Where Eagles and Herons Watch Dogs (32KB)

Dogs Roam?

Not Safe!

For your dog, that is.

Fences: Confining dogs at home


First, very rough draft
Sunday, 04 September, 2005

I live in a rural subdivision. When I moved here, there were three or four houses in this large area. There were maybe three or four dogs at most, two of them, ours.

That was over 30 years ago. Gradually, the neighborhood grew. When once it was safe to allow a dog to roam a short distance from home, it no longer is safe; the main dangers are vehicles, wildlife tempting dogs to chase, predators such as cougar, and, likely most dangerous to a dog's long-term temperament and comfort: humans: angry neighbors.

Outside Dogs

For reasons beyond the scope of this article, companion dogs do best when they live in the house with their human keepers. They learn to communicate with their humans best that way. It's harder to teach a dog to do what you want it to if the dog is living outside, unattended much of the time.

A few of my neighbors, and plenty more up and down the highway, keep their dogs as Outside Dogs. These neighbors love their dogs, and do their best for them, but the ease of teaching, from human-to-dog, is considerably greater for HouseDogs than it is for Outside Dogs. Outside Dogs do cope, though, providing their safety and health is protected.

I wonder what it is in a dog's being that makes a dog an Outside Dog. Kumbi loves to be outside, and spends much time in our yard, or on the Front Stoop. Yet also, he comes into the house often and freely, since I have a pet door, and the yard fence encloses the pet door. This is an ideal situation for the dog, though not all humans enjoy living that closely with a dog. Probably the most common reasons for a dog to be an Outside Dog are dirt (whatever that is), and vulnerability of valued objects kept in the house. Sometimes one or more human family members are allergic to dogs.

Kwali, recovering from knee surgery as I write this, now has use of the pet door, but, till Kwali completes 18 weeks post-op, both dogs are gated off from the yard itself, and have access only to the Front Stoop when I'm not specifically attending to them.

Whether you decide your dog may be a House Dog, or you have the dog Outside Only is entirely your choice. I'm sure my bias in favor of dogs living in houses with their humans pervades this web site. Still, I acknowledge the choice is yours. My remarks on fencing here apply whether your dog lives Inside or Outside your house, or both!

House Dogs

House-dogs, or Inside-Dogs, if you like, those who live in the house, and have time outside where they are safe, have the best of things, all other things being equal.

Dog-proofing a house is another matter that needs attention, if our dogs are to live inside with us; that too is beyond my scope for this article, where my primary concern is, how most safely to provide outdoor fencing for a dog.

Roaming dogs are in danger

It's really too bad we can't generally let our dogs visit around the neighborhood, joining each other and exploring together, enjoying each others' company. Dogs can develop wonderful social skills with each other, doing that; on the other hand, they may also encounter difficulties with each other, especially when well-meaning humans not thoroughly educated and practiced with loose dogs might attempt to intervene.

Well, not every human knows enough about dog-nature and being to facilitate, rather than exacerbate, dog-dog relationships, but knowledgeable humans, out with their dogs, can make a neighborhood dog-excursion a lot of fun for the dogs, and help enhance their dog-dog social skills. Each dog in the excursion-party should have a human handler along, who is responsible for its well-being. Details, again, are beyond my scope here.

In rural subdivisions such as the one I live in, where we have Animal Control services, not immediately on call, but within hours in emergencies, a few days at worst, roaming dogs are at risk of being picked up, transported to the pound some 30 or 40 miles away, and held there till picked up by the owners, who are charged fairly hefty fines for allowing the dog to roam.

Dangers to roaming dogs

Specific dangers roaming dogs may encounter include


Dogs may encounter and ingest from garbage:

  1. Splintery bones
  2. Spoiled food
  3. Possible chemicals, or oily stuff
  4. Paper of various sorts, tins, or plastic.

Garden hazards

Various sorts of other hazards may attract dogs, such as

  1. Slug bait (particularly attractive and deadly)
  2. Antifreeze (also particularly attractive and deadly)
  3. Compost, which may contain leavings poisonous to dogs
  4. Rat poision or rat-traps.

Angry-Human Hazards

Not all humans love dogs. Even those who do may, in desperation, attack a roaming dog. Or a human may confine a roaming dog, and have Animal Control pick it up and impound it.

In some areas, it's legal for a human to shoot a dog who is chasing livestock. It's not legal to discharge firearms in the subdivision I live in, but that doesn't mean no human would do so.

