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You want to keep your dog safe when he goes outside and for him to have more freedom. But you don’t have a fence. So how do you keep him in a yard without a fence?
There are numerous options for your dog to stay in your yard without a fence.
When I got my first two dogs as an adult, I didn’t yet have a fenced yard. I took them out on leashed walks. And, for distance work and more exercise, I used a cotton long-line.
Hard fences can be expensive and, in some situations, they may not be permitted. This can occur if you’re in a development that prohibits them.
In this article, I’ll discuss various options for you to have your dog in your yard without a fence. I’ll also indicate the good points and bad points of each method.
Reasons To Keep Your Dog in Your Yard
Keeping any dog loose in a yard can be unsafe for many reasons. Even a puppy who may at first remain by your side will eventually want to explore the world–and take off to do so.
Any dog may run away, but certain breeds are more likely to do so than others. Huskies and Alaskan Malamutes are known to be wanderers and to attempt to escape from even a fenced yard.
Hunting dogs like golden and labrador retrievers are prone to chase prey. So are terriers like Yorkies and westies if they see a squirrel running across their path.
And herding dogs like Aussies, shelties, and border collies are programmed to chase moving objects like cars or people on bikes or skateboards.
When a dog’s natural drives kick in, it’s dangerous for them to be loose against such attractions.
Of course, any dog may wander off when he sees something that interests him, such as an approaching dog or person–or even a paper food wrapper that may be passing by your property.
And any dog may be called to chase wildlife should a deer or an errant groundhog emerge.
These dogs may inadvertently run away and face many dangers. Unfortunately, they may be hit by a car and injured or killed. It’s a horrible thought, but it must be taken into account when judging how to confine your dog.
Some type of confinement may be required under the law where you live. And, if your dog isn’t confined by a method specified under that law, you may be subject to fines. Sometimes, dogs are even confiscated under similar laws.
Another reason to keep your dog in your yard without a fence is that other dogs can pose a problem.
Even if your dog’s friendly, another dog may not be and your dog could be injured in a dog fight.
If your dog gets loose, he may also ingest dangerous items he gets into. He may eat spoiled food, rocks, or even deadly poisons such as rat poisons.
Unfortunately, some of these items can make him ill and others will be fatal.
Even the sweetest dog may bite someone. Out of fear or by being teased or injured, a dog may feel the need to defend himself and bite.
If this happens, your dog may be labeled as a “dangerous dog” and be euthanized.
Another risk of leaving a dog loose is that he may be stolen. Unfortunately, many dogs are stolen and sold or used for horrible purposes such as dogfighting or to otherwise harm.
Methods To Keep Your Dog in an Unfenced Yard
There are numerous options to keep your dog in a yard without a hard fence. Some are safer than others. And which method you choose can also depend on your dog.
Some dogs, such as hunting breeds and terriers, have genetic drives to go after small animals. And herding breeds are prone to want to herd moving things such as people on bikes or skateboards.
So we have to take their natural drives into consideration when choosing the safest method to keep them in a yard without a physical fence.
One method is an “invisible” fence. Most use underground wire that goes around the entire area you’re covering.
It has a control box usually placed at your home. And it uses a collar that your dog wears.
If the dog gets too close to the wire, most are set up for the collar to give a signal to the dog such as a vibration or beeps.
If the dog crosses the wire, he receives a shock, or a “static charge” as many companies call it. The shock is not supposed to physically harm the dog in any way.
You can have the invisible fence professionally installed or install it yourself. These can be thousands of dollars if professionally installed or hundreds of dollars for do-it-yourselfers.
There are also similar fences that use posts that transmit a signal which, if crossed, can also give the dog a shock in the collar that comes with the system.
Or some have a main unit transmitter that sends a signal to the dog’s collar. The transmitter has settings for various distances before either beeping or giving your dog a static charge.
Many such “invisible” fences have various settings in which the dog can receive a milder or stronger shock. The type of shock is set depending on how likely the dog is to cross the barrier given by the signal.
In training a dog to such devices, usually, a line of flags is placed encircling the entire area covered by the wire or signal. The dog is then taken up to the area where the flags are and given the warning beeps in his training collar.
Eventually, the dog learns where the barrier is and the flags are removed a few at a time. All of the flags are usually removed and, hopefully, the dog learns to respect the invisible barrier.
I am not a fan of these types of fences. Not only are some dogs likely to cross them, but, once they cross, dogs aren’t generally likely to cross back into the yard because they’ll be shocked again.
Also, other animals–including dogs–can cross into your yard, potentially leading to a fight or attack.
And it’s very easy for people to cross into your yard. And they may steal or injure your dog.
Some dogs can be very traumatized if they receive a shock and not want to venture outside again–even to potty or play.
