Canine Fencing Solutions
What is the single, most critical thing that dog owners can do, to reduce dog related "incidents"?
In my experience, that would almost certainly be: to provide adequate containment for their dog at all times. A dog behind a secure fence will never bite someone else, be hit by a car, attack (or be attacked) by other dogs/pets, drink antifreeze from the guy next door's garage, get lost (and possibly be put to 'sleep' by a shelter before he is recovered), or make a general nuisance of himself with the neighbors.
Don't we owe this to our dogs, and to each other?
"Adequate containment" simply means that your containment system (fence) is secure enough to contain your dog. If your dog is getting out, you no longer have adequate containment! ;-)
That said, here are some possible fencing solutions for fence-challenging dogs.
Remember, an "ordinary" 3 1/2 to 4 foot suburban fence is NOT adequate for the average husky or American Pitbull/Staffy Bull terriers (!), nor for many Border collies, Jack Russell terriers, Australian shepherds, motivated German shepherds (who routinely jump such obstacles in working dog training), or plenty of other large, athletic dogs.
A sturdy six foot fence is considered the starting point for fence challengers--and once that is established, we move on to...
As a rule...hounds, terriers, and Northern breeds *love* to dig. Scolding them rarely has much effect; it's in their genes.
Some folks lay a cement footer around the base of the fence--often embedding the bottom of the fence into it before it dries. (If you have a dog lot, you usually don't want to cement the dog's whole area; lying on concrete for long stretches of time is not healthy for him.)
Alternately, you can dig down a foot or two and fill with cement, building a solid trench that the dog will encounter if he digs.
A quicker and less expensive method is to lay "dig wire". This is additional fencing laid at the base of the vertical fence, and perpendicular (90 degree angle) to it.
You'll want it to stretch 2-3 feet inwards into the yard, and it can then be buried underground or tacked down and covered with rocks, mulch, etc. (Leftover cattle or goat panels, cut into three-sided pieces with a bolt cutter and pounded into the ground, make great fence staples.)
This will also discourage the dog who doesn't really dig, but simply squeezes under the edge of the fence.
Most diggers will be kept in by regular 2" x 4" weld-wire fencing (shown in pic), though some may require heavier gauges, chain link, or strips of cattle/goat panel (to be described later).
In the case of weld wire, the edge of the ground fence is bent 90 degrees up, then attached (with pig rings or wire) to the vertical fence. I sometimes save money by cutting 5' weld wire fence lengthwise--alternating my cut to either side of the split--
then using the alternating uncut wires to attach the 2 1/2 foot skirting to the fence.
Cattle panel and chain link lay flat, and just need to be attached securely to the fence with hog rings or heavy wire.
Rebar, pounded in a foot or two deep and spaced a few inches apart, is a third option. It's probably not cost-effective if you have a large area to cover, unless you have a free/cheap source, but it can be handy for problem areas or when fencing over water (such as a creek).
The biggest factor in climbing is usually fence height. You may need to add on another 2-3 feet; weld wire fencing is easy to work with and generally sturdy enough for this purpose. If you can't extend the original poles, you may need to install an additional set of poles just inside the fenceline. (If cost is an issue, green steel U-posts or T-posts tend to be the simplest and least expensive option. They may not look straight out of Better Homes and Gardens, but they will keep your dog in the yard...)
If the fence is lower than needed and adding onto it is impractical (or not allowed, as in the case of homeowners' association rules), then angled "lean ins" can be added to the top. This keeps the dog from going over the top edge when he gets there.
Some examples of lean-ins:
(use fencing in place of the barbed wire)
This great article from Dogs Deserve Better details some other methods of installing lean-ins, including modifications for a wood privacy fence.
Even a simple piece of welded wire fence, laid horizontally across the top of the vertical fence and secured in place (similar to dig-proof skirting), will usually stop over-the-top escapes. The visual deterrent factor of seeing a mesh "wall" above one's head can be very effective.
Here are some creative, inexpensive examples of lean-ins, for use with less conventional fencing types. Sometimes you just have to use what's on hand, or tailor things to fit your individual needs.
