Is a Hidden Fence Right for Your Dog?

Michael Schroeder
Updated March 17, 2015
hidden fence
Shannon Potvin, owner of Atlanta DogWatch Hidden Fence, trains a pet on its new boundaries as the dog's owner, Pam Sullivan, looks on. (Photo by Chris Hunt)

Hidden fencing costs less than traditional fencing, but some dog owners question the level of pain it inflicts.

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Concerns about electric, hidden fences inflicting pain on four-legged friends give some pet owners pause.

But many in the animal fencing industry, as well as the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, say hidden fences serve as a humane option to keep a dog in the yard, provided they’re correctly installed and pets are properly trained.

“Some communities do not allow traditional fencing, and electronic fencing must be able to be considered as an option for these communities,” says ASPCA spokeswoman Alison Jimenez.

“The ASPCA recognizes that it is a training technique using negative reinforcement,” she adds, but not properly containing a pet can lead to injuries or death, such as from being hit by a car.

hidden fence
After using a trencher to bury the hidden fence wiring, installer Chris Mullins of Atlanta DogWatch Hidden Fence prepares to connect it to the radio transmitter. (Photo by Chris Hunt)

Pros and cons of hidden fencing

Proponents of hidden fencing say it provides a less expensive, reliable alternative to traditional fencing without impeding sight lines.

“An underground/hidden fence will enclose the entire yard, providing containment even when the dog runs out the garage door or front door,” says Shannon Potvin, owner of Atlanta DogWatch Hidden Fence in Alpharetta, Georgia.

Experts advise against doing it yourself, though, given that inferior equipment, installation and lack of proper training can frustrate dogs and owners.

DogWatch Hidden Fence charges, on average, $1,299 for a half-acre yard with one dog, and Potvin says hidden fencing typically costs 25 percent to 50 percent less than above-ground fencing.

Paul Brown, owner of Sudbury Cedar Fence Co. in Sudbury, Massachusetts, which installs custom-crafted traditional fences, says hidden fences don’t keep other animals out, and they may not work in heavy snow or if the power goes out. Also, “some dog owners think [hidden fencing] is inhumane,” Brown says.

hidden fence
A radio signal transmits through the buried boundary wire to create a static field that activates the dog’s special collar when it gets close to the hidden fence. (Photo by Chris Hunt)

How hidden fences work

Potvin objects to the common use of the phrase “electric fence” to describe hidden fencing. “There is actually no ‘electric current’ running through our type of fencing,” she says.

Instead, she refers to it as a radio-frequency fence, explaining that a radio signal transmitted through a boundary wire buried underground creates a static field that activates the dog’s special collar when it gets close to the hidden fence.

“The pet will first hear a warning beep as they approach the boundary and then [receive] a mild static shock if the pet continues past the warning beep,” she says, comparing it to the static shock one feels in the winter months after walking across carpet and touching someone or something. “It doesn’t feel good. However, it does not cause any harm.”

But critics charge that the installers downplay the pain pets feel, and the unintended consequences.

On her Positively blog, Victoria Stilwell, a prominent dog trainer known for her role in Animal Planet’s popular TV series “It’s Me or the Dog,” urges pet owners to say no to electric fences. “Some dogs will refuse to go into their yards, while others have suffered electrical burns from the very collars fence companies claim are ‘safe and humane,’” she says.

They also can negatively affect dog behavior, Stilwell adds. “Dogs contained behind electric fences tend to become more reactive and in some cases more aggressive toward strangers and even family members,” she says.

Potvin disagrees. “Hidden fencing does just the opposite of making dogs aggressive,” she says. “Dogs feel free, happy and safe.”

hidden fence
Member Jenny Goguen plays with her dog, Jango, in a yard encompassed by a hidden fence. (Photo courtesy of Goguen)

A “painless” experience

Despite concerns, many dog owners report good experiences with hidden fencing that didn’t darken their dog’s disposition.

Jenny Goguen, an Angie’s List member in Wake Forest, North Carolina, says she had no fears that her Pomeranian, Jango, would experience any discomfort when she hired DogWatch of the Triangle in Garner, North Carolina, more than a year ago to install her hidden fence.

“I think he has only been shocked a handful of times and he quickly corrected,” Goguen says. “He didn’t cry out or yelp, but he did learn his new boundaries.”

Experts say those considering a hidden fence should hire an installer who emphasizes proper training. That includes walking the dog around the new perimeter to make sure it understands its invisible boundaries. Most advise against using a hidden fence alone to hem in an aggressive dog that may present a threat to passersby.

Goguen hired DogWatch for $1,050, which included training. She says the system allows her pint-sized pooch to safely roam her front and back yards, without fear of it leaving the property. “We haven’t had a single issue,” she says.

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