You know by now that one of the best ways to keep your dog safe and healthy is to keep him from running off. Keeping your dog on your property can protect him from cars, getting lost, eating toxic materials, and running into aggressive dogs or other dangerous animals. It can also protect you from the liability you have for any damage your dog might do to a neighbor’s property or, in a worst-case scenario, an injury he might cause a person.
While the most traditional and some say, the most effective way to keep your dog in your yard is with a ten-foot fence and a locked gate, that’s not always an option. Buried (or electronic) fences are becoming a popular solution, but they’re also a bit controversial. Seen by some as a catch-all answer to straying dogs and by others as cruel and unusual punishment, these fences have both advantages and disadvantages.
How it works
Underground fences were first developed nearly 20 years ago, and they’ve been proven over time to be reliable. A professional installation service digs a narrow trench around the perimeter (outside boundary) or your property and buries an antenna wire. (Companies generally specify that the wires have to cover a minimum perimeter to work correctly, often 500 feet.)
Your dog wears a collar that transmits a signal from a transmitter in your house or garage. When he approaches the wire, the collar makes a noise to startle him. If he keeps walking toward it, two metal connectors in the collar will give him a mild shock. (Cats can also be trained using the underground fence, though its use is more common in dogs.)
Underground fences require less maintenance than the traditional kind. Since it’s several inches under the ground, an underground fence can’t be damaged by bad weather or an overly enthusiastic animal. It also doesn’t have gates that can be left open by accident.
Dogs can’t dig under an underground fence. Also, dogs that are jumpers can’t jump over one without receiving a slight shock.
The yard looks much more open. The cable can block off pets from a specific area of the yard, such as a garden or pond, without blocking it from view. Also, buried fences may be an option for homeowners who can’t build a fence due to neighborhood restrictions.
With the underground fence, you still have to train your dog. The fence is not meant to train your dog not to leave your yard. You are supposed to train your dog not to leave the yard; the fence simply reinforces your training.
You can begin training by putting up a line of small red flags where the cable is buried. You then put a cover over your dog’s collar so he won’t be shocked and walk him around the yard. When he comes close to the cable (and the red flags), the collar will emit its warning sound. When you hear the sound, say "no" and lead the dog away, showing him that the sound means he should move away from the flags.
Once your pup has learned to associate the warning sound with moving away from the flags, you can take the cover off his collar and let him try wandering outside the perimeter. If he ignores the warning tone, he’ll get a small shock to remind him. Once he’s conditioned to stay away from the flags, you can remove them one or two at a time.
The fence doesn’t necessarily protect other people or animals from your dog. An underground fence will not keep people from coming onto your property. Children in your neighborhood could easily wander into your yard to play with your dog, as could neighbors’ pets.>
By the same token, a fence won’t protect your pet from other animals that could come into your yard, or from other people.
Some dogs can "outsmart" the system. Some dogs learn over time that if they run quickly over the buried wire, they’re only shocked for a short moment. These dogs can come to disregard the shock entirely.
Other dogs may ignore the shock in a moment of excitement. Breeds specifically trained to hunt, chase, or follow a scent may be particularly prone to ignore the shock when they get the urge to chase.
The fence generally doesn’t work on dogs under six months old. Any animal that has a hard time learning commands, whether due to age or cognitive disability, will probably have a hard time learning to stay away from an underground fence.
Some owners object to "shocking" their dogs. Though manufacturers maintain that the electrical stimulus from the collar is no stronger than the static electricity you might pick up from a doorknob, some owners feel that a traditional fence is more humane. The shock causes no injury, however, and it can be adjusted to a dog’s size and comfort level.
Occasionally, though not often, the collar can malfunction and shock the dog for no reason. If you put in an underground fence, you’ll need to check the batteries in your dog’s collar regularly. Also, you’ll need to keep your eye on your pup while he’s outside to make sure that the collar isn’t shocking him inappropriately.
No one system is right for every pet or every owner. The way you restrain your dog will depend on your environment, your needs, and your dog’s size and temperament. For more information on whether an underground system is right for you and your pet, consult your veterinarian.