"Coyote rollers" are another choice. They can be expensive, but look nice and will dump a climbing dog right back into his yard when he tries to grasp it for purchase. Coyote rollers also prevent coyotes and other strange animals from getting into your yard.
This link details a less expensive twist on coyote rollers:
"No-climb fencing" or other sturdy fence material can help keep your dog from mashing the fence to make "steps", the way he can with lighter gauge, loosely fixed weld wire. Smooth wooden fences, or sheets of slick metal or plastic mounted to the inside of a mesh fence, can also reduce their grip. Additionally, some folks leave their fencing "wobbly" at the top--having it rise above the fence post height, or not stretching it perfectly tight--since a dog is often deterred from climbing an unstable surface.
The Fence Ripper:
Some dogs will actually grab "ordinary" lighter gauge fencing in their teeth, and bend the wire until it breaks...others may grab and tug, until the fencing is pulled loose from its mounts or from another layer of fencing it is attached to. (This last is especially relevant when creating 8 foot fences from two layers of 4' fencing. The two layers must be joined together VERY carefully along their entire length, with heavy gauge wire. Just having them overlap is not enough.)
Be sure fencing is securely attached to poles. The aluminium ties that come standard with fencing kits are rarely sturdy enough to deter a motivated fence puller.
Not all fencing is created equal. Weld wire fence
is usually available in 16 gauge (largely useless), 14 gauge (standard), and 12 gauge (heavy, almost equivalent to chain link but also at approximately the same cost). The 14 gauge weld wire is easy to work with, readily available, and usually inexpensive compared to other options. If fencing a large area--such as an acre or even half an acre--and especially for dogs who will grow up there from puppyhood and/or who are social and not motivated to escape, I have seen weld wire work fine...even more so if reinforced with electric "hot wire" as mentioned below. However, it won't hold a dog who genuinely wants OUT--and it's not a good idea for rescued adult dogs, whose escape tendencies are unknown. In general, weld wire is NOT recommended for wolfdogs, pitbull terriers, and any other powerful dog who is likely to go THROUGH the fence.
Similar gauge variation exists with chain link. Standard chain link is 11 gauge...and the newer fencing is often made with aluminium, which is not as strong as the old steel mesh. A 9 gauge version of chain link is also available, and much stronger--but this usually must be special-ordered.
Remember, if YOU can bend the fence easily, chances are your dog can too.
Since professional installation can be cost-prohibitive for many people, you may want to consider doing it yourself. Chain link can be built with all the metal poles and specialty hardware, like the fence company does it...or it can be nailed directly to wooden posts with U-nails, aka "fencing staples". The fencing can also be stacked 2 rolls high, giving an 8' or 12' tall enclosure for much less cost than special-ordering 8 or 12 foot rolls! (Those are also extremely difficult to work with--and impossible for one person to do alone.)
Here is an example of an (almost) 8 foot enclosure made with wooden posts, and double-stacked 4' chain link.
Here is another chainlink-on-wood pen; this one is six-sided, 6' tall with a wire roof and (buried) wire floor.
Serious fence rippers are rare, but usually do best in a very heavy gauge fencing material such as "goat panels".
Your Tractor Supply, Southern States, or other local farm supply store should carry these kinds of panels. They are four feet tall, 16 feet long, and cannot be chewed through or broken. (If you can't transport panels that long, they can always be cut in half with bolt cutters.) Goat panels can be nailed directly to wooden posts spaced every 8 feet. The panels can be slightly overlapped and stacked two panels high, giving an 8 foot fence that will also hold a serious jumper.
Cattle panels are very similar, but the holes are bigger (6" x 6" instead of 4" x 4") and will only contain large dogs. They also allow for accidents and injuries, to be discussed shortly.
If cut in half, either kind of panel can also be stood on end, and "hog ringed", quick-linked, or wired together to form a circle. Here is an example of an inexpensive "temporary holding pen" made from cattle panels (see Caution below). More info on building this pen, and some others, can be found on my page, "Can We Help You Keep Your Wolfdog?".
Heavy gauge "exotic animal panels" are sometimes available, measuring 8' tall by 20' long. These can be hard to work with--weighing 110 pounds apiece--and expensive, but do a stellar job and assemble very quickly. They eliminate the need to stack shorter panels.
