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Ask the expert

Electric fences vs. shock collars


What is the difference between electric fences and shock collars?

An electric fence keeps a dog in the yard by placing a wire under the ground around the perimeter of the yard. The dog wears a collar with a transmitter that locates the wire. When the dog gets close to the wire, it receives a warning tone and if its get closer it receives an electric jolt. These work very well to keep most dogs in their own yard.

With a shock collar, the dog wears a similar type of collar, but the electric tone and jolt are administered when the owner pushes a button on a handheld remote.

So what is the difference? Human error. The electric fences deliver the warning tone and the shock in the exact place each and every time. No human can be that precise.

If trying to use a shock collar to keep a dog in the yard, no one can press the button and the exact location in the yard every time. One day the dog receives the shock 5 feet from the imagined line and the next time, it is 10 feet past it. This confuses the dog and he cannot imagine why he is suddenly receiving this pain coming from nowhere. The dog may become afraid to go outdoors at all.

When using a shock collar for other problem behaviors, the same thing happens: Human timing can never be precise.

Also, while using a shock collar to fix one bad behavior, another problem can manifest. Dogs are visual thinkers. If they receive the shock when looking at a child they will equate the shock with children. This could make the dog become aggressive toward children. The dog connects children with pain.

Many aggressive dogs have owners who have used shock collars in the past. They may have fixed their original problem, but the aggression may be a direct result of the collar.

Deciding to keep your dog in the yard by using an electric fence should be carefully considered. First, not all dogs respect the boundaries of an electric fence. Some dogs decide that it is worth the pain of breaking through the boundary in order to run free and chase squirrels or rabbits.

Others dogs often regress in housetraining, afraid to go out the yard at all. Also, electric fences do not keep anything out of your yard. Other dogs can come into your yard and harm your dog. Especially if you have a small dog, stray dogs, coyotes or other animals could come into your yard and hurt your little dog. Children could come into your yard and, if your dog is ill at ease with children, he might bite.

Some neighborhoods do not allow structural fences to be put up and in those cases electric fences are the only option to keep the dog home. But if given a choice I think that a structural fence is the best option. It keeps the dog safe and home and safe from potential predators.

Tip of the week: If you decide to install an electronic fence, do research and choose a good quality fence. Some dogs have gotten shocked when the phone rings, even while inside the house with some of the substandard models. Bark questions to: Canine Companion, 11652 North - 825 West, Huntington, IN 46750 or email

Canine Companion conducts dog training classes in Fort Wayne, Huntington and surrounding communities and behavior consulting nationwide. Along with their combined 30 years experience and endorsement by national organizations, the lead trainers are graduates of Purdue University's DOGS! Program and have earned the title of Certified Pet Dog Trainer through the Association of Pet Dog Trainers.