Keeping Your Dog Safe At Home

There are just a few ways of keeping your dog at home rather than roaming the neighborhood, but they have some important differences, and each has its own pros and cons.

Tethers and Leashes

Perhaps the easiest way to make sure you dog stays home is to attach him to something sturdy. This could be a tether attached to a ground spike, your home or outbuildings, or it could be a leash attached to you.

Obviously, leashes come in different styles, some allowing you to control the distance between you and the dog by retracting a portion of the leash. Others have a fixed length, but one or more loops allowing you to keep the dog very close or somewhat further away. And, of course, leashes may be made of woven fabric, leather, chain links, or various other materials.

Boxer puppy on a leash
It may seem obvious, but a leash is a simple and effective way to help keep your dog safe.

Tethers also have several options. Some come with a spike that screws into the ground, others attach to the side of your home or another building on your property or even to a tree. Still others are made of two ropes, one of which is hung between trees or two fixed objects, with the other rope hanging down to attach to the dog's collar. The second rope then slides along the first rope, allowing the dog to move back and forth the length of the run. Similar to leashes, tethers may be chains - either alone or covered in plastic coating, woven cloth, leather, or any other strong material.

The benefits of leashes and tethers are their low cost, ease of installation, and availability in a wide variety of materials which can be selected based on the strength of the dog.

The main disadvantage of leashes is that you must be outside every single time your dog is outside, even in the middle of the night, even when the baby is crying, even when you are sick, and even when it's raining.

For tethers, the main disadvantage is that your dog is confined to one small area of your yard. While this makes it easier to clean up his droppings, it is tough on your lawn. Depending on what the tether is anchored to, a tether may also allow your dog to wind his chain around a tree or other impediment, effectively confining him to a very small area.

Traditional Fencing

If you have a fair-sized yard that you want to make fully available to your dog, traditional fencing may be the best option for you. Whether you select post and chicken-wire installed by you over a weekend, or chain-link, vinyl, or wooden fences installed either by you or by a contractor, a fence can give you the security of knowing your dog cannot escape and cannot wind himself around a tree. Fences also allow you to let your dog go outside by himself, freeing you for the other tasks in your life. In addition, fencing keeps other dogs out of your yard.

Boxer puppy on a leash
A good fence will help keep your dog safely in your yard.

A word of caution here: never leave your dog outside alone when you are not paying attention to his whereabouts. Although most fences are generally secure, your dog can burrow under the fence or someone may have left a gate open, allowing your dog to escape. In addition, it is not uncommon for thieves to steal dogs left alone in their back yards and resell them on the black market. If you have a valuable dog, either monetarily or sentimentally, make sure you keep an eye on your dog even while he is roaming your own yard.

The biggest disadvantage to traditional fencing is cost. Prices vary widely by region, but you can expect to spend at least $500 on chain link, $1,000 on wood, or $1,500 on vinyl fencing for a medium-sized yard.

Electronic / Underground Fencing

Probably the biggest advance in fencing in recent years is the introduction of underground or electronic fencing. Installation involves burying a cable under the ground in a complete circle around your home. Electricity runs through the cable, creating an electromagnetic field that can send signals to a receiver worn on your dog's collar. When the receiver gets too close to the buried cable, an electric shock or a loud sound emits from the receiver, encouraging your dog to back up into his assigned space.

Training a dog to an underground fence takes a matter of a few weeks, and is fairly easy to accomplish. Typically, small white flags are planted along the line of the buried cable. The dog is led toward one of the flags, then back to the center of the yard. As you are leading your dog back away from the flags, another person should shake the flag to get the dog's attention and tell him firmly, "no!" The first few times you do this, you should lead the dog close enough into the electromagnetic field that he gets a shock or hears the correcting sound from the collar receiver. After once or twice, you should no longer lead him into the magnetic field, as he will have associated the shock or noise with the flags, and you can rely just on those.

Two or three times each day, for about 5 - 10 minutes at each session, take your dog outside on his leash and lead him near the flags, then back to the center of the yard while your helper shakes the flags and tells him, "no!" Gradually, allow your dog to wander the yard freely. If he gets too close to the flags, he will get a correction from the collar, and you can reinforce it with a verbal, "no!" As the dog gets the idea, begin removing every other flag from the cable path. After a few more days, remove a few more flags, continuing until all flags are removed.

Advantages to underground or electronic fencing are that you can install them even in subdivisions where "ugly" traditional fences may not be allowed, and that there is no possibility of leaving a gate open or tunneling under as there would be with traditional fencing.

There are three main disadvantages to underground fencing. First is its cost, which is around $1,500 for professional installation and training, but much cheaper if you purchase a do-it-yourself kit. Secondly, an electronic fence will not keep other dogs out of your yard. Having strange dogs visit can be a blast for your dog, but can lead to fights or unwanted pregnancies. Finally, if your dog wants out of the yard badly enough, he may decide it is worth getting a short shock or hearing a loud sound for a second or two. Once the dog gets to the other side of the magnetic field, the corrective action from the collar stops.

If your fence ever malfunctions, as it may if the cable works its way above ground and is cut by a weed whacker or damaged by weather, your dog may test the limits of the yard and find out he can leave with no pain whatsoever. The same thing will happen if your power goes out for any reason. Once the dog learns that he can get out freely, he will continue to try, and may just break out if he doesn't find the shock or noise too objectionable.

Training

The cheapest, most reliable, and hardest way to keep your dog in your yard is to thoroughly train him to stay there. This takes diligence, patience, and consistency on your part, but is ultimately the best way to keep your dog home and safe. There is no cost except your time, but it is a huge time investment.

Training is accomplished in much the same way it is done for an underground fence. However, because there is no scary correction from a training collar, your dog may be less shy about breaking out of his boundaries. However, once your dog is thoroughly trained, it is unlikely he will ever leave your yard. He will give himself his own mental corrections, so you don't have to rely on his getting a correction from a collar that may or may not be functioning properly.

The biggest downside to training, other than the fact that you have to consistently take the time to do it, is that your wide open yard will allow other dogs to come visit, again presenting the problems of possible fighting, unwanted pregnancies, and more droppings to clean up.

Keep your dog safe

No matter which method you choose, you must be prepared for the eventuality that your dog will find a way to break out. If your dog ever leaves the interior of your home, you must make sure he will return. Make sure he always wears his county registration, identification, and / or rabies tags, have him microchipped or tattooed, or simply refuse to open the door if he is not attached to some sort of leash or tether. You have made both a financial and emotional investment in your dog, and you owe it to your family and your dog to keep him safe at home.

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