This article was originally written for Rescue purposes but provides good information to consider when getting a Westie from any source.
There are frequent inquiries into the use of Invisible Fencing with Westies. In general we do not encourage it. If we are placing a dog, and there is a choice between two otherwise equal homes, we would choose to put the dog in the home with regular fencing. The order of preference is:
Regular Fencing (with slats close enough to actually keep the dog in)
- A dog pen or fenced run
- A dog being walked on leash
- A dog being on a tie out that lies on the ground
- A dog being on a tie out that runs overhead
- Invisible Fencing
Regular fencing is always the best choice as long as the dog cannot slip through the slats. If the slats are too wide, then the fencing needs to be reinforced to resolve this problem.
A dog pen does not need to be very large. Something like 25 x 25 gives a lot of room for a little Westie to run and still supplies a secure area.
Many people are in apartments or condos where there is no fencing but rules require the dog to be leashed. If the dog is always on leash, he will be safe. But there can be no exceptions, not even in rain and snow. This same method can be used for those who own homes but, again, there are no exceptions to the ‘ALWAYS’ on lead rule.
The last three options are less desirable. All three of them have similar problems.
When a dog is tied out but exposed with no fencing, he is vulnerable to any dangers that may enter the yard. This includes other animals, both wild and domesticated including mean dogs and skunks. It also includes children who may tease the dog, and a growing problem of dog thieves. The dog is unable to run from these dangers.
A dog run which goes overhead often causes the dog to ‘dangle’ by its collar when it gets to the end of the run and tries to go further. This can be very hard on its wind pipes and can eventually cause real damage.
Finally, invisible fencing has yet another problem. Often a Westie will want to get to a squirrel or rabbit so badly that it will ‘run through’ the shock. But once it leaves the fenced area, it is not willing to take that same shock to get back inside. So now you have a dog who is stuck outside of its own yard.
There are also a lot of different personalities among the Westies. Some more timid Westies will react poorly to the training. Some will not want to go out in the yard at all. There have been cases of Westies losing their housebreaking rather than go out in the yard. This can be a result of poor training or a combination of inappropriate or inadequate training and a ‘soft’ (a dog that is easily upset by corrections) dog. AND some dogs are so smart that they figure out how to run down the battery. They understand that if they get close enough to set off the early warning signals often enough, the battery will wear down and they can then leave the yard.
The other concern is ‘over confidence’. People sometimes think that now that they have put in the electric fencing, they can put the dog outside and not keep an eye on the dog. Some even leave the dog alone outside when they go away!! No fencing should be used as a babysitter. When you can’t keep on eye on the dog, the dog should be in the house. No dog should be left outside when the owner is away from the home….ever!!
After all this is said, there are situations and dogs where this fencing can be used. It can be used as a secondary containment system around a real fence. It can be used in areas where the traffic is low and with dogs who are able to handle the training and have demonstrated no tendency to break through the fencing. (If the dog does break through, you are in a position of having to put in a regular fence or pen anyway.) But, if used, the owner must always be around to keep an eye on the dogs and must never let the dogs be out in the yard when they go away. It takes only a second for a dog to escape and only that long for something bad to enter the area and trap the dog. Finally, if you do use this type of fence, remember to check it often to be sure it is working. Some fences have indicators to let you know if they are not functioning, but others don’t and must be checked regularly. Moles and chipmunks have been known to chew through the wiring and batteries on the collars can run down.
AN INVISIBLE FENCE EXPERIENCE
One winter Sunday, I was settling down with a good book when the phone rang. It was the local police department. They had found our rescue website and called because they had a little Westie without any identification. They hoped someone had called us to report their missing Westie. We had no knowledge of this Westie but here is the story.
That very snowy Sunday morning, traffic was in a mess at a busy intersection because a little white dog was running in the street. A police car happened along and they caught the dog. She was not wearing any identification but did have an invisible fence collar on. Clearly she had escaped from her yard and apparently the owners didn’t realize it.
They took the dog back to the police station but since it was a Sunday, Animal Control was not available. If she was not claimed on Sunday, she would sleep all night in an unheated garage until Animal Control arrived the next morning. Then they would take her to a shelter which is known for not working with rescue. If her owners didn’t find her, there is a good chance she would be put down, sold to someone and end up as a research animal or, if she was very lucky, adopted by someone else.
We asked if they would let us foster her overnight so she wouldn’t have to sleep in the cold that night and perhaps we could get a ‘foot in the door’ to get her from that shelter ourselves. They did not have the authority to let us do that. So we began to make arrangements to go door-to-door in the neighborhood where she was found in hopes that we could rescue her quickly. Flyers were made up along with signs to post. And just before we were about to walk out the door to begin the search, the police called and said she had been claimed. The owner had discovered her missing and was unable to find her. He finally called the police hoping that she had been turned in!
