Having your own invisible dog fence allows you the convenience of keeping your dog safe outside without building a large fence around your property. Let's be honest, a tired pooch is a happy and less destructive pooch. Dogs that are inside all day get bored easily and can become a nuisance, and being cooped up is also not great for the health of your family pet. Wooden or chain link fences around the perimeter of your yard can look unseemly and can cost thousands to put up. But, on the other hand, letting your dog (or cat) have free run of the yard and potentially the neighborhood can pose safety problems. With an invisible fence, your pets will be contained by the boundaries of your yard and can play happily and safely all day long!
Invisible Fence is a brand name of pro-installed invisible dog fences that can cost upwards of $2,000. However, there are plenty of other invisible dog fence brands out there that can be self-installed for around $300. If you don't mind working with your hands, in one afternoon you could create a safer environment for your pets and your neighbors.
How Do They Work?
Underground invisible fences usually consist of three elements: underground low-voltage wiring, a transmitter, and a receiver that attaches to your dog's collar. The wiring is buried in a trench underground around the perimeter of your yard. It can be adhered to concrete and stone surfaces such as paths and driveways, so don't worry. Also, you can use underground wiring around the borders of prized gardens, pool or pond areas, or large equipment to keep curious pets away.
The transmitter is the part that emits a radio signal to communicate between the wire boundary and your pet's collar receiver. One transmitter works for multiple pets.
The receiver is a waterproof plastic box that can be attached to any collar (and usually comes with one). You must buy one receiver for each pet you wish to protect with your new fence. The receiver runs on small six-volt batteries that typically need to be replaced once every three months. You’ll find these batteries are sold for much less at grocery or convenience stores than at pet stores! Keep in mind that any animals, strays or otherwise, that do not have a receiver on their collar will not be constrained by your invisible fence. This means that other animals can still come and go from your yard, so keep a wary eye on any pets who have not yet been fixed or on small pets who could be harmed by other animals.
All invisible fence kits work on the same principle. The transmitter broadcasts a simple radio signal along your underground wiring. The radio receiver on your pet's collar picks up this signal and administers a "correction" to your pet when they near the boundary.
Though "correction" may sound questionable, the methods used by invisible fences are really not harmful to your pets. When Spot nears the boundary, the collar will begin to beep—the first warning. If Spot continues approaching the fence the collar will administer correction, either light static electricity or a spray of smelly citronella. The electricity is similar to the shock you feel when you touch a doorknob in the winter. The citronella smells spicy to Spot and will annoy him, but never harm him. Almost all dog fence kits contain multiple settings so that you can customize the correction for your dog's size, temperament, and your personal preferences.
Learning that going past the boundary is "bad" will take some time for your pets. The best transitions occur when the fence is used in conjunction with training. Putting your dog on a leash and teaching him to back away from the fence when he hears the first warning can make things go very smoothly, and you will see your dog learning quickly. Within a matter of weeks, the invisible fence will become second nature.
Which Kit Should I Buy?
There are a few main considerations to take into account when shopping for your DIY invisible fence kit. First, customize your fence to your dog. If you have a docile Chihuahua, you will need the lightest smallest receiver on the market. A Great Dane, however, will need the largest receiver out there to reap the full effect of the fence. Start training your dog with the proper size of receiver, but know that if you run into training problems, there are other options available. If your dog's temperament is especially stubborn or tenacious and fence training is not going well, consider buying an upgraded receiver such as PetSafe's Stubborn Dog receiver.
Also customize your fence to your yard. There are different sizes of fence kits that correspond to different amounts of area coverage. Basic kits come with enough wire for half an acre of land (500-foot roll). If you have more space either buy a bigger kit or buy additional rolls of wire at a smaller cost.
The most important component of any invisible fence is the wire, and unfortunately, not all kits are made equal. Double-check that the wire in your potential kit is heavy-duty and waterproof, intended for outdoor use. The best wire is 18-gauge or thicker. This is very durable and in a few years you will be glad you bought the good stuff.
If you are taking good care of your fence, it should last for years. However, faulty products are out there so make sure your kit includes at least a one-year full-coverage warranty.
One week before installation, attach the receiver to your pet's collar so that they can get used to the added weight. They might have problems at first and try to remove it, and you won’t want these issues happening while the fence is supposed to be doing its job.
Step 1 - Find Utilities
Before you plan your boundary, pick up the phone and call your local utility company. Ask them to come out and mark your preexisting underground lines like cable wires, telephone wires, and gas pipes. Mistakenly messing with any of these structures while you dig can cause major problems that may need professional repairs to be fixed.
Step 2 - Set Up Your Transmitter
The transmitter should be affixed in a dry location such as a garage or gardening shed with access to an electrical outlet. Mount the transmitter on a protected wall with screws and a screwdriver, making sure it is close enough to the outlet to be plugged in. The wire boundary will start and end at your transmitter, so the closer it is to the boundary, the less you will have to dig later on. If you need to, you can install the transmitter in a waterproof sprinkler control box along your fence boundary.
Step 3 - Mark Your Fence Line
It is always a good idea to plan ahead and mark out the boundary of the fence with spray paint or construction flags before you start digging. This can save a lot of time later on. Make sure to draw your boundary several feet farther away from your yard than you think necessary, to ensure the correction zone is in your yard. Also, keep at least eight feet between two parallel wires since wires within eight feet of each other will cancel out the other's signal. If you use flags to mark your boundary, keep them up after installation. This is a great visual cue for your pets to help with fence training.
Also mark boundaries around your "island" enclosures such as the pool area or equipment area I mentioned before. Mark these a few feet away from the border as well.
Remember that this boundary is a circuit! The electricity must run in a complete loop. So, you will need to connect all of your island enclosures