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Invisible Fencing
By Gretchen Decker

At the Animal Protection Society of Orange County NC's Adoption Center, many new dog owners ask us what we think of invisible fences. This is a tough one for me as I don't have any direct experience with an invisible fence, but here's a brief list of pros and cons and some anecdotal evidence about the effectiveness of these fences.

To install the fence, a wire is buried around the area you want to enclose. The dog wears a collar that emits a shock when he approaches the area where the wire is buried. Most collars make a warning sound before the dog enters the shock zone, allowing the dog to avoid the correction. The owner can adjust the strength of the shock from a central control station, and dogs with heavier coats need an area under their collar shaved for the collar to work properly.

Some trainers believe that in some dogs the shock might cause behavioral problems. Here's one scenario I read online. Imagine your dog giving chase to a squirrel. Many dog owners recognize that when their dog sees a squirrel and gives chase, the dog's instincts often take over. As he barrels toward the fence line, he hears the warning sound, tries to stop in time, but can't because of forward momentum. Once he breaks the barrier, the panicked dog might be reluctant to return home and cross the fence line again.

Another ending to this scenario is that the dog decides to change direction rapidly when he hears the warning sound, and he runs into the fence again. All the time, the warning sound is going off, and he is shocked even though he tried to change direction. This dog is confused and may be reluctant to go out into the yard again.

One of the biggest draws to an invisible fence system is the fact that it can be less expensive than traditional fences and can be used in communities where fences aren't allowed or on properties that would be difficult to enclose for whatever reason.

Although there is less maintenance than a traditional fence, to ensure that the fence system is working correctly, batteries in the collar must be replaced regularly. Otherwise, when the battery in the collar runs down, you might not realize it until your dog escapes from the yard. Also, power must be supplied to the buried wire on the perimeter. If power goes out during a storm, power can be supplied from back-up batteries.

If your dog is particularly intelligent or precocious, he might decide to test the barrier on occasion, and you might not realize the system isn't working until it's too late. Some dogs also decide that the payoff of getting outside of the yard is worth enduring a shock.

Keep in mind that unless you plan on putting an electronic collar on every animal in your neighborhood, an invisible fence will not keep stray dogs or feral cats out of your yard. If you want to keep things out of your yard, the invisible fence isn't for you.

Whatever fencing option a new owner decides to go with, bear in mind that putting a dog in a yard by himself is no substitute for daily walks and positive interaction with the whole family and other dogs.