Invisible Fence Training for Australian Shepherds
The stages of invisible fence training are incredibly important. If you rush things, you could cause more shocks than necessary and scare your dog from ever wanting to venture into the yard. If you go too slow, you risk creating a weak association. Pay attention to your dog and adapt the advice I’ve listed below so that it suits your situation.
For this step in the invisible fence training, you want to keep all of the flags in the ground and have them densely arranged. It’s always better to start with lots of flags because they act as the ‘visible’ fence. You can order more with your kit or at PetSafe.
Invisible Fence Training with no Correction
The collar shock tips should be covered during the first part of your invisible fence training.
The first step in invisible fence training is to help your dog identify the boundary lines and the meaning of the warning beep, all with no correction/shock. As with any other new training endeavor, you want to start out with the rewards being high and the consequences being minimum.
Your invisible fence kit should come with rubber covers that you can place on the collar shock tips during training so that there is no shock/correction. Adjust the collar size so that it fits snugly but does not choke.
To introduce your dog to the fence, put your dog on a leash and walk around inside the flag perimeter, pointing and talking about the fence. Always stay within the boundary zone as if it were a real fence. When your dog walks too close to the boundary, the collar will start beeping. At that point, you should immediately turn and jog away from the fence (with enthusiasm! Make it a game to run away from the fence). Once you reach the center of the yard, praise your dog for moving away when the beeping cued her. Make a BIG show of it and lavish attention on them for being so smart and hustling away from the boundary.
Repeat this routine until your dog understands the center of the yard is good and the edge of the yard just means they get yanked back to the center. You’ll notice progress when your dog turns faster than you upon the start of the beeping. You’ll know you’re ready to move on when they refuse to walk to the boundary line.
Invisible Fence Training will Differ Greatly between Dogs
Sydney’s invisible fence training was interesting. You’re probably already aware that Trooper is very attentive to what I’m doing and he watches my face and body language almost nonstop to check for my next request. In the beginning, Sydney did not do that. (She only does it now when we’re in a training situation.) This personality difference corresponded to very different responses to the fence.
The invisible fence training routine of fence, beep, jog, praise, fence, etc got boring with Trooper really fast. In fact, once he got shocked (and they’ll have to get shocked at least once), he could not be convinced to walk toward the fence again.
Trooper refuses to approach the fence once he has experienced the shock.
It made sense – he knew I was going to make him run away from it, so he just stayed away from it…which is EXACTLY the goal of the invisible fence training. It was very different with Sydney. She did not even appear to hear the beeping. She was panting and pulling so hard on the leash that she observed nothing – not my words, pulling, the beeping or the visual of the flag ‘fence’. It became obvious that because she was so anxious/excited on a leash, that getting her to focus on the flags and beeping was going to be a different process than it was for Trooper.
The Next Step if Your Dog is not Trooper
Sydney standing near the invisible fence, totally oblivious as to the purpose of the exercise.
The morning after Sydney’s invisible fence training introduction, we did another session. After an extensive amount of time of walking in circles on the leash, she calmed down and we did some fence work. She was enthusiastic about running back to the center of the yard and definitely recognized the noise. She got to the point where she would walk calmly next to me, not wanting to cross the flags. But if my body language at all indicated that I might walk across the fence, she was totally willing. Bad sign!
We had to continue the routine for several days until she actually refused to cross the line. It took a surprisingly long time and it made me realize how dogs who were not like Trooper might receive poor fence training. When they are slow to pick up on the purpose, I imagine some owners rush things and then the dog never really understands.
I’ll be totally honest – at times I despaired that Sydney would never learn. Sometimes she stood in the midst of beeping and didn’t move. However, after many training days and finally a ‘correction’ episode, she began to put the pieces together.
Testing your Invisible Fence Training
Introducing Temptations and Distractions
Once your dog is refusing to approach the fence (because they know you’re just going to drag them back to the center of the yard), drop the leash and get ready for the first test. A long lead really works better for these situations. If you have an extra person around, ask them for help. Go slow with these tests – Just like with the initial stage of your invisible fence training, it’s important to watch your dog and pace yourself to their learning speed.
