Angie's List: Invisible fencing can be a cost-effective alternative to traditional fencing

Keep Rover from roving without ruining the view

TAMPA - As dog owners, we love our pets. They really are members of the family. But let's face it. Walking the dog can sometimes be a pain. Fortunately, some fencing options make it possible to just throw open the back door and let your pet walk himself. An underground or wireless pet fence can be a great option for pet owners who don't want a physical fence between them and the neighbors. You can tailor the layout of the fence to restrict virtually any area you want – so you can run it around the entire yard, flower beds, the swimming pool, or the kid's play area.
Angie Hicks, founder of Angie's List, said an invisible fence can be less expensive than a traditional fence. "The great thing about it," she said, "it's very flexible. You can configure them any which way you want. If you don't want your pet to get to the swing set you can adjust and leave the swing set out of your area. But you need to design it exactly for your needs."

Most pet fencing systems work by delivering a radio frequency from a transmitter to a collar worn by the pet. Restricted areas are established outside by electrical wires buried underground and inside by small transmitters that can be placed throughout the home. If the pet gets close to the restricted area, he or she will first receive an audible warning followed by a static correction that's customized to the pet's size and temperament.

"When they go out and get near the line the collar reads the radio signal and the dog will get a tone, and that's it's warning that you need to get back. So really the training is all about teaching the dog to back up when it hears the tone," said Bob Swarm and fence contractor. "All of them ultimately will shock them. It used to be when I started here 10 years ago we had four shock levels. Now we have 13. A lot of times I'll insist a homeowner feel it. I'll say, 'I want you to know what your dog is experiencing.' It eases their mind a lot to know that their dog is not getting zapped to a point where it's making them fearful."

Depending on the size of the area being covered, an underground or wireless fence can range in cost from a few hundred dollars to more than $1,000 - much less than a typical wood or vinyl fence. The collars contain batteries that typically need to be replaced every three to four months, depending on how often they deliver a correction. Batteries typically cost between $15 and $20. And remember - while an underground invisible fence can help keep pets in certain boundaries, it's important to remember that these systems cannot keep other animals - or people - out of your yard.

Angie's List Tips: Hiring a contractor to install a pet fence

  • Check before you dig: Before you install any type of fencing, check with your local municipality to see if a permit is required. Also, be sure to verify any homeowner's association requirements regarding fencing.
  • Research the company: Pet owners should only hire a company with a reputation for working with pets in a positive, safe manner. There are varying levels of correction, but training should begin with the smallest level possible and then adjusted to fit the pet's breed and temperament.
  • Ask about training: Pet owners shouldn't discount the importance of training. Before you hire a company to install a fence, ask detailed questions about the level of training that comes with the package. If you're planning to install the fence yourself, be sure you understand how to train your pet to respond, or find a reputable trainer to help.
  • Consult a vet: Pet owners worried about the effects of the charge to their pet should talk with their veterinarian, as well as the fence vendor, to address those concerns. If you are uncomfortable with the system, consider a more traditional fencing option rather than investing in a system you can't bring yourself to fully use.
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