Adrienne is a certified dog trainer, behavior consultant, former veterinarian assistant, and author of "Brain Training for Dogs."
Keeping a dog outside without a fence is not without struggles. Many dogs left outside, without any supervision, are likely to get in some type of trouble sooner than later, not to mention, allowing dogs to run at large in certain places is even considered illegal!
Problems With Not Having Fences
Sure, it is great to provide dogs with lots of room to romp around. If you live in the country, you are likely happy that your dog has the big perk of having access to lots of acreages, which is ultimately a luxury nowadays considering that fewer and fewer dogs are able to enjoy this level of unrestrained freedom, although it is not without trouble.
The fact is, many dogs left outside on their own risk engaging in undesirable behaviors such as digging in your garden, eating rocks, running after fleeting critters and chasing the occasional car that passes by your property.
Not to mention, when dogs are kept off-leash in an un-fenced area, with no restrain, there are exposed to many risks and some of these can be quite serious. Not everyone is though aware of these risks. This is why I have compiled this eye-opening list of the many dangers of keeping dogs off-leash.
How Can I Keep My Dog Outside Without a Fence?
Let's face it: Traditional fences can turn out to be quite costly. Perhaps you had a company stop by and give you an estimate that gave you sticker shock, or perhaps you cannot build a fence because you live in a community where fences are not allowed.
In those cases, what can you do to keep your dog happy, yet safe? It often feels like there is no solution and this can lead to lots of frustration!
Fortunately, there are several options to consider that can provide you and your dog a happy compromise. Let's take a look at some alternatives to traditional dog fences.
1) Invest in an Outdoor Dog Kennel
An outdoor dog kennel is simply an enclosed area usually made of chain. It's meant to provide dogs with plenty of room for exercise and play in the great outdoors, while also keeping the dog safe and out of trouble.
Outdoor dog kennels come in a variety of shapes and sizes, with many ranging from 6'H x 4'W x 4'L to 4'H x14'W to 6'L or even more. Some models allow customization so that you can make them as small or as big as you want. All you need to do is invest in panels and assemble them together.
Look for models that offer a sunscreen cover to protect your dog from the summer heat and harmful rays and a safety latch to ensure your dog won't escape. For extra security, you can also anchor the kennel to the ground.
Costs for kennels vary based on models and size. Expect to pay anywhere from $150 to $700 for the largest sizes.
2) Get an Outdoor Dog Pen and Gate
A dog pen and gate can also be assembled to keep your dog contained. It can be used to section off areas on your deck, patio, and lawn. You can find a variety of brands and models made of different materials such as steel and iron.
With some models, you can connect more than one playpen together to cover a larger area. For safety, look for models made of heavy-duty material and with multiple-lock features. If you own a large, powerful dog inquire with the company on whether it may be able to contain him. Some models can be flimsy and work better for small or medium dogs.
Prices on dog pens and gates may range based on size and can be anywhere between $200 and $500 for the best outdoor options.
3) Use a Tie-Out Cable for Dogs
A tie-out cable for dogs consists of a long cable that gives your dog the freedom to move around without being tethered to your hand. Cables may vary from 15 feet to even 30 feet. There are currently two different tie-out systems for dogs: stake tie-outs and trolley tie-outs.
As the name implies, stake tie-outs require that you use a steel spiral stake that's embedded deep in the ground for a secure hold. Once the stake is securely embedded, all that remains to do is attaching the cable to the stake.
Trolley tie-outs provide more room to romp around. They are made of two cables: one that runs above either between trees or special posts, while the other attaches to an overhead cable through some hooks and clamps. A pulley allows your dog to happily romp from one end to the other with fewer chances for getting tangled. It works similar to a clothesline.
Very important is to ensure that the tie-out is crafted specifically for dogs of your weight and size. Supervision is always recommended as no tie-outs are entirely dog-proof. Stakes can work their way out, trolleys may snap and dogs may get tangled.
On top of this, consider the risks of other dogs/animals or kids or people approaching your dog.
The costs for tie-outs vary in general between $40 and $150.
4) Use a Long Line
A long line is like a long leash that is often used for horses who need to be trained and exercised. You can find long lines in horse tack stores, but nowadays more and more places sell them specifically made for dogs as well.
A long line is typically made of nylon and is advertised to be used for distance training, training dogs a recall, going on hikes, camping sites or for hunting or for simply letting dogs romp around the yard or your land.
Unlike tie-outs, in order to use a long line, you will need to hold the other end of the line and therefore need to always be out with your dog. Costs of long lines vary based on materials and length and can range generally between $15 and $40
5) Train Your Dog on Boundaries
Finally, the next way to keep your dog outside when you don't have a fence is to train a very fluent recall off-leash and teach your dog some boundary training.
It's important though to emphasize that no dog training can be ever 100 percent effective, so a day may come where your dog may not come to you when called for various reasons, such as you haven't trained to a certain level of distraction, you call your dog too late (once he already took off) or windy conditions muffle your voice over long distances. Also, you must always be there with your dog when he's off-leash and you must always pay attention to him.
Therefore, make your dog's safety your primary concern. In other words, keep your dog on a long line if you live near an area with cars and traffic (or other types of danger) and if your dog may pose a danger to other dogs or people. And always be there with your dog. These methods are not meant to work when your dog is alone or unsupervised, after all, would you leave a two-year-old toddler alone to fend on his own?
Here are some tips for training dogs a strong recall and here is a brief guide on how to boundary train a dog.