Here is a pen made from exotics panels, on short notice.
Because of the sturdiness of the panels, you can nail them to wooden poles or just link them together, in a self-reinforcing oval shape. (This link has a great explanation of this, for building tiger enclosures.) I chose a middle ground, installing 8' Tee posts which are ready for immediate use and--while not as sturdy as the 8' landscaping timbers on some other pens--still add some additional support (especially since my pen was not round). Adding a top and bottom, or even just dig-proof skirting, adds still more stability.
This pic shows how nicely turns can be executed with exotics panels.
One drawback with these panels (besides cost, handling/transportation issues and weight) is that you may need to dig a trench, at least at various high points on the ground, in order to keep your panel level. However, they do provide excellent peace of mind, in knowing that there's no way your dog could ever chew through them!
Another nice use for panels is the "combination pen". The enclosure below was made with 4' of goat panel, topped with another 4' of chain link (up where the dog is not going to chew or pull).
Some folks decide on "field fence".
This is economical and essentially unbreakable. However, it is fairly short (less than four feet tall) and may need to be stacked two layers high. It comes in 330' rolls. If using this material, be sure to choose "fixed knot" mesh--otherwise, the dog will slide the wires around and make a big enough hole to escape. Field fence also usually has large enough holes for dogs' heads to come through the fence, and small animals--or small children's body parts--to wander into it.
The Clever One:
This dog finds the weaknesses in your containment system. If there's a doghouse near the fence, he'll jump onto it and then jump over the fence from his new, high perch. (He might even move the doghouse himself!) If a leaning tree is near the fence, it might be used as a ramp. You have to "think like a dog", looking for any tools he could use to get out & then removing them. Even high snowfall has resulted in animals being able to clear a (previously too high) fence. Smart dogs may locate snow drifts, or even add more snow to them.
Check the perimeter carefully for gaps, weaknesses/damage, and possible footholds...and do so regularly, since things can change. Fencing can wear out, a tree can fall on it, boards can work loose.
A "double entry"
is a great tool for dogs who push by at the gate, for gates people might forget to close properly, or for gate malfunctions in general. It's your second line of defense against accidental escape. I strongly recommend a double entry for any dog who is human-aggressive, or who will ignore you and chase cats (or run into the street) instead of coming back when you call. It's also highly recommended for dogs who are brand new to you, or shy--these dogs might *never* come back, so if they escape, they might pay with their life.
I also favor a double latch system
for the really smart dogs. (Some will simply lift a latch and walk out! Others will force the latch until it turns on its pole, or bends.)
Latches at hand height leave the whole bottom of the gate unsecured, to be pried open and bent/twisted by sheer force from a really determined dog. They get their muzzle through and the rest is history.)
Naturally, at least one latch should have a clip or lock on it, to prevent the dog from flipping it up (intentionally, or even just accidentally by jumping and pawing at the gate).
Electric "hotwire" is another option for fence-busters. It it relatively inexpensive even for huge yards/acreage, combats essentially ALL common methods of escape (digging, contact jumping, and climbing), comes in a solar-powered variety for areas without access to electricity, and generally works on even the most stubborn dog—usually with only 1 or 2 shock attempts. Experienced folks will tell you that the "small pets/dog grade" fence charger is not powerful enough, though; you need the one for livestock (cattle and horses).
There are two basic types of charger: pulsing, and continuous. Pulsing chargers cycle between off & on, and allow small animals or birds to escape between pulses; a continuous charger may keep them paralyzed until their tiny hearts give out. However, continuous chargers correct the dog no matter when he touches the fence (no "freebies"), and the weed-burning models can keep the wire from being shorted out by grass if you don't weed-whack beneath them frequently.
Here is a basic diagram of a hotwire system.
Some dogs simply don't respond well when they see activity on the other side of their fence. This situation can also create something called "barrier frustration", which is when a normally friendly dog is so stressed by his inability to interact with whatever's on the other side, that he becomes aggressive towards it. He may just be a nuisance barker, or he could go "all out" trying to escape and chase after the squirrel, mailman, or neighbor's poodle. It can reduce a lot of frustration, and curb escape attempts, if this dog cannot see what's going out there in the big bad world. A wooden privacy fence can work wonders; chainlink fences have strips of metal or plastic that can be weaved through the mesh to create a privacy fence; additional barriers such as plywood or sheet metal can be used in a pinch, to block the dog's view.