The moral of this story is that electric/invisible fencing can be very unreliable. Even the best owners find that their dogs can escape this type of fencing if left unattended. Batteries fail without warning, critters chew through the wiring, the snowplow can break a wire that pops up in the cold weather, electricty can go out, dogs sometimes find that the squirrel is worth the shock to get out, thieves can easily take the dog and kids can take the dog for a joke and dump it later. This little girl is safe but very, very lucky.
The information below is from Deb Duncan (www.thedogspeaks.com). Please consider this if you currently tether or are considering tethering. She gives some suggestions which may be viable alternatives for your situations.
I do not believe the tethering or the Invisible Fencing are safe for the dogs in any circumstance. The only alternatives I know of are to either not have a dog in a Condo or like situation unless you can walk him for appropriate exercise and potty breaks OR have a pet walker do it for you. Beyond this, I do often suggest to people that they get an exercise pen to carry outside (dog would still need supervision). You might chain the pen outside like you would a bicycle or use the stakes you can buy from most catalogs that sell the exercise pens to anchor them securely.
If several pet owners band together and get permission from the people in charge of the facility, you may then purchase chain link ‘pen’-like structures from Lowe’s or Home Depot. (You will also see these in many of the pet catalogues or at fencing stores.) Each person who helps pay for this would have access for their dogs. Each owner would make sure their pet is provided with water and shade if left out for any length of time. If used for more than just a potty area, then a schedule has to be worked out so all people are able to have appropriate access to the pen and their dogs be kept safely apart. All people using the pen are responsible for cleaning up the area after each time their dog or dogs use the pen.
A few people have taken these ideas and made a great situation. Some are just basic small potty areas. Some allow others to use it for a small usage fee. Two groups reported back that the people in charge of the communities or apartment complexes actually liked the whole concept and THEY undertook the task of getting this done. One set up three of these and pet owners paid a monthly fee. Another one purchased a larger area and put together several of the chain link pens with separate areas. This way, a couple of dogs could be out at the same time, but in a private section. One really classy place, set up a very elaborate area, provided shaded areas, etc. AND, had someone on duty for all but the late night times to oversee the set up and the dogs. (Like a lifeguard on duty.) Needless to say, the fee for use was set high enough to make this feasible.
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For more input on invisible fencing from Deb Duncan, please click on this link: Invisible Fencing-Inherent Dangers to Consider
Sometimes people indicate that they have a 3 foot fence and feel that is plenty to contain a Westie. We would like to see a 4 foot fence minimum with no gaps under the fence or at the gate. A determined Westie can get through any gap which is the size of their head or larger. Don’t let their hair fool you. The head beneath all that hair is often quite small. Don’t trust any gap of more than 3 inches. We have seen Westies escape between fence slats that were less than 4 inches apart. And we have known of many Westies who could climb, especially chain link which all but provides steps for them.
We placed a pair of Westies a couple of years ago who often disappear into the teenager’s treehouse. They get up there easily but need help to get back down. Moral of this story? NEVER UNDERESTIMATE A WESTIE!!
If you do not have a fenced yard, we strongly recommend you look into portable pens. They are much safer for the dog than a tie out and the day will come when the weather or your own health will tempt you to let the dog out and watch rather than walk the dog. A portable pen can look good and give your dog a safe place to do their business and even play for a short time. See Portable Pens for examples of what is available. For your dog’s sake and your own, please consider this type of an option over a tie out or no fence at all.
YOU CAN NEVER BE “SAFE ENOUGH”!!! CHOOSE A PHYSICAL FENCE
When you read the story about Miss Molly’s big adventure, please understand that this is a Westie who has been in training for most of her life. She has Rally and obedience titles. She has a Master Earthdog title and passed a level which requires that she be recalled away from a cage of rats within 90 seconds. There is every reason in the world to think that she could be recalled in any situation at any time…..EXCEPT that she is a terrier!! She was bred to hunt and kill critters. When the “critter crazies” take over, her whole brain shuts down and her instincts take over. It is by the grace of God that we still have Miss Molly here on earth with us.
Please read about her adventure and then think once again about your ability to protect your dog. Think again if you believe your terrier will not leave the electric fencing area. Think again if you really believe you can reliably train a Westie to stay within boundaries. Even if you take all the precautions, think about what can happen at the front door, especially if there is no screen or storm door as a double barrier.
Miss Molly’s sweet, smiling face is worth the expense of a physical fence. What is the safety of your dog worth to you?