Do Dogs Need a Fenced Yard?

By Michele Welton

Fenced yard

Yes. Dogs want and deserve a fenced area in which to stretch their legs and run around a little, on the grass, several times a day

Without a fenced yard, you would need to take your dog outside on a leash even for bathroom breaks. This really isn't fair to any dog larger than a Chihuahua. Dogs don't like being tethered to a leash all the time.

Dog running in fenced yard

It is possible, especially with a small dog, to get by with an outdoor exercise pen ("ex-pen"). This is a series of wire panels that unfold into an enclosure where your dog can romp around off-leash.

Dog pen

The pen in the photo is far too small, but you can buy several ex-pens and attach them together to construct a much larger space. For example, if you go to amazon and type in "Midwest exercise pen", you could buy three of those pens to make a 12 ft by 12 ft enclosure. Four pens would make a 16 ft by 16 ft enclosure. Bigger is better!

If you live in a development with a homeowner's association, you'll need to check with them to see if they allow this. It's not permanent fencing, so they might be okay with your leaving it in place. Or they might require you to set it up and take it down each and every time you use it. That wouldn't work so well.

Any enclosure should be very, very close to your house. Remember, you will need to let your dog out multiple times a day – in bad weather, too – including very early in the morning and right before bedtime. So it needs to be close to the house.

What if there's a dog park nearby?

A dog park can be great fun for an hour's exercise. But you're not likely to dash to the dog park multiple times a day, especially in bad weather.

What about "boundary training", where you teach the dog to stay in an unfenced yard?

"Boundary training" has cost countless dogs their lives. Dogs have the mentality of a 2- to 4-year-old child and can outrun an Olympic sprinter. The moment your dog is tempted over the boundary – by another dog, a squirrel, a cat – he becomes a loose dog.

Loose dogs are....

  • hit by cars.
  • caught in animal traps.
  • injured or killed in dog fights.
  • blinded by rocks pegged by bullies.
  • stolen and spirited away forever.
  • shot by the game warden or sheriff for running deer or livestock.
  • poisoned by irate neighbors for pooping on their lawn.

Dog loose on street

Loose dogs also cause accidents. Have you ever swerved sharply to avoid someone else's dog dashing across the street? If by good fortune there wasn't a car coming in the opposite direction, there may be next time.

What about electronic or invisible fencing?

Many homeowners' associations today don't allow you to put up a fenced yard. This is a disastrous policy for those of us who are responsible dog owners.

Some associations allow you to install an invisible or electronic fence. You might be wondering, "Is that effective? Is it safe?"

What is an invisible/electronic fence? It's a wire cable that you run underground, all around the perimeter of your property. The wire has a digital radio frequency running through it. If your dog, wearing a special collar, approaches the wire, his collar picks up the radio frequency and emits a warning sound. If the dog keeps going, he receives an electrical shock.

I don't recommend these "fences" at all. In my experience, they are neither safe nor secure.

Risks of an invisible/electronic fence

  • If the motivation is strong enough – say, another dog running past, or a squirrel or cat, even thunder or fireworks – some dogs will dash right across the electrical wire and take the shock, just to get out. Then, of course, they can't get back in, unless they're willing to take another shock.
  • With nothing to block their view, dogs bark more, and charge toward anything they can see, including your neighbors minding their own business in their own yard. The dog may even mis-associate the shock with the neighbor and develop a phobic fear or aggression toward that person.
  • Your dog is completely open to attack by loose dogs passing by. This is especially scary if your own dog is small. This threat alone is enough for me to turn thumbs-down on invisible fencing.
  • Finally, you're wrapping electronics around your dog's neck and hoping it works perfectly. But we all know that electronics can be buggy. A defective collar could repeatedly shock your dog and turn him into a neurotic wreck.

I hope you will make sure your dog is safely confined within a physical fence. I talk about fencing options in great detail in my book, 11 Things You Must Do Right To Keep Your Dog Healthy and Happy.

Michele Welton with BuffyMichele Welton has over 40 years of experience as a Dog Trainer, Dog Breed Consultant, and founder of three Dog Training Centers. An expert researcher and author of 15 books about dogs, she loves helping people choose, train, and care for their dogs.