CAUTION: Fences with large mesh spacing, such as cattle panels or field fence, can result in serious injury if a person or animal is able to approach the fenceline.
I have seen cases where dogs stuck their heads through cattle panel and bit passing humans, vacuumed up loose cats and small dogs, amputated limbs and ears from other dogs, and even killed large dogs by pulling them far enough through the fence and inflicting damage. Large fence mesh can be very DANGEROUS if the mesh is not protected by a perimeter fence, and should not be used in areas readily accessible to others (of any species).
Also, dogs who are not friendly to each other should never share a fenceline. If you have two or more fenced areas for your dogs, they should be separated by enough distance to prevent any physical contact. "Fence fighting" is an ugly pastime that has scarred many dogs over the years.
Here is a really nice example of escape-proof containment.
On the rare occasion that your dog will simply not stay in any fencing you can afford, you can always put together a sturdy six-sided kennel as a last resort. This isn't ideal, but it is far better than a chain/tie-out under most circumstances. You can let him out into the larger yard under supervision...in addition to regular walks, and family time indoors. This way he would still have a decent quality of life.
Magnum makes an excellent, heavy gauge kennel:
which can be reinforced top and bottom with fencing, then the ground covered with earth, mulch, pea gravel, etc. (I build the kennel on top of a "floor" of fencing, then wrap the ends up and wire them to the vertical fence panels.)
Most diggers won't get through weld wire, but serious diggers may need cattle panel or goat panel flooring.
If the "Mag" Kennel is cost-prohibitive, you can build from scratch, or use pre-fab chainlink panels. Just be sure to reinforce panels with heavy wire or metal "zip" ties on all four sides, paying special attention to the gate panels which are usually a weak point. The aluminium ties that come standard on pre-fab fence panels are so weak that even a 10 pound fox can undo them.
gate panel damage:
Also, you want the horizontal support bar on the gate to face outwards, so the dog can't use it to stand on and climb out. (Some non-gated fence panels also have a horizontal support bar.)
Remember that kennels can be combined, to give the dog whatever amount of space you can afford. Widths greater than 10' may be more difficult to cover with a wire roof, though--requiring additional supports. Since cattle and goat panels come in 16' lengths, two overlapping ones would allow for 30' width (this also will require center supports).
If you tarp six sided kennels for shade, bear in mind that you have to keep the snow off—a roofed kennel will hold enormous amounts of weight in snow...until it doesn't. This can be partially avoided by pitching the roof with a center pole, so snow slides down the peak.
Even if you've had to resort to a kennel or small yard in the short-term, you can always expand as time and money allows. This addition:
was recently attached to an older pen, to give the girl inside it some better access to "high value real estate", such as the driveway/road and other exciting things to watch. It went up in a few hours, including "dig wire", while the dog stayed where she was...and when it was completed, I simply cut this opening:
into the sidewall of the original enclosure. In some cases, it's also handy to install a gate at the opening (before OR after cutting the fence).
Here is a view of both pieces, connected:
When I first moved to my current place, I immediately fenced in an ordinary-sized backyard for the dogs to go out and play in. (This is about half of it--the view from a window.)
Later, "the tunnel" was added:
which leads to the back field enclosure. (And I've been building ever since. ;-)
This was 8' weld wire, by the way, reinforced with electric hotwire. Knock on wood, no one has ever challenged the fence. The area is huge, with plenty to do, and that makes a big difference. However, I would NOT put an untested or unsocial rescue dog in this yard!
"Fencing is so much work! Can't I just tie him out?"
Not if you care about his safety, and that of your neighbors.
Long term, unsupervised tethering of dogs (with a chain or aerial runner) is strongly discouraged by most canine professionals. Chains and cables have so many hazards to the dog and others, that it just isn't worth the convenience.
