Service Dogs and Therapy Dogs

by Gajan Retnasaba on March 7, 2010

The use of dogs for therapeutic purposes has expanded in recent years well beyond just use with the deaf. Therapeutic dogs are being used to help people with mental illness such as anxiety, people with diabetes, and people who are prone to seizures. One reader recently explained how his family is planning to use a service dog with their son with autism, as both a companion and to help keep his son safe, and the unique challenges this poses when containing the dog. Specifically, a service dog as well as being contained needs the ability to go wherever it’s master goes. You don’t want the service dog for example being unable to follow a runaway child all the way to the edge of the property.

We recently purchased a dog (future service dog). My 7 year old son has autism. I am hoping you might be able to answer my questions. Before I ask you the technical product questions I will begin explaining the need/purpose for a service dog for our son. My son loves to be outside. While we try to monitor him closely, we cannot watch him every second he is outside. My wife may be inside doing house work cleaning up one of his many messes or we may even be outside with him doing yard work, but he is fast and can disappear quickly. Unfortunately we live off a county highway and my son is starting to venture off the property. We have a fence along the highway side and back side of our property. We are correcting him when he leaves the yard and working with his therapist to change that behavior but we are still worried about him leaving the yard. We have discussed fencing off the entire property and even installing a remote gate for the driveway. This is a very expensive option with no real assurance it will keep him from leaving our yard. If fact, he is very active and a great climber! He can climb fences with ease. We have looked at other options like GPS monitoring and other similar systems that would alert us if he has left or attempting to leave the yard. Not as expensive but still does nothing to actually prevent him from leaving our yard. After much research we have learned of autism service dogs. We have talked with several people around the country who have trained dogs for children with autism. After explaining to them our situation several trainers recommended the Australian Shepherd for such circumstances. We have been told this breed is a natural herder and may be trained to “corral” him within our yard, possibly blocking him form leaving the yard, or at the very lease bark when my son attempts to leave the yard. Currently there are no service dogs being training for “herding” purposes. There are a couple of pilot programs taking place but those dogs won’t be available for at least two years. The cost of a fully trained service dog is over $20,000. These reasons are why we purchased our own dog and hired a professional trainer. We purchased a puppy last August and are going through all the dog training. He has left the yard on several occasions. Not surprising, he is a very curious puppy. One amazing thing is he seemed to know immediately our son was special needs. He treats him very gently. He already is flanking him all around the yard. While things are going well we would still like to install an underground fence for the dog. I know that this fence will prevent the dog from following our son out of the yard. Our dog trainer and my son’s therapist think this type of system would be best for now. They plan on working heavily with our son on not exiting the unfenced side of the yard. He never has shown interest in the front street (the only unfenced side). He is more interested the the fields and woods which are fenced. I am sorry this e-mail is so long winded, but I feel it is important you know the entire situation. Now for my questions to you.

As I mentioned, our 2-1/2 acre property is fenced on two sides and this spring we plan to add a fence to a third side. The front will not be fenced. I have read on the Internet that people still install the underground fence on sides of their property that have existing fences. My question is: If there is an invisible fence installed where an existing fence is, will my dog get corrected/shocked just walking up to the fence? With our dog being a future service dog, he needs the ability to follow our son everywhere within our yard, which means up to the fence lines. The system I am interested in purchasing from you is the Innotek IUC-4100. It has an adjustment for the field width. I assume for systems that are installed next to an existing fence you adjust the field width as small as possible. But what about properties that have some sides fenced and some unfenced like mine. I need the field width larger on the sides without a fence. Is it possible to have the system set at a high field with on the wall mounted transmitter and after the boundary wire runs past the unfenced property side to reduce the field width by installing something in line at the beginning of the fenced side. A resistor or potentiometer maybe?

That is wonderful that the dog can provide companionship for your son. There is an inherent tension in using a dog fence to contain the dog, but also let him have full access to wherever your son can go. Electric fences do all need some kind of buffer zone.

First, putting in an inground system is absolutely the way to go. Wireless dog fences are just too vague to make sense where you want a crisp boundary.

There is no way to make the boundary width narrower in some areas than others. There are a few tricks that achieve a similar end. For example, placing the wire on top of the fence rather than on the bottom, effectively reduces the field width because the signal needs to travel an extra distance down to the dog’s neck level where the collar is located. If the fence is say six feet high, and you have the boundary width set at say 3 feet, the dog could get all the way to the edge of the fence without getting the correction (because the signal would not reach the ground).

The other solution is to either not lay the wire in the fenced section, or to find a kind neighbor that will let you lay the wire in their yard behind your fence.

My intuition is that a resistor will not cause a reduction in the signal in one particular area, rather a general reduction across the entire area.

Hope that Helps


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