I was called to help train a Jack Russell terrier when the dog refused to go out of the house after he was shocked by crossing an electric fence.
The poor dog was really scared to exit his house for fear of receiving another shock. I worked with him and, over weeks, was successful in helping him overcome his fear of the great outdoors.
Another potential problem with invisible fences is that the batteries on the dog’s collar may discharge, rendering the fence ineffective.
The fence also won’t work if your power goes out without a backup. And it won’t work if the wire is broken somewhere.
Another way to confine your dog is by using a tie-out.
Some tie-outs use a stake deeply embedded in the ground that the line is attached to. Others use an attachment to your home or can be secured around a tree trunk.
The line may be nylon, metal chain, metal encased in plastic, or cotton. They come in various lengths, such as 10 feet to even 50 feet or more.
Even with such lines, your dog should be taught about how long the line is so that he doesn’t injure himself trying to run after something outside the line’s reach.
Such tie-outs should never be used with choke or prong collars, as injury may easily occur should your dog tighten the line.
These tie-out lines provide some freedom to your dog. You want to make sure that your dog can’t get tangled up when deciding where to place the line.
You should be present if you decide to use a tie-out to contain your dog. You want to be sure that he doesn’t injure himself on it. And, as is true with invisible fences, people or other animals may enter your yard.
Also, some dogs will try to chew through the line if bored or if attempting to get free.
If it’s made of nylon or cotton, he may easily chew through it. But if it’s made of metal, he may even injure himself and break teeth.
Tie-outs are relatively inexpensive, ranging from under $20 to about $50, depending on the material used for the line and its length.
Another method to give your dog some freedom outside is by using a long line. These are usually made of nylon or cotton. You hold them (or step on them) while your dog has some time to run around.
They come in many lengths. I used a 50-foot line with my dogs before I had a hard fence installed.
By using it, my dogs could safely play fetch and have some fun time running free. My sheltie Amber loved to play and catch or chase a soft frisbee.
She was able to romp around on the long cotton line and just safely enjoy some time in the sun.
Long lines are inexpensive, ranging from under 10 dollars to about 40 dollars, depending on the length and material. Make sure that the line you choose is meant to be used with a dog with your dog’s strength and activity level.
Another type of way to tether your dog outside is by using a trolley. The trolley rolls along on metal cords well above the dog. The metal lines run on a pulley that allows your dog to run back and forth.
It’s similar to the look of a clothesline. In deciding which one to purchase, make sure that it’s meant for a dog that’s your dog’s size, strength, and activity level.
The trolley line is tethered between two solid objects, such as a building, a high stake, or tree. .
This type of device gives your dog less freedom than a regular tie-out would. And it still poses the dangers of other animals or people easily entering your property.
Outdoor Kennel or Run
Another way to confine your pup without a traditional hard fence is by using an outdoor kennel or run. These are usually made of steel or iron.
These can be designed so that your dog can enter it from a doggy door in the home or can be a separate run placed in your yard.
You can even use it to section off a deck or patio.
Kennels and runs can be made to your specifications or can be purchased in certain stock sizes. The panels can vary from four feet high to six feet high and four feet long to six feet long or even longer. Of course, larger dogs will need larger sizes.
They are usually very sturdy and can hold even larger, stronger dogs–or dogs who have natural chase instincts. Make sure that the model you choose is strong enough to contain your dog.
Flimsier, lighter-weight models may be sufficient for small dogs.
And you can even purchase sunscreen for the top of some models.
These are usually safer than invisible fences and tie-outs. Other animals and people can’t readily access them. You can even usually lock them to help prevent any such mishaps. And some can be staked to the ground for even more security.
Exercise pens are another method of confinement for dogs. These are generally less sturdy than kennel runs and generally don’t have a top.
So, when choosing your size, take into account whether your dog can escape through the top. You can even buy some pens that attach to each other to expand the size for your dog.
If you choose this method, make sure that you purchase pens that are sturdy and meant to be outside. There are pens that are made of metal and others made of plastic. You can also usually stake them to the ground to be even more secure.
Depending on the size and material, exercise pens can range from about 50 dollars to hundreds of dollars–especially if you connect a few to increase the size.
Another method to confine your dog to your yard without a hard fence is to teach boundary training. This shows your dog the perimeter you don’t want him to cross.
This is usually done by starting with a visual barrier by a line of small flags you can purchase that defines the perimeter.
Some people use rope tied to a series of stakes to show the dog his limits. Others use a line of cones or similar markers while training the dog.
Others have a natural border with stones, much, or a driveway.
This method takes a lot of training and patience.
Under one method of training him to remain inside the barrier, you walk your dog to the barrier, then move away from it, rewarding him when he goes away from the barrier.
You would have to do this many times–usually for at least weeks–all along the perimeter to show your dog what’s expected.