Many dogs have hung themselves by jumping over a barrier, or strangled by wrapping tightly around a tree or pole. This is even more likely if the dog is wearing a "choke" chain--ONLY a sturdy, properly fitted buckle collar should be used on a tie-out.
The chain or cable can become wrapped around the dog's leg, resulting in amputation or death. (I have also seen a husky spin circles on an aerial cable, until all the slack was twisted up and his front paws could not reach the ground. This dog lived, but he was lucky to have not been left unattended for long.)
The dog can get tangled, and no longer have access to water and shelter.
Cables can be chewed through, resulting in a loose dog. They can also be snapped (especially at the hardware), if the dog hits the end hard enough with a running start. If it doesn't snap, the sudden jolt can damage his neck, spine, or trachea.
Tethering for long periods is psychologically damaging to dogs for several reasons, and can result in an anxious, frustrated, unstable, or aggressive dog. It's also no fun to have to unhook said frustrated, neurotically spastic dog when it's finally time to take him off the chain.
A large percentage of child maulings and fatalities are caused by unsupervised children having access to tied dogs. A dog on a chain has no protective barrier to prevent kids (or strangers, or stray dogs) from approaching him; he cannot get away from the child (triggering a fight-or-flight response, with the "flight" option removed); and even a good natured dog can knock the child down, trample her, and tangle her in the chain.
If you absolutely MUST tether a dog unattended, it is imperative to do it behind a protective fence (perhaps the one that the dog is escaping from) and to account for all other hazards above, such as tangling/strangling and access to water and shelter. A stiff rubber/plastic tubing sheath slid over the chain (so it can't wrap around and tighten) in a clear fenced yard with an untippable water supply would be an example of "emergency" tethering, but even then, it should be kept to a bare minimum.
Please note that nowhere in this article did I refer to "invisible fence". This is mainly because that system rarely contains difficult dogs (though of course it can be a visually pleasing, less expensive way to perimeter-train the more easygoing dogs).
I do not recommend invisible/"electronic" fences for several reasons, aside from their ineffectiveness. The biggest one is that even if your dog stays in his own yard, this 'fence' does not protect HIM. Much like a dog chained to a tree or runner, any outside threats such as roaming dogs, unfriendly people, and stray children are free to harm or harass him.
I'm not really comfortable with the collar's metal pins chafing the dog's neck, for extended periods of time. (If it's not on tight enough, it doesn't work at all.) Dogs get "collar smart" quickly and are likely to ignore the fenceline if the collar is taken off. Some dogs don't respect the collar and even if it is set to a shock level that is actually painful, they will still leave the yard. The collar batteries can fail or it can fail to switch on for some other reason. (It can also fail to switch OFF, giving a continuous correction to the dog until the batteries wear out.)
This tool can even detain your dog OUTSIDE of your yard, should he choose to "take the shock" to chase an appealing lure, then be unwilling to take a second shock to come back in. In my opinion, this system does not compare to a real fence and should not be used for most dogs.
One final thing to keep in mind is that *if the dog is happy*, has had plenty of exercise, has fun stuff to do in there (toys, chew bones, a "clubhouse", a pool, a sandbox...use your imagination), has a nice large area to play in so he doesn't feel "kenneled", and [in many cases] has a companion dog so he's not lonely, then he'll be less likely to drive you crazy by trying to get out. Most dogs also need a lot of human interaction, in-house family time, walks, and other enriching things in order to feel peaceful and fulfilled.
True, a great many dogs who escape are not "trying to run away from home"--they just want the excitement and adventure of exploring the world and getting into trouble. (Huskies are notorious for taking short vacations away from great, loving homes!) However, if your dog has suddenly started testing the fence, you might want to make sure these bases are covered first, before you try one fence-modification after another.
Some dogs will quickly make a career out of getting out, becoming more and more proficient with each escape. Fence-busting provides a bored dog with an exciting challenge...and a big reward at the end, if he succeeds! Adding to the fence a little at a time will only encourage this. Ideally, you want to make sure he is content, AND add serious reinforcement to the fence, as soon as you realise there is a problem.
Large fenced areas can offer plenty of freedom--while still keeping your dog and community safe. It's a great compromise.
Unhappily "caged"? Not us!
Winter Fun in a safe yard
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