Imagine the temptation for the dogs next door as outdoor cats bound across a neighbor's lawn at feeding time. If no physical fence separates the dogs from the cats, will friction between neighbors ensue?
Not if the dogs are contained by an underground electric fence, says Alison Armao, a dog trainer whose four Weimaraners co-exist alongside felines at her home in Port Royal Plantation on Hilton Head Island.
"One of my dogs has a lot of play drive, and when she sees the cats she stands at the edge where the beeping starts," she said. "But she stays in my yard."
The underground fences work by delivering a shock of static electricity to dogs wearing a special collar. The collars can be adjusted to deliver only a sound warning, or shocks of different intensities. The underground wire forms a perimeter or safe area, wherein the dogs can move freely without receiving the shock. They receive a warning tone when they're getting close to the fence; the shock comes when they cross the underground boundary.
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In private plantations where physical fences aren't allowed, underground pet fences can be a good solution for homeowners.
Like many home improvement projects, they also can be a plus for potential buyers when a property is for sale.
Bluffton-based real estate agent Sue Cullinen said an underground fence would be "a neutral or a positive, depending on the buyer, but not a negative." The fences aren't cheap --a do-it-youself kit starts at about $250 and installation by a full service fence company starts at about $600 and goes up depending on the size of the yard and length of the warranty, among other factors.
For prospective buyers with a dog, a working electric fence is an asset, Cullinen said. For a buyer who doesn't have a dog, the seller would remove the equipment that plugs into the wall.
"Having a wire running underground in your yard that's not active isn't a big deal," she said.
Sellers with buyers who don't want the invisible fence --and renters--can move their fence's transmitters to their new home and have a perimeter wire installed in the yard for a fraction of the cost of a new fencing system, fencing consultants say.
For seniors or those with medical conditions which prohibit walking a dog on a leash, having an electronic fence can help owners keep their dogs longer. And dogs need off-leash exercise and play to remain physically fit.
Training for everyone
Armao and Janice Alden, a consultant for Invisible Fence whose sales territory includes Hilton Head Island and Bluffton, agree that success with an underground fence requires training--for both the dog and owner. Alden's company offers an initial training session after the fence is installed, and an Invisible Fence trainer will return if problems arise later. Armao usually works with homeowners who have an established underground fence, after the family adopts a new dog. Typically, three training sessions, starting with small plastic flags up in the yard, are necessary for the dog to learn to use the electric fence, Armao said. Practice between training sessions is essential.
"The owner will have homework," she said.
Alden said that while an electric fence works well to keep dogs contained, "it won't prevent the neighbors' kids or an alligator from coming into your yard."
Thus, aggressive dogs should never be left alone outside, even if they're well trained to respect the fence.
And electric fences aren't appropriate for dogs that have been abused or have a very shy temperament, Armao said.
Electric fences often work well when a family has multiple dogs and walking them all on leashes at the same time is unmanageable, Alden said.
Do it yourself or call a professional?
Professionally installed fences usually have a lifetime guarantee, come with training sessions, and are guaranteed to contain the dog. Professionals design the area that the fence will cover, which may include the front, back and side yards or only a portion of the property. Traditionally, very narrow yards haven't been suitable for electric fences, but Alden said her company has a new technology that permits installation in patio lots and other small spaces. Do-it-yourself fences are for larger lots, and designing the fence can be tricky because the layout of every property is different.
One thing is almost for sure: whoever does your landscaping--even if you do it yourself-- will eventually cut the wire during some type of activity. Edging, planting, and aerating are common culprits. Cuts in the wire can be found using a tool called a wire break locator or DFNA, available at home improvement stores. If a landscaping company cuts a fence, they'll usually repair it for free.
The bottom line
Most dog owners want to know: is an electric fence cruel? Fence companies describe the sensation as a static electric shock that's startling but not painful. Many owners test out their fences by accidentally crossing the boundary wire while holding their dog's electric collar.
The second most frequently asked question is "What can an electric fence do for me?"
"It turns the dog walk into something you do for pleasure at your convenience, instead of a daily task in the dark before you leave for work," Alden said.