So, you want to give your faithful canine companion the freedom to run around outside, but don’t want to worry about him straying too far? A wireless dog fence might be the solution for you. The idea might sound like futuristic technology relegated to a sci-fi story, but the earliest wireless fence design received a patent in 1973 and persists to this day.
A wireless dog fence is exactly what it sounds like: an invisible barrier used to train your dog to stay in a given area that you can delineate and, with proper training, can be almost as effective as a physical barrier.
It isn’t foolproof but can be a reasonably-priced alternative. Physical fencing can be prohibitively expensive, or your area may not allow it. A wireless dog fence is invisible after the initial setup.
Invisible fences can be beneficial for pet owners who are strapped for time to construct a fence or who don’t want to pay thousands of dollars. Also, certain subdivisions or neighborhoods may not allow homeowners to build physical fences. It’s always a good idea to check local laws to determine what is acceptable. Digging a trench for a wireless fence is usually a simple matter.
The fence requires three components: the wire to mark the boundaries inside which you want to contain your dog, a transmitter, and a special collar for the dog. It’s called a wireless fence because it uses a wireless transmitter in conjunction with the collar.
When the dog approaches the area outlined by the wire, the collar emits an ultrasonic frequency. Humans cannot hear this, but dogs can, and they find it mildly uncomfortable.
If the dog steps on or crosses the boundary marker, the collar emits an electrical shock. The strength of this shock can be calibrated depending on the size of the dog or the level of force you want to exert. It isn’t enough to injure or hurt the dog. It is the equivalent of the shock you get from touching a metal doorknob in winter.
This is how one variant of the fence works. Another version might simply be calibrated to allow the pet to travel a certain radius from the central transmitter.
The underground wire setup allows more variety in boundary shapes, whereas the GPS one only can be calibrated to activate the transmitter and collar if the dog wanders outside the circle.
There are a few different types of fences. Let’s take an in-depth look at each of them.
The underground dog fence requires a wire to run around the perimeter you want to set for your dog to roam. The distance varies by manufacturer, but you can expect to get about 25 acres of coverage for lower-end models.
Higher-end models expand this figure to 100 acres. This gives your dog plenty of room to run and play.
The underground wire detects the collar’s - and by extension the dog’s - proximity to the barrier marker. When the dog gets within a certain distance, the collar begins to sound a warning tone approximately in the 17.5 kHz range, which is uncomfortable for dogs. It isn’t painful, but it is a clear warning.
Crossing the boundary results in an electric shock. On some models, the shock can persist until the dog returns to the safe zone. On others, it stops after a set time.
Yet another sub-variant of the collar uses a spray of citronella scent as the correction rather than an electrical shock. Citronella is a spicy, citrus scent that dogs find annoying, but not painful. It’s the equivalent of spraying a cat with a light dose of water.
Of course, you want to be able to take your pet outside the boundary. You have the option of setting up gates or places where the wire does not reach.
These gates should be positioned on a walkway or somewhere where you would walk to leave the yard.
Another feature common to underground barriers is the ability to create a second enclosure around, say, a swimming pool or a rosebush. Just thread the wire around those areas and twist the two loops together. This has the effect of canceling out the signal at the spot where the wires meet.
The wireless dog fence is a slightly simpler variant of the underground fence. It has no underground wire but instead uses a GPS locator attached to the collar to calculate your dog’s distance from the transmitter.
All you have to do is set the distance and a circle is instantly set around the transmitter. Your dog will be reluctant to cross this boundary.
The fully wireless system works via radio signals. If you have a lot of radio frequency interference, it can interrupt the signal or weaken it to the point your pet will ignore it. It’s best to check electronic devices to be sure they will have no interference from surrounding devices like microwaves or cell phones.
For references, most electronics that emit radio frequencies do so at 2.4 GHz. Check the radio frequency of your dog fence transmitter.
Building a physical barrier around your yard, even if your local laws permit it, is often prohibitively expensive. First, you have to get the wood, fiberglass, or whatever material you plan to use. Wood is the most aesthetically pleasing, so you’ll likely use wood.
Then, you have to dig the holes for the fence posts and for extra security dig small trenches the fence sections, so your dog can’t dig under them. Also, the fence has to be high enough, so the dog can’t jump or climb over it: five or six feet is a good height. Also, it has to enclose the entire yard.
