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All You Need to Know About the Underground Pet FenceMay 26th, 2014 by
This article was crafted with the help of Shannon Potvin of Atlanta Dogwatch Hidden Fence.
An underground pet fence—also called an invisible fence—consists of a wire that is buried in the ground around the pet owner’s property and a transmitter box located somewhere nearby, usually in a garage or basement. The transmitter sends a radio signal through the wire, creating a static field that activates a special collar the dog wears. The collar emits a warning beep as the dog approaches the wire, and if the warning beep is ignored, the dog will feel the static as it enters the field. While some people think of an underground pet fence as an “electric fence,” in reality the dog feels the same discomfort you might if you encountered static after walking over a carpet in winter.
Traditionally, underground pet fences have operated on an AM radio signal, a technology still utilized by most invisible fence companies as well as DIY fencing kits sold in pet stores and online. However, one invisible fence company, Atlanta Dogwatch Hidden Fence, has developed and patented a technology that uses an FM radio signal to transmit to the dog’s collar. “The FM frequency transmits a clearer signal and won’t pick up interference. Interference is one of the main reasons a dog’s collar might false activate, and the FM signal eliminates that,” says Shannon Potvin, a co-owner of Dogwatch. “Because of our patents, Dogwatch is the only company using FM signals, but when our patents expire in 12 years, I’m sure everyone will be using that technology.”
Configuration and Installation
Since the area of control for the dog is defined by a wire, it is possible to create a number of different zones to keep it in certain areas and out of others. In addition to preventing the dog from leaving the yard, the installer can create barriers around flower beds and gardens, pools, children’s play areas, or any other spot that the homeowner wishes to remain pet-free. In addition, by twisting the wire, the installer can create a “gate” or opening in the static field that the dog can pass through, such as from the backyard to the front of the home.
Installation of an invisible fence doesn’t disrupt the landscape, and in cases where the wire must be run across a driveway, the wire is laid into a one-and-a-half-inch groove that is cut into the existing expansion joints. The groove is then sealed, leaving no noticeable trace in the concrete or asphalt.
Underground fencing works well with traditional fencing and is usually installed just inside the fence line, which sets up a barrier that helps prevent the dog from escaping. The static field extends about six feet in all directions, so when installed at the base of a traditional fence, the dog needs to remain at a distance of about four feet from the fence. Shannon notes, however, that attaching the wire to the top of the fence can give the dog more yard space. “If we put the wire on the fence—like at the top of the fence—the dog can actually get within a foot of the fence. Can’t dig under, can’t jump over, but can get very, very close to the fence versus when the wire runs along the base.”
There are several advantages to installing an underground fence, the first being that the static field extends in all directions around your entire property, ensuring that there are no “holes” for your poky little puppy to wriggle through to freedom. Also, the installation cost of an invisible fence is usually a fraction of the cost of traditional fencing.
One of the most convenient factors about investing in an invisible fence is that the equipment is portable and only needs to be purchased once. If you are ready for a move, you simply have new wiring installed in the yard of the new home; the cost is significantly decreased, since you will only be paying for the wire and will not have to buy new equipment or training.
Shannon also points out that the wire being left behind can be an added inducement to a home buyer. “If the new homeowners have a dog, they’ll likely be very happy about that. They can have a protective fence for their pets, but they won’t have to buy the wire; they’ll just have to buy the equipment. It’s a win-win.” In addition, since the wire is buried, there’s no loss of curb appeal that might deter a buyer without pets. “It’s one of those features that will never take away from the value of your home,” says Shannon.
The installation of the underground fence is only one part of the process; training the dog to recognize and respect the fence as a barrier is vital to ensuring that the dog will remain where it is allowed and not try to make an escape. Puppies are usually ready to respond to training at around 14 to 16 weeks of age, as long as they are able to walk on a leash. However, even older dogs can be trained to use the invisible fence. “You can teach this trick to a dog of any age,“ says Shannon, “and older dogs learn very quickly.”
The trainer first instructs the dog’s owner on all the parts of the fence and how it works and then begins training with the dog, showing the owner how to work with the pet. Shannon says, “Most dogs learn the system in three to five days, and it’s very gentle, very gradual. They learn in short, five-minute sessions that are repeated two to three times a day. Repetition is the key.”
The trainer, and later the owner, walks the leashed dog up to the warning flags, allows it to hear the beep and feel the static correction, and then guides it away from the area, rewarding it with lots of praise. “Praise is very positive; it’s very motivating for the dogs,” says Shannon. “They learn ‘turn around when you hear the beep, retreat back into the yard.’”
The training is very consciously praise-based to start with, rather than using treats. “We save the treats for the very last day, when the dog is actually doing everything on its own—it’s hearing the beeps and then turning around,” says Shannon. “We use praise the first few days, because we want the dogs to really pay attention to us and learn what we’re trying to teach them. But once we see that they’ve got it, that’s where the treat comes in. That’s when they associate, ‘Oh, this is what I’m supposed to do. Turn around.’”
The collar that operates with the invisible fence must be worn at all times when the dog is at home, so owners will often attach the dog’s tags to the electronic collar and use it for the main collar, replacing it with a “going out” collar with a leash hook when going for a walk or to the vet. However, it’s important to understand that even after the dog is trained on the invisible fence, the dog needs to continue wearing the electronic collar while at home. “People who have had our fence—and I’m one of them, I’ve had the system for over 15 years—will say, ‘Oh, my dog doesn’t need to wear the collar anymore, because he knows the fence.’ It’s not exactly true. The dog does know the fence, but if your dog is testing the fence and doesn’t hear a beep because he doesn’t have the collar on, he will possibly leave the yard. It is a risk, so why take that chance? We try to educate our customers to leave the collar on.”
In all, for homeowners with dogs that like to roam, an underground fence might be an excellent choice to make sure Fido keeps all four paws in his own yard.
This spotlight article was crafted with the help of Atlanta Dogwatch Hidden Fence, a Best Pick in Fences – Pet Containment in Atlanta. While we strive to provide relevant information to all homeowners, some of the material we publish may not pertain to every area. Please contact your local Best Pick companies for any further area-specific advice.