Dealing With Fence Fear

Fence fear is a term we use to describe a dog who appears fearful or extremely cautious of the new electric dog fence systems. Some dogs may show fence fear in response to the correction, the boundary flags, or the the warning tone. The approach to dealing with fence fear in a dog is tied to the cause of the fence fear and the severity of the dog’s reaction. A dog scared of an electric fence needs to be taken very seriously.

Flag and/or Warning Tone Fear

Some dogs are very sensitive to changes in their routine or surroundings. For dogs like these the appearance of training flags in the yard may be enough to freak them out. These dogs may show extreme caution around the training flags and may refuse to go anywhere near them. This can make the training process seem impossible – if the dog won’t wander close enough to the training flags to hear the warning tone, how can you progress to Step 2 of training? The short answer is, you can’t! If your dog is too wary of the new flags to approach them, then he won’t hear the tone, and you won’t have the opportunity to teach him that re should turn and retreat whenever he hears that tone. This means that you’ll need to wait him out. We never want to lure, call, or force the dog into the correction area because this breaks the trust bond we have with our dog and confuses him. Instead, we need to wait until the dog wanders into the boundary zone on his own. The good news is that most dogs who show a “flag fear” will get over it on their own in very short order. Wait it out and increase playtime in the yard near to (but not in) the boundary zone. This will help your dog become comfortable with the presence of the flags. Once your dog is seemingly ignoring the flags and playing confidently try casually walking closer to the boundary zone to wait for your dog to wander into it and hear the warning tone so you can teach the ‘turn and retreat’ response.

The same basic protocol can be followed if your dog shows a fear of the warning tone. The tone itself is not harmful or painful in any way. So if your dog reacts strongly to it you can be assured it is not out of physical discomfort. The best course of action is to build your dog’s confidence by displaying calm confidence yourself as you teach him the response that turns off the warning tone (turn and retreat). As his master, he will instinctively mimic your attitude.

Fear of the Static Correction

With the proper dog fence system and collar, most dogs respond normally or don’t react at all to the mildest correction setting. However, some especially sensitive dogs may react, even strongly, to the lowest level of correction. This fearful reaction can create a negative association with the receiver collar, boundary flags, or even the entire yard.

Fence fear can make training more difficult and needs to be addressed before productive training can continue. Watch your dog’s reaction strongly to their first correction in Step 2 of training and if you notice any submissive or stress reactions see signs of stress you’ll need to slow down the training.

Building your dog’s confidence in his ability to avoid and/or turn off the correction is the best way to beat fence fear. But once the dog has had a reaction, we need to back up and slow down our training to avoid compounding the fear with another correction and reaction.

Combating Fence Fear

1. Remain calm and confident.

Do not baby the dog or give any special attention to the fearful reaction. This is extremely important! The worst thing we can do in this situation is encourage the fear reaction by ‘babying’ the dog. Go ahead and try the lowest correction on your own arm… it’s a very very mild static shock, much like that you’d get from a doorknob. Once you’ve tried it yourself, you can feel confident that it is not causing your dog pain.

2. Increase playtime and praise in the safe zone.

We want to overpower the negative association with the correction with a positive association with fun in the yard. Spend more time playing, praising, and treating your fearful dog in the safe zone to establish that really great positive association with the yard. Make sure you end every single training session with a fun fast-paced victory lap around the containment area. By executing this fun, upbeat, and positive lap around the safe zone, you are again reinforcing that the containment area is a good thing and encouraging your dog to be an excited and willing participant in the training.

3. Feed your dog in the safe zone to further establish the positive association with the yard.

Dog’s love food! Food plays the triple threat role of exciting, relaxing, and motivating a dog. Like Pavlov’s bell, feeding your dog in the safe area of the containment zone will condition your dog to associate good things with being in the yard, wearing the collar, and seeing the training flags. Offer your dog small bits of protein-rich delicious snacks while playing and training. Use these types of treats to reward your dog for performing the turn and retreat when he hears the warning tone. Feed your dog his meals in the containment area. Starting near the house or the middle of the area and slowly moving closer to the boundary line with each meal. As your dog comfortably eats his meals in the containment zone with the boundary flags in sight, he will begin to form the positive association that will allow him to overcome his fear and use the fence successfully.

4. Revisit Step 1.

Rather than continuing with Step 2: Correction, move back to Step 1 and work the yard again in tone-only mode. This will help to ‘reset’ your dog’s understanding of the fence and give him time to forget about the negative reaction. Use lots of the protein rich tasty treats we talked about above.

5. Slow down the training.

Make your training sessions shorter while making the playtime before and after longer. Again, this helps to sway the balance in favor of the positive association between praise and play in the yard. Make sure your dog does not receive more than 1 correction per training session. After a correction you can turn the collar back to tone-only mode or simply wrap up that session with playtime.

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