Skepticism for GPS Boundary Collars

I’ve been asked three times in the recent past to install and train using a GPS monitored boundary collar; in analog terms, an electric fence. One of those requests culminated in a conversation that I realized might be of value to others considering whether or not such a tool might be of use to them. When I arrived to my appointment the aforementioned client gave me a list of four complaints. The final complaint was that her dog was leaving the yard. In the case of this client her home does not have adequate fencing to contain a dog and it is not possible to install such a fence on this property for various reasons. I’d also like to clarify that her dog was leaving the yard when she, the owner, was there to supervise. Prior to talking with me she decided to purchase a GPS collar and its subsequent subscription to solve this problem. I explained to her that I did not have experience  installing or training for these fences and then gave her my 2 cents that I shall now give to you.

Bandit and Kirby stopping to play fetch in a field during a Sunday outing

Kirby and Bandit stop to play in a field on a Sunday outing.

Training your dog to a barrier is extremely limiting when you consider your time and money. And I won’t mince words when I tell you that I find the notion of creating a boundary via an app before I go anywhere with my dog utterly ridiculous. I mean, what if my dog has diarrhea and needs to jump out of the car on a road trip to relieve himself and I’ve left my leash out of reach. I can’t pause to put up a barrier. There’s no time for that. What if I run into a friend while walking our dogs in the park and my friend suggests we remove their leashes and let them play for a bit.  Do I say “totally, hold on a sec while I create a barrier on this app”. And “oh yeah, I just happened to bring my boundary collar with me on this walk”.  In addition to killing spontaneity and risking your dog’s life by not installing a solid recall this approach requires you to be dependent on things. Things, like other things, that can break, go missing, run out of battery life, as this is the nature of things. It complicates life instead of making it simpler. Using the same amount of money, time and effort you can teach your dog to sit, down, stay, come, heel, leave it, stop jumping on people, not run off, stop barking when asked, not to ignore your commands and my favorite, the all powerful, “no” which I use to stop all behavior in its tracks and ultimately make repeated, unwanted behaviors extinct by training with a remote training collar. 


Back to that conversation.  My client complained of her dog not ceasing to bark when commanded to do so, jumping on guests, not coming when called and, as mentioned earlier, leaving the yard. I explained to her that it was time that we train her dog with a remote training collar as we had completed our positive reinforcement training and leash work.I told her that a remote training collar could help us teach her to not leave the yard, not ignore us when we call her or ask her to stop barking and to rid  her of the annoying habit of jumping on people. I asked her to consider the encumbrance of having to work with two training collars, one being her boundary collar and the other being, what I would call her true training collar, when one could do the task of both. 


As I got to thinking about whether or not I’d be getting more of these requests I decided to play “customer” and study the information provided by a boundary collar company’s website and experience the process of choosing equipment and plans. Did I mention they require subscription plans? They require subscription plans. I was hoping to learn that the collars were somehow more useful than I’d assumed and perhaps I’d be convinced I’d find a use for one but alas, it was just as I’d imagined and in some respects worse. 


Mini Schnauzer Belle on her multi acre property in the city.

Many of my clients have homes in remote areas without fencing. I like to remind them of my policy to never leave dogs out of doors unattended even when you have an invisible fence. One reason for this is boundary collars do not prevent other animals from moving into your animal’s space. Further, there could be a break down in the system and you don’t know it until your dog is 1 mile away in any direction. My concern is that you may use your handy app to find an injured dog wearing a boundary collar or perhaps a boundary collar and no dog at all.


There is another reason some folks like boundary collars and that is to keep dogs out of certain areas of the home. I’ve never understood the desire to keep dogs out of certain rooms of one’s home as I’ve always valued my dogs above my things. Destruction to property via bodily functions and just the mere potential of destruction from teeth or nails motivates people to make certain areas off-limits. I’ve always trained my dogs and my client’s dogs to behave in every room of the home and I try to choose colors and materials for my home that are practical for life with dogs but I know it is not uncommon to restrict a dog’s access to certain areas of the home and not everyone thinks as I do in regards to dog-friendly interior design so I suppose for those that will not train their dogs to behave in every room of the house a boundary collar may be better than nothing but here are a few questions to consider. 


In the case of a home without a fence are you going to put the collar on the dog before taking them to the restroom in the morning or will you use a leash first thing and then put the collar on them for subsequent trips to the restroom?


Do they need to wear it all day every day forever or will they only need to wear it for a limited amount of time?


Assuming it is removed at night, is there a risk they may flee if they have an urgent need to use the restroom in the middle of the night or will you use a leash at that time?


Will it track your dog without any limitations in distance?


Is there a trainer in your area well versed in boundary collar training that can help you when problems arise?

Oliver staying close at his home by the lake.

I love technology. I love it in my television. I love it with my devices. I love it with my home monitoring. I love it with driving and I even love it when spying on my dogs. But as nifty as these tools are we can get bogged down in them; making impulsive choices before stopping to give consideration to their real worth in our lives. Even before electric fences went digital I was not a fan. It encourages folks to skip the disciplined work of training their dogs. It encourages them to leave their dogs outdoors, exposed to a few dangers not considered when being lulled into the false safety the boundary collars seem to provide. 


I absolutely love the control I have  that allows me to participate in life spontaneously with my dogs. The effort I put in over a few weeks time buys me years of anxiety reduction and I can’t put a price on that. Anywhere we go we are able to stop to take part in a romp with a new or old friend, I can escort my dog on an off-leash country walk and we can stop for a potty break when we’re on a road trip without any equipment needed.


Folks, collars slip off, remote collars break, batteries die and leashes can be dropped. Instead of buying equipment that is promised to control your dog’s behavior as long as nothing goes wrong with the equipment or people expected to operate the equipment, buy one piece of equipment that will help you train them to pay attention to your words so all you will need in a short amount of time to keep your dog safe is your voice. 

Our featured image depicts Henry and Tucker at one of their many play spots on vacation in Colorado.

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