Wednesday, May 10, 2017

The Sign at the end of the Driveway

This sign is nailed to the base of a telephone pole at the end of my driveway.  It's been battered by a hundred runs-in with the string lawn trimmer, but it still announces that the dogs up the hill are held back by an Invisible Fence.

I mention this, because I have been scientifically trolling a few dog trainers to see what they know -- or what they don't know, or won't say.

I ask simple questions: How do you get a dog to stop barking? How do you get a dog to never come off a place command? How do you get a dog to not chase a cat? How do you keep the dog out of the trash can?

I always expect a certain amount of flourish and flutter, but I am looking for a simple answer. And if I don't hear that answer, I learn a lot very quickly.

You see, my dogs are not kenneled. I do not manage my dogs by keeping them in a cage all day long. Nor do they have free run of the house to chew on the couch, knock over the trash, get on the bed, or leave fur and hair from one end of the place to the other.

My dogs are not crated except at night when they go into the laundry room to sleep it off after a few hours watching TV and playing ball.

My dogs are not staked out on a fixed chain or attached to a slide wire.

I have had hard fences in the past, and I have some hard fences now, but I do not trust them. Who among us has not had a fence that a dog could not climb or dig under, or a gate that was never once left open? Not me!

And so, as an accident of acquisition (the Invisible Fence system came with the house), my hard-wired working terriers have been contained on this property by an Invisible Fence for the last 20 years.

Does it work? Like new money!  All I have to do is keep the collars tight and switch out the batteries every few months.

And are my dogs traumatized? Are they routinely zapped and shocked? No and nope.

My dogs understand that the Invisible Fence never sleeps and they know exactly where the line is.

They live happy and free lives running around the split levels of the back yard, trotting up and down the stone paths, moving from the stone dog house to the pond, greeting the neighbor dogs at the fence line, warning off squirrels, barking at the postman, and sleeping under the azaleas or sniffing out the spots where a deer, fox, or raccoon has visited the night before. And when it gets a bit too hot or cold or windy, they tuck inside the garage, entering through their own door, going down their own stairway, to the dog houses and tiny straw-covered run inside.  It's a pretty great set up, but my dogs will not stay in the yard simply because it's a great set up.  My dogs are stone predators, the proud descendants of wolves -- ask them!

So do I use an enormous cookie to keep my dogs in the yard?  I do not.

I use punishment. Call it "correction" or "consequences" if you prefer.

Punishment is not torture.  The dogs in my yard are not routinely shocked, and in fact the Invisible Fence could be turned off for a week or more, and I do not think they would notice. The dogs have been trained by punishment, same as the cows on the farms where I hunt and who never touch their electric fences.

Why punishment? Simple: there is no reward-based training that will reliably keep a dog in a yard.

Let me repeat that again; there is no reward-based training that will reliably keep a dog in a yard. 

And again:  there is no reward-based training that will reliably keep a dog in a yard.

Don't believe me?

Ask Karen Pryor, the queen of clicker training, who kept her own much-loved Border Terrier behind an Invisible Fence.

Did punishment make her dog aggressive? It did not.

Did punishment make her dog fearful? It did not.

Did punishment ruin her relationship with the dog? It did not.

And did punishment work to keep her dog in the yard? Yep. Like new money.

And so we get to the bottom line: Punishment and only punishment will stop an unwanted behavior.

Punishment is not torture, nor is it ongoing, nor does it create a massive amount of psychological damage to the dog.

And guess what? You do not need to know WHY the dog is doing the unwanted behavior.

The Invisible Fence does not care if the dog is chasing a deer or a squirrel.

It does not matter if the dog is interested in the bitch in heat seven yards over, or if they hear a yowling cat on the neighbor's porch.

The Invisible Fence does not care if the dog is bored or excited, curious or enraged.

The Invisible Fence does not care because correcting unwanted self-rewarding behavior is not about psychology; it's about sending a clear, consistent, and insistent NO signal.

If you are talking to a dog trainer that does not understand this one basic thing, go elsewhere, because it's a simple and provable fact that you cannot keep a dog inside a small yard with cookies alone.


Marlene Ferguson said...

While I have nothing against the use of the invisible fence system, I, personally, believe having a physical fence is beneficial (in lieu or in addition). The physical fence will help in those rare instances in which the electrical system fails, will be an obstacle for those times in which the dog's drive is greater than the system's punishment, and will serve to keep interlopers OUT. Yes, I recognize the post was not truly about fencing, but felt compelled to add my $.02. On the whole, I quite agree.

Andrew Thomason said...

I'm the trainer for invisible fence brand of the carolinas. It takes 3-4 non-consecutive days to train most dogs to the system. It's rare if the dog actually gets a zap the 4th day. The real reason I felt the need to reply is that I love these old signs!! If we drive by, see an older sign and swap it out for a new one, we get 1 American dollar each. It's a pretty neat game. So if yours gets swapped out....

Maxine said...

Where did you read that Karen Pryor used an electric fence with her own dog?

PBurns said...

Ms. Pryor says so herself, in her book and on her web site. See >>