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Research underground dog fences before buying

By Jackie Strouble
Posted Wednesday, July 20, 2011

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Pittsboro, NC - Good idea to do your research first. Electronic dog fences are not a physical barrier, they are a training and reinforcement tool. The initial training is all-important, and long-term, consistent reinforcement is essential. Also, your dogs will not be protected from the outside -- other animals or people can still cross into your yard and threaten your dogs' safety. Electronic fences depend on gadgets and gadgets are prone to occasional failure (not to mention human error). Personally, I do not leave my dog outside protected only by an electronic fence unless I am at home. That said, electronic fences perform very well within certain constraints.

Years ago, I bought an underground fence setup from Joanie Wilson who has a distributorship in Apex & Burlington. I tried to enclose seven plus acres, doing the installation myself to save money. Too ambitious. I never got the thing working. I recommend having an underground fence professionally installed. The installer assumes the responsibility for a reliable, working system, helps with the training, and will troubleshoot problems that develop later. Naturally, you should check the company's product warranty and references.

Instead of an underground fence, I eventually settled on the PetSafe Wireless Fence (available from Home Depot and It was very easy to install DIY and has solved all my roving dog problems. This fence has no underground wire. It consists of an indoor radio transmitter (about the size of a small boom box minus the speakers) and a receiver collar for the dog. The transmitter sends a constant signal to the collar. If the dog leaves the preset area of transmission, the signal drops out, activating the collar to deliver a *beep* warning and then a shock. Some dogs learn that if they run fast enough they can clear the underground fence wire with little or no consequence.

Not so the wireless fence. The shock continues for thirty seconds if the dog remains outside the boundary.

As an added bonus, this fence can be packed up and taken along on trips, if you travel with your dogs. All you need to set it up is a working electrical outlet and the marker flags. Once the dogs learn to recognize the flags and know what to expect if they cross the boundary, training is ridiculously easy.

The maximum coverage for a single transmitter is a circular area of about 1/2 acre (about 90' across). It is sometimes possible to add a second, overlapping transmitter, yielding an oval or "peanut-shaped" area. The boundary can be varied to cover a smaller area. The collar has settings for "beep-only" and varying levels of shock.

There are constraints to this wireless containment system. If you decide to buy and try one, keep your receipt just in case! The transmitter(s) has to be located in a heated space -- no garages or sheds -- and placed away from appliances or large metal objects which could interfere with the signal. The half-acre from a single transmitter is not a very large area. The boundary line can fluctuate by as much as 10' because it is dependent on a radio signal transmission which may vary.

A small minority of people cannot use the wireless system because they have a sloping yard or rough terrain, creating "blind-spots." Some areas have mysterious sources of electrical interference, rendering the fence unreliable. The circular containment area with the transmitter at the center does not suit some people. The collar batteries are in constant use and have to be replaced every few months (I recommend buying them in bulk online, at a considerable savings). The system is supposed to have a "failsafe" feature which prevents your dog from being shocked if you have a power outage, but I have mine plugged into my UPS battery back-up, just in case.

Last, but not least, some dogs have been known to chew each others' collars off, setting them free to roam. This could be a problem with either the wired or the wireless system.

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Research underground dog fences before buying

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