Where I live, if a neighbor gets angry enough, s/he is likely to call Animal Control, which would likely result in, first, a talking-to for the dog's owners, with a warning to confine the dog at home. On subsequent occasions, a dog may be impounded, and the owner would then be charged a fine, and have to pick the dog up at the pound. I have heard of dogs simply abandoned at the pound, but most local dog-owners pick their dogs up and pay the fines.

An additional hazard for dog-and-human owner is that dogs learn by association. They may learn to fear strange humans; if they become frightened, they may try to bite, and develop an aggressive streak. Humans have a hard enough time as it is with dogs they believe are "aggressive"; not too many are well-versed in what aggression really is, and they may accuse a dog who is merely defending itself against attack of "being a vicious dog." Even our local Animal Control Bylaw uses the word "vicious" in ways that I find exaggerated and misleading.

So, if you love your dog, please confine it when you're not present to supervise, or if you haven't had time to teach the dog to come when called.

When my dogs don't need constant supervision, as during Kwali's recovery from knee surgery, I leave them free in my house, with access to the pet door, since my fence encloses the area entirely. I'd guess they are one reason my house hasn't been broken into; another might be that there's nothing in particular to attract burglars.

Dogs as Protectors of Property

Here are my brief thoughts about dogs as deterrents against burglary. I leave discussion of Livestock Guardian Dogs to others, who know lots more about such things than I do. I'm thinking of environments like the one I live in; rurally-located subdivisions, where houses may be half an acre, an acre, apart, and livestock tends to be incidental; perhaps a few chickens or ducks or geese, or a sheep or two, maybe a horse or two.

One dog, or multiple dogs, can act at least as minor deterrents against burglary, if you're not at home. Their very presence may discourage a casual burglar. However, my understanding is that dogs cannot protect against professionals. Various nasty things can happen to dogs-at-home-alone, if a determined burglar who doesn't care about dogs comes along. But that would be true whether your dogs are outside or in the house.

It makes sense to me to use a burglar alarm, or for even greater peace of mind and protection, to hire a security-service. We have several good ones in our area, and neighbors have been very happy with their services.

If your dog is an Outside Dog

What to do, what to do?

Hey, wait a minute. There are cheaper things to do.

  1. Tie the dog (tether it)
  2. Put the dog on a trolley
  3. What else am I missing?

A tethered or tied dog is at risk. The risks are beyond the scope of this article. So, I come to fencing; how could a useful, safe, fence be installed?

Types of fencing

I can think of a couple of types of fencing that are generally safe for dogs; these would keep the dog in, and intruders out, depending on your local environment.

If you are very, very delightfully prosperous, and have considerable area, you might consider fencing your entire property. What luxury for a dog! Assuming, of course, your property has natural attraction and is generally safe for your dog to roam in.

I recommend against using radio-controlled fencing, and elaborate on that below.

Location and characteristics for useful fencing

However, fencing can be expensive, and if you're not rolling in money, you could fence off a small area. The fenced area should have sun and shade, and some form of protection against Stuff That Falls From the Sky.

The best location for a fenced area is somewhere near the house, sheltered from prevailing winds. If you can include a variety of shrubbery and trees, while still allowing for sunlit areas, so much the better. Best also put the fence as far as possible from passing traffic, so as not to expose your dog to frustration or perhaps to taunting from children, teens or adult humans not knowledgeable about dogs.

A double-gate is such a blessing that I recommend you put one in; you are likely to be endlessly thankful for it. It acts like a baffle, so if some human slips with one gate, the other keeps an excited dog from breaking loose suddenly and running off.

The baffle area should be at least four feet wide in its inside dimensions, and at least six feet long. If you can make it somewwhat wider and longer, so much the better. At the outside, you put a gate that swings outward; on the inside, you put a gate that swings in, into the fenced yard. If your baffle area is wide enough, you could allow the gates to swing into it, instead of away from it, but it's probably handier to have them swing away from the boxed-in area.

You might need to add a padlock to the outer gate if people habitually wander into your property, to prevent slips or errors.

A doghouse can be wonderful. For warm places, a roomy one is great. For cold places, the doghouse shouldn't be much larger than the dog, and should contain fresh, warm bedding for the dog to burrow into.

Of course, you would see to it your dog has a plentiful supply of fresh water.

It's not appropriate to leave a dog alone for 24 hours or more; perhaps if you are faced with an emergency, a neighbor would feed your dog and give it some attention.

The two obvious types of fencing are chain link, or some kind of mesh-wire. My fence is what was once called "kennel mesh;" it has crinkles in it that make climbing the fence awkward or difficult; the space bewteen the wires is about two inches horizontally, and four inches vertically, and the horizontal wires have crinkles, or "knuckles," in them.

