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An invisible fence, also known as an underground fence or hidden fence, is not actually a fence at all. The term invisible fence is actually the name for a radio-signaled barrier system that many dog owners use to keep their dogs on their property. Contrary to what many people believe, an invisible fence is not a buried wire that stays hot and ready to zap a dog with a bolt of electricity when it gets near. An invisible fence operates off of radio signals that transmit to a receiver collar worn by the dog. When the collar gets within range of the boundary, it emits a warning tone audible to the dog, and when the collar crosses the boundary, it emits a signal that causes a static-like shock.
A man named Richard Peck invented and held the patent for the invisible fence until the early 1990s. The concept of the invisible fence is to keep dogs safe in their yards without having to put up traditional fences. This concept appeals to many homeowners who may not want to incur the cost or dislike the obstruction of a traditional fence, especially on large properties, or those who live in areas where zoning or association laws prohibit traditional fences. Similarly, many homeowners install invisible fences around their front yards where traditional fences are not usually erected.
An invisible fence does not work by itself. It must be used in conjunction with careful training. The typical process of training a dog to obey its boundaries with an invisible fence takes about two weeks.
After the invisible fence is installed, marker flags are put up around the perimeter. The special receiver collar is blocked from emitting the shock for the first few days and the owner must work consistently with the dog on a leash. The dog is permitted to go only within an adjustable but predetermined distance from the boundary before they hear the warning tone. The dog is then pulled back to a safe distance and praised for returning. This process must be repeated around the perimeter of the invisible fence until the dog makes the association.
The next step in training is to allow the dog not only to hear the warning tones, but to feel the shock as well. Still on a leash, the process of wandering to the boundary and then returning is repeated until the dog learns that the reprimand is coming from the boundary. Lastly, distractions outside of the boundary are introduced, the flags come down and the leash is removed. Once the owner is confident that the dog has learned its limits, the dog should be watched, but left on its own. Some dogs respond more quickly than others, and dogs with high tolerance to the sound and shock may cross the invisible fence boundaries anyway, especially when spotting a neighborhood dog or wild animal.
An invisible fence is not a viable option for all dogs and not meant to contain aggressive, vicious, or exceptionally eager dogs. You are also not exempt from leash laws should your dog cross the boundary after a pedestrian or another dog. For the right types of dogs and with the right training, an invisible fence can help keep dogs from wandering off into traffic or getting lost. However, keep in mind that if your dog does leave the area, it may be deterred from returning to the yard because the warning tones and shock work from both sides. If you think you cannot train your dog properly, you should not invest in an invisible fence, but rather provide your dog a safe area with a traditional fence enclosure.