With your dog and helper in the center of the yard, walk away from your dog and cross the boundary line. Keep walking and do NOT look back. You don’t want to make eye contact and accidentally encourage them. You’re testing whether or not they will (uninvited) follow you across the line. If the dog doesn’t move or follows you but doesn’t cross the line, the helper should make a HUGE deal of it – lavish praise, snacks and attention. You (the ultimate prize) can run back through the boundary and up to the dog to add an extra reward. If your dog does attempt to cross the boundary, the helper excitedly calls them back or steps on the lead and offers praise in the middle of the yard. This replicates the initial invisible fence training stage.
With dog and helper in same position as before, initiate a game when a dog’s prized possession might be thrown outside the boundary. For example, play catch with a toy they enjoy – helper on inside and you near boundary line. After a few throws, ‘accidentally’ miss your catch and let the toy go outside the fence. If your dog doesn’t follow, praise and treat. If they do try to follow, distract and call back; praise and treat in center.
- Strangers and Super Temptations
This is the biggest step up so far in your invisible fence training. Once your dog is consistently ignoring your distraction effects (you or a possession), it’s time to employ something that is novel and tempting. A friend and friend’s dog work great. Your stranger/friend is going to walk by the house/yard without engaging you or your dog. Once they walk past and the dog doesn’t cross the fence, you praise and reward. When they are reliably ignoring the visitor, get the person to walk their dog. This can be super tempting, so get ready to step on the leash/lead.
Invisible Fence Training Correction/Shock
If your dog has successfully passed the previous steps in their invisible fence training, then you are ready for correction. Take a deep breath…you are going to allow your dog to get shocked.
Remove the rubber tips and put the collar back on. Repeat the drills above and spend time playing outside with your dog. Give them lots of opportunity to mess up. I know this sounds wrong and hurtful, but it’s better they get their first shock while you are with them to A) Reassure them that their world did not fall apart and B) Help them if they decide to not remove themselves from the shock zone.
A few things might happen when your dog gets shocked for the first time. They will likely act startled and scared. Call them to you and praise them. Distract them from that disturbing experience by continuing to play whatever game you were playing, by offering snacks and by loving on them. Try not to return inside right away. You don’t want to create a fearful dog that doesn’t want to spend time in the yard. The yard is a safe place; the fence is a boundary.
Your dog might do nothing – it might be surprised and then continue its meandering. This is the best response as long as it stems from them understanding the purpose of the shock and not just being immune to it (i.e. thick hair, collar too loose, stubborn personality).
Your dog might do what Sydney did – it scared me really bad and I felt awful. Here’s what happened…An animal came into the yard and she chased it. She hit the invisible fence, got shocked, sat down and briefly tried to get the collar off. Seconds after, she stopped trying and just sat in the shock field, shaking and whimpering.
It was an awful thing to see. I was already running after her when she was chasing the animal so I was there pretty quickly. I immediately grabbed her, guided her out of the zone and tried to act normal, resuming our game and offering loads of praise. She’s fine. In fact, she didn’t have an over-the-top fearful response to the fence. She learned the meaning of the fence. It has to happen. Otherwise, what is going to stop them from running away, chasing a neighbor, etc?
Also, just f.y.i, a good collar will have a built in ‘stop timer’. After 10 seconds, the shock would have stopped for a period of time. It’s built in for dogs like Sydney.
Trooper also completed his invisible fence training with the aid of a deer. He didn’t sit down; he got shocked and retreated. That’s all it took. Now he chases them to the boundary, backs up and reinforces his territory with assertive barking. (He hasn’t actually worn the collar for over a year. He doesn’t need it.)
Invisible Fence Training Debate
We’ll talk more about arguments against invisible fence training in a later post. For now, the take home message is go slow. Do not start training your dog on the fence when you are in a time pressure situation. It CAN backfire if the owner messes it up. The dog is just the pupil; the owner has to be the patient teacher. More later!