Now you have to have a gate which includes hinges and a latch. You also have to paint, treat, and finish the wood, then put it under yearly maintenance by replacing any rotted or damaged sections. If you opt to have professionals install your fence, the labor adds an extra cost to this outlay. Overall, a wooden fence can cost you thousands of dollars.
Comparatively, installing an underground wire or a GPS-based system requires little more than the transmitter, the wire, the special collar, a set of marker flags, and a set of 6V batteries. You can also have training professionals stay and work with your dog to teach it to stay within the boundaries you set.
Even with training, an invisible dog fence is far cheaper than a physical barrier, with the total cost often less than $1,000.
A wireless dog fence has its advantages, but it isn't without drawbacks that can prove detrimental in the long run. We’ll look at these and discuss how you can solve them.
The transmitter, collar, and underground wire all require constant electrical power to maintain. If you live in an area with regular outages, the effectiveness of your barrier lessens.
By investing in a UPS, or uninterruptible power supply, you can keep this system online for long enough for electrical service to be restored.
Any electrical system has to have a complete circuit to function. If something happens to the length of wire like an animal digging it up and chewing on it, the circuit breaks and the whole system is useless.
To mitigate this issue, bury the wire about a foot below ground or use a completely wireless system.
Invisible fences keep your dog from straying out of the safe zone, but they do nothing to prevent other animals or humans from entering it. Dogs who are aggressive or in the mating season will see your dog as an easy target. It’s best to spay females to prevent pregnancy.
The warning from the shock or spray emitted from the collar may not be enough to keep your dog from leaving the restricted area, especially if the dog is excited or afraid. Adrenaline is a powerful chemical. It takes diligent training and patience with the dog to enforce boundaries. For larger and stronger dogs, you might also need to dial up the power of the shock.
For all that we humanize animals, it's important to remember that a dog's brain isn't as developed as a human's. If the dog experiences the discomfort associated with the fence but does not receive the required training, it can come to associate the mere act of being outside with pain.
The dog could even become so paralyzed with fear of that pain that it refuses to move at all, simply because its brain doesn't draw the proper connection. Obviously, this is the opposite of what you want to happen. The point of an invisible fence is to allow the dog to roam with relative freedom.
The training flags can aid in training the dog to remain inside the fence. Set the flags at the boundary and, with the dog leashed, allow it to approach.
When the collar emits its shock, beckon the dog back. If it comes back when being called, reward with a treat. Repeat until the dog does not approach the boundary and do this for all flags.
Positive reinforcements for good behavior coupled with positive punishment for transgressions is generally the best way to instill training habits in dogs.
This type of training forms the basis of operant conditioning, the only behavior modification dogs can understand. Positive reinforcement refers to the addition of a positive stimulus as a reward. Positive punishment refers to the addition of a negative stimulus as a punishment for unwanted behavior.
Without adequate training, the dog doesn't understand what is causing the discomfort and can come to associate any outside time with it. This makes the dog neurotic and unable to go outside and enjoy life.
If you have the extra expense, you can have professional dog trainers work with your dog to instill the boundaries you want to set. A professional has experience and knowledge on how to properly train a dog but doesn’t have the connection and trust you likely do, so it’s a trade-off of familiarity vs. experience.
IF your dog somehow manages to escape the wireless fence, it may not be willing to attempt re-crossing the boundary line again even if it knows that’s what you want. This is because lower-end fences have the collar activate the shock from either direction, so the dog ends up being locked out of the yard, so to speak.
Higher-end models address this by setting an endless boundary. This administers the shock for as long as the dog is out of the safe zone up to the maximum range of the transmitter and does not stop until the dog returns. It will keep your pet from venturing too far.
Electroshock training carries with it some ethical concerns. Even though the shock levels are not enough to harm your dog, many people are averse to the idea of shocking a dog to ensure obedience. If you aren’t willing to commit fully, it will not work.
The shock levels can be adjusted for your dog. It should be enough to draw his attention and induce mild discomfort, but not enough to cause pain. If your dog yelps and puts its tail between his legs, the shock is too powerful. It should just sit up and take notice.
Couple the collar training with treats as rewards and show the dog ample love and affection so it knows you aren’t really angry. A pet whose owner only uses punishment will only teach the dog to fear him.
With proper training, time, and planning, you can enjoy the freedom that an electric boundary gives your dog without having to worry about keeping it on a leash, except when you are taking Fido for a walk.