- Place flags/traffic cones in the area where you don't want your dog to cross over.
- Let your dog outside while on a leash and let him approach the flags/traffic cones. The moment he approaches the flags/traffic cones, tell him "leave it" (here is a guide on how to train your dog leave it) and hand him a treat to reward him for leaving the flag area and moving towards you. Repeat several times.
- Start adding distance. In other words, stay at the very end of the leash and walk him again towards the flags. Once again, tell him to "leave it" and praise and reward him for walking towards you. Repeat several times.
- Add more distance, but this time taking him out on a long line (long leash up to 15 feet). Practice more leave its as they occur, always praising and rewarding accordingly.
- Add distractions of different levels now past the flags. Start with small distractions such as placing a plastic bag or a ball past the flags. Practice your leave its. Then, you can increase the difficulty by placing over the boundary some kibble or a toy made with rabbit fur. Say "leave it" when your dog goes too close to the boundary with intent to trespass. Make sure that you reward your dog generously with treats/ foods that are higher in value than the items left. Give several in a row to leave an impact on your dog.
- Be consistent. Train this for several reps a day and for several weeks. Only once your dog is very fluent and reliable in his response, you can then start training this off-leash.
- Accept that a day may come when your dog may walk past the boundary, this is not surprising and it also happens with invisible fences. The best bonus though is that your dog won't be afraid to return in the yard (as dogs who are kept in invisible fences do) and may actually look forward to returning thanks to all the positive associations of being there!
- Please note: If your dog ever trespasses the boundary, this means you have worked at a distraction level he wasn't ready for. Call your dog and practice more at the level once again using the long line.
6) And What About Invisible Fences?
Invisible fences consist of underground wire set around the perimeter of an area and a collar equipped with a transmitter which provides a signal (under the form of shock) to deter the dog from advancing towards the perimeter.
Although invisible fences are very popular nowadays, they come with several risks that need to be outlined. First of all, with dogs who love to chase things, their arousal levels may be so high that they'll just run right through the shock without flinching.
Secondly, invisible fences may contain dogs up to a certain extent, but they won't do anything to prevent other dogs, animals, people or children from entering their territory. This may put the dog at risk and people at risk if your dog doesn't do well with people entering his property.
Thirdly, there are cases where dogs become traumatized by the invisible fences. Some dogs start becoming fearful of being in the yard and some even won't potty any more outside. These dogs are referred to as '"porch sitters" by those in the industry.
Not to mention, countless dogs once they escape from an invisible fence will be scared to return back in fear of the shock. Animal control is very well aware of this phenomenon as they often see stray dogs wearing their collars lingering around their properties but too scared to return!
Because of these risks, more and more dog trainers no longer recommend these fences. Buyer beware!
The Bottom Line
As seen, there are various ways and methods to keep a dog outside without a fence, but it's important to emphasize that ultimately nothing beats a good old-fashioned sturdy traditional fence that your dog cannot dig under, climb over or breakthrough. If you can afford it, this will give you priceless peace of mind for many years to come.
I have personally always had a fence built in all my homes when owning dogs. I may be overprotective, but all my dogs are always supervised when taken outside. There are just too many things that may go wrong and I don't want to take the risk.
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.
© 2020 Adrienne Farricelli
Devika Primić from Dubrovnik, Croatia on September 12, 2020:
You have helpful ways and dogs need their freedom as well. I like that you have given us the many options.
Sp Greaney from Ireland on September 11, 2020:
I think each option described is really good. I think for the safety of any pet, one of these should be used, especially if you live in a high traffic area.
I've heard some stories about that hidden fence option. Not one of my favourites.
FlourishAnyway from USA on September 10, 2020:
The sad information about the electric fences was helpful for people to know. It was very important that you provided this. Thank you.
Linda Crampton from British Columbia, Canada on September 10, 2020:
The details that you've shared are very useful. I have a fence around my yard, but your suggestions would be very helpful in certain situations. I would never use an invisible fence, though, for the reasons that you've stated.
Peggy Woods from Houston, Texas on September 09, 2020:
We have always had fences also for our dogs. One of our neighbors, where we live now, had successfully trained their golden retriever to stay on their lot by using an invisible fence. As you pointed out, all it takes is one mistake, and it could be fatal if the dog would be hit by a car passing by. They were always outside with him when in the yard. He was a gentle giant of a dog. Sadly, he died of cancer.
Heidi Thorne from Chicago Area on September 09, 2020:
Part of our yard was bounded by neighbors' fencing. That was good for our older dogs at the time. But then when we welcomed some pups into the family, we decided it was worth the money to keep them, and us, safe! I would have to trounce through neighbors' yards to corral the wandering young ones. A couple incidents were pretty scary. So full fence for us!
I had friends who lived out in the country and let their dogs roam free, saying "they'll come home." They were were trained for off-lead field work. But one almost died of injuries from a dog attack, and two died from getting hit by a vehicle. Whenever I would visit, I would be in a panic about their dogs.
We have only a couple neighbors who have invisible fencing. That is also nerve wracking because their rambunctious pups will run right up to their invisible limit. We avoid that block altogether because of them. We just don't know if the fencing is on or off. I think it's dangerous to the dogs and to others.
Dogs roaming off lead and/or without supervision is a hot issue for me. One time when my on-leash dog tore off after an excited non-contained dog running around, it resulted in some serious injury to me that took months to heal my broken bones and rotator cuff. Enough said.
Thanks for raising awareness of this very important issue!