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Invisible Pet Containment Systems

The MSPCA strongly urges owners to appropriately supervise their dog’s outdoor activity by physical confinement and/or by walking the dog on a leash. There are many reasons for this, including concern for the health and safety of the pet, humans, other domestic animals and wildlife, as well as to prevent nuisance complaints and unintended breeding.

Invisible pet containment systems are designed to confine dogs to a defined area without the use of traditional fence structures. They are marketed as less expensive and easier to install than traditional fences. As a result, they are often chosen for aesthetic or financial reasons or to comply with zoning restrictions. However, the MSPCA has concerns that invisible pet containment systems are not always adequate nor are they the most appropriate restraining device for dogs.

Invisible pet containment systems vary widely. The most common system consists of three components. The first is a wire that is buried a few inches in the ground around the perimeter of the area where the dog is to be confined. This wire is attached to a radio transmitter that operates on 110 volt AC current and transmits a radio signal through the wire. A radio signal receiver is attached to a collar worn by the dog. This receiver is operated by a small battery and picks up the radio signal from the buried wire at a predetermined distance from the wire. When the signal is received, it first activates an audible warning tone. If the dog disregards the tone and does not move back within a few seconds, the dog receives a shock from the transmitter. Usually, the distance between the wire and the radio signal receiver on the collar can be adjusted. The strength of the shock varies among manufacturers.

Other systems are completely wireless using a radio transmitter only. There are also solar powered units. In addition, at least one company markets a shock-less system with a collar that, upon the dog entering the perimeter zone, emits a small spray of citronella under the dog’s nose to act as the aversive consequence.

All of these pet containment systems work by delivering an aversive signal (warning tone, shock or citronella spray) when the dog wearing the collar approaches a preset boundary. The animal must learn to avoid the correction by staying away from the boundary and, therefore, remain in the defined area.

Although many pet owners report that invisible pet containment systems have been successful in restricting their dogs to a desired area, the MSPCA has several concerns about their use. These concerns are:

  1. Significant training is required to insure that these systems will work as effectively and humanely as possible. Many companies do not offer appropriate customer support and training. Trainers that work for fence companies are not dog behaviorists, and are unlikely to have the ability to assess a potential fearful or aggressive reaction that a dog might have to the shock.
  2. The training process can be stressful and sometimes painful for the dog. If appropriate training methods are not applied, some dogs can be significantly traumatized and distressed from the experience.
  3. Even after appropriate training, a dog may at times be highly motivated cross the barrier, such as in pursuit of prey species, a dog in heat, or a stranger or other animal visible from the property. Dogs may temporarily forget their training and receive a correction while crossing through the invisible boundary, therefore risking danger or injury. In addition, once dogs have been motivated to cross the barrier in this manner, they will be unlikely to cross back through the boundary (and sustain yet another correction) to return to the yard.
  4. Because these systems lack visual barriers, it is possible for children and adults to unintentionally wander into the dog’s boundary area. If a confined dog has a strong sense of territoriality, the dog may react aggressively to this intrusion. These fences also do nothing to keep other animals (domestic or wildlife) out of the area. As a result, free-roaming animals may enter the area, confront and possibly injure or breed with an animal confined in an invisible pet containment system.

Because of these deficiencies, the MSPCA believes that such pet containment systems are inadequate to meet the full range of requirements for complete and safe restraint, and therefore discourages their use in most instances.

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