Others train the dog to respect the perimeter boundary by having him on a leash and, as he approaches it, telling him to “leave it.” Of course, your dog must understand the “leave it” command.
And you would highly reward any time he leaves it and walks away from the boundary. Say “YES! Good leave it.” And immediately reward with a very high-value treat such as chicken or cheese.
After conducting this training along the entire perimeter of the boundary many times with the dog being successful, you increase the level of difficulty, by placing distractions along or right outside the perimeter. You can place food or desired toys.
Then, again, over time–usually at least weeks–you would do the same training along the perimeter. And reward with an even higher reward than you’re using as the tempting distraction. Even give a few treats in a row–a jackpot–when he returns towards you.
In this training, you would eventually train while the dog’s on a long-line, not a regular leash, to determine how reliable he is respecting the boundary while at a distance from you.
If you find that your dog crosses the boundary at some time during the training, you’re proceeding too quickly. Just go back to a level at which he was successful, then move ahead again.
This method is very difficult for many dogs to succeed at. If a dog has hunting, prey, or herding drive, he’s at great risk for crossing the line.
And friendly dogs may cross to greet someone. And reactive or aggressive dogs are at risk for crossing to attack.
One bonus, unlike invisible fence methods, is that a dog that crosses the boundary won’t fear re-entrance because there’s no shock involved.
Of course, dogs trained to this method should have a great, reliable recall.
Another method of training your dog to remain on your property when no physical fence is present is to use a remote collar.
These collars vary in how they correct the dog for going too far away. Some use shock, whereas others use a beep or vibration in the collar.
Using this method, the owner uses a remote that has the same signal as the special collar the dog wears to either shock the dog or have the collar vibrate or beep if the dog wanders too far out.
To me, this is a very unreliable method, as the dog isn’t specifically trained to certain visual boundaries. Instead, he receives random corrections when the owner deems he’s too far away.
Of course, when training him, you can also place a visual barrier like small flags along the perimeter.
To me, shocking him using this method is not only cruel but also dangerous.
In my neighborhood, an owner trained his pug using such a shock collar. The dog never really learned any firm boundary and was shocked every day when he ventured out too far.
The poor dog even developed some unwanted behaviors as a result of the shocks. He became aggressive to people and dogs, as he associated them with receiving the shock.
These collars range in price from about 40 dollars to over 100 dollars, depending on range and features.
Partial Fence Self-Installed
Another method to contain your dog when a professionally-installed hard fence is too expensive or otherwise not feasible is to fence your yard yourself or just fence an area that’s large enough for your dog to exercise.
This is usually much less expensive than a professionally-installed hard fence. You can purchase materials at home centers.
We did this at another home where a hard fence would have been very expensive. We also fenced a potty yard this way.
We purchased metal stakes and vinyl-coated metal that was meant to hook onto the stakes. The stakes/posts came in various heights. We chose five feet.
We spaced the posts at equal lengths apart as suggested by the specialist at the home center. The fence held up for many years–and is still up.
Of course, if your dog constantly jumps on this type of fence, it won’t be as secure as many other types of hard fences. But my dogs don’t do that, luckily.
As far as I’m concerned, any of the types of fences discussed above that aren’t hard fences require that a dog be supervised in order for the dog to be safely contained.
When deciding what type of fence to use, you need to take into account your dog’s temperament, natural drives, and environment.
If you live in an area with a lot of wildlife and have a hunting dog, for example, some of these options are probably too unsafe to consider.
Also, if you have many dogs and people passing and your dog is very friendly or is reactive or aggressive, most of these options are also probably not good choices.
Some people can, obviously, use the above containment methods successfully. But it takes a lot of training, patience, and dedication as well as choosing the correct method for your particular dog.
Can I have a dog without having a fence?
Yes! There are other options in which your dog can be contained and enjoy the great outdoors. These include tie-outs, long lines, pens and runs, invisible fences, and barrier training.
Do invisible fences work?
They can work well with some dogs in certain settings. But some dogs will cross the barrier and get free and not return into the protected yard. You need to assess the likelihood that your dog will cross the barrier when deciding to use an invisible fence.
Will an invisible fence injure my dog?
When used and set up properly, an invisible fence shouldn’t physically injure your dog.
Should I leave my dog alone in my unfenced yard?
No! Even using tie-outs, long lines, pens, and runs, invisible fences, or barrier training doesn’t guarantee that your dog will remain in your yard.
And it won’t ensure that other animals or people won’t enter your yard. It’s much safer for you to be present with your dog when using these methods of confinement.
Even if you’re not able to have a hard fence on your property, there are other options to safely contain your dog. Of course, you want to choose the method that best fits your dog’s needs.
Using the proper type of containment can help you provide more physical exercise for your dog. It can also make his world literally larger and more interesting.
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