My dogs are small, so a five-foot fence is sufficient to confine them. It's not high enough to keep deer from leaping into my yard, but there's nothing special in my yard to attract deer, and space is limited, so deer are unlikely to leap inside anyway. None has, in the short-of-five years I've lived here.

Depending on how much running room a dog might have to get a fence-leaping start, you might need a higher fence, again, depending on the size of your dog, as well as other considerations, including what creatures might attempt to get into your fenced area.

For a large dog, especially a good leaper or runner, I recommend a fence some eight feet high; that high a fence may also keep deer out of your garden. Seven or six feet might do for most dogs, if they aren't especially runners-or-leapers.

One of my neighbors successfully confines his lovely, aging Shepherd with a post-and-rail fence. It works for him and for her, but would be likely insufficient to assure a dog's safety if it is younger or easily tempted to leave your property. Therefore, I couldn't recommend such a fence, though I appreciate that it really works for this particular neighbor-with-dog.

Radio (SHOCK) fencing

Some areas have zoning bylaws that prohibit visible fences. People living in such areas who want to keep dogs may install radio-controlled fencing, namely, a buried wire that delivers a shock to the dog who crosses the wire. The dog wears a collar that contacts the skin, and the shock is delivered from wire-to-collar.

Even the best (if I may use such a word for fencing that I believe is dangerous to dogs) of the brands of these radio-controlled fences may malfunction if not regularly checked and maintained, with varying possible results, including a radio signal that delivers constant shock to the dog. That's definitely a malfunction, but I've heard of it happening.

The theory behind such fencing is that the dog doesn't connect the shock with its human owners, therefore won't develop aggression toward the owners. However, keeping in mind that dogs learn by association, there's no telling what association the dog may make at the moment some tempting Thing passes by, and the dog, excited, forgets the fence, and crosses the wire. The dog may then associate whatever attracted it with the shock it felt.

Another hazard is that a dog who gets so excited as to cross the wired boundary may then have difficulty re-entering its property. Going home may not be as exciting as whatever stimulated it to leave home. A dog who does cross the wire to go home then gets shocked again. Maybe a dog who has escaped is then reluctant to go home again.

A third hazard some humans tend to forget about till it happens is that a radio-controlled fence affects only the animal who is wearing the collar that delivers the shock. Any other dog, or other wild creature, then, may enter the property at any time. The Outside Dog, then, has no protection against such intruders.

Radio-controlled fencing makes some humans happy; it may work all right for their dogs. Yet I have heard reports of numbers of dogs who have been frightened enough by such fencing to develop temperament problems. I have worked with a few of these, and their fear is difficult to heal. They tend to exhibit anxieties of various kinds, and they may have associated the shocks they received with just about any other creature. Some of these dogs have turned "aggressive" (a common human term for defensive), and some, when under unusual stress, may begin to attack other creatures, humans included. Dogs who are stressed can become unpredictable with their behaviors.

In case it's not very obvious, I have a very strong bias against using any form of shock with a dog in the name of training, or with the purpose of confining a dog. The salient element for me is the unpredictable fallout from using punishment, even if the punishment doesn't obviously originate from a human.

For those humans unfamiliar with the effects of punishment, or coercion, a useful book is:

Sidman, Murray. Coercion and its fallout. Authors Cooperative, June 1, 1989, ISBN: 0962331120.

There is also a revised edition, which I haven't seen.

In short, please don't use radio fencing for your dog. Of course, it is always your choice, not mine, what to do for or with or to your dog.This article is merely my plea, with some information, and you can and should question all of it, and test it for yourself. Except, obviously, you do not need to test the use of shock. You can read up on that from reliable sources, such as Sidman.

Exceptions for Roaming

How dogs may roam a bit, safely

There are some conditions in which we can allow dogs to go off on their own.

Humans who live-and-work with their dogs very closely, who have many years of experience living with their dogs and teaching them, may choose to allow their dogs to roam within limited ranges, especially where there are natural boundaries within which their dogs are likely to remain safely.

Typically, these humans have taught their dogs reliable recalls, so that when they call their dogs, the dogs come. It could take a dog several minutes to arrive after such a recall, depending on how far away the dog was to begin with.

Another possible exception is when neighbors agree between them how to manage for the safety of the dogs, of wildlife, livestock or property.

Characteristcs of such exceptions are typically that dogs allowed to roam within limited, specified boundaries, are effectively supervised, even if out of the owner's sight. These dogs may have very specific jobs to do, and they have usually been taught these jobs with care. Among such dogs would be herding dogs, livestock guardians, treeing and trailing and Search And Rescue dogs.

It's the home-companion dog who doesn't have a specialized job along with training for it who can be badly affected if allowed to roam.

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