy on speed-dial and I believe he knows me by my voice. I only need to say one word, and he knows he has to come back to make adjustments: Miriam.
While this problem is found occasionally in rugged, pain-tolerant dogs like Huskies, it's actually sort of humorous that my little, female dachshund wears a pretty pink transmitter collar dialed up to its highest setting, yet still meanders in and out of the electrical field as if nothing is amiss. (FYI, the other three dogs wear transmitters that are set at 20 percent of the maximum correction, and are VERY respectful of it).
I have witnessed Miriam standing in the field, receiving a shock that is causing muscles on her neck to twitch, and she looks at me quizzically as if I, yelling her name and waving my arms to come into the safe zone, am off my nut. I have repeatedly tested her collar on myself, and believe me, it works just fine. We replaced the battery, we replaced the transmitter three times, just in case. Same result. The Invisible Fence guy was able to read out her patterns of testing the system from her transmitter (isn't technology cool?) and found she walked into the field more than a hundred times in a three week span!
After almost three months of this, Miriam finally did what I feared she would: squeezed out of the yard and into the real world. Twice. To see what she could see.
So, my old adage stands true. No fence is foolproof or dog-proof. Or foolish dog-proof. But, while Miriam is a work in progress, I give it to the Invisible Fence guy - he's been a trooper with us, and is working hard to find a solution. I'm pretty sure we'll come up with something that will teach her to stay in our yard. Too bad they don't have a system that throws magazines toward her - she's terrified of that, even if they don't come anywhere near. For now, the most practical thing is never to let her outside without direct observation. Thankfully, she listens pretty well and is motivated by treats.
Despite our issues with Miriam, to say life is better now would be an understatement. Life is way, way, WAY x 10^23 times better. The dogs love to go outside, and even don't mind doing their business in the rain (all dachshund owners gasp) yes, rain. Having the freedom to roam where they like, sniff what they like, eat rabbit droppings all they like because we can't stop them, roll in whatever they like whenever they like - life for dogs is good. Watching them enjoying their newfound independence is even better. Goofy doggie smiles are infectious.
Daverio is a veterinarian at Williamsport West Veterinary Hospital.