Sighthounds tend to fall into the “fly right through” category, says Michael McCann, who has worked with Greyhound adoption and rescue groups for 25 years. “Sighthounds will chase anything they see,” he says, “plastic bags, leaves, rabbits, pretty much anything.” And because Greyhounds are fast—40- miles-per-hour fast—by the time they hear the shock collar’s warning beep, they are likely to be on the other side of the boundary before they come to a stop, if they do at all.
The Teasleys ended up scrapping their electronic fence about two weeks after it was installed, because Sheba ran and hid upstairs when the collar was put on her and Noodles just trotted through the “barrier,” ignoring the shocks. “I call it my folly,” says Teasley, a music therapist. “I didn’t train them,” she says. “That was a big part of the problem.”
Beyond the system not working out, any time a dog feels pain or is hurt, there’s a risk of fallout behaviors developing, says Niki Tudge, certified dog trainer and behavior consultant and president of the Pet Professional Guild.
“What happens is that dogs start to generalize the pain to what they see and hear around them,” she says. “Then you end up with dogs who become reactive and aggressive towards children going past on bikes or people walking by.”
For this reason, cities like Overland Park, Kansas, stipulate that electronic fences cannot be used in front yards, and they have to be at least 10 feet from public walkways or neighboring property lines. Council Bluffs, Iowa, goes even further. Not only can the system not be used in the front yard, but the owner must be with the dog when the dog is outside.
Of equal concern is that electronic fences are not actually fences. No physical barrier secures a dog inside the perimeter or keeps other animals or people out. “Generally speaking, the electronic containment system is something that is an illusion of containment,” says Kenneth Phillips, an attorney who specializes in dog-bite cases.
In fact, “electronic containment systems usually are not considered to be any type of boundary fence as required by the ordinances of various cities and counties all over the country,” Phillips says. Municipalities that do include information on electronic fences generally state that they cannot be used for any dog with a history of aggression.
Not having a physical fence in place can spell danger, not only for people and animals passing by, but also for the dog in the yard.
In December 2015, McCann—who has led many a Greyhound search-andrescue mission—got a call from his veterinarian to help find Dimitri, her 15-year-old Terrier mix. Dimitri was out in his yard with his two siblings when a coyote entered the yard and dragged him away. McCann grabbed his infrared camera and set out to look for Dimitri; after more than an hour, the search party found the little black pup gravely injured a couple of hundred yards from his home. He died two days later.
More recently, in April of this year, a man in Anchorage, Alaska, shot and killed a seven-year-old chocolate Labrador Retriever named Skhoop, also “contained” by an electronic fence. Jason Mellerstig had just moved into the neighborhood and told police he felt threatened by the dog, who was loose in her yard.
“My dog was in a radio-collar fence,” Skhoop’s owner, Dave Brailey, told Anchorage reporter Craig Medred. “The dog does not come out of the yard. If she comes out of the yard, she gets shocked. She knows exactly where the shock-collar line is. It worked like a charm. She was like a little queen. She’d sit in the front yard and just be happy.”
Given accounts such as these, as well as the basic question of whether it is ever okay to use pain or fear to train a dog, it’s unsurprising that the collars are banned in other countries. While groups, including the Pet Professional Guild, lobby to ban shock collars in the United States, some rescue organizations— Sighthound groups among them—will not adopt any dog to a home that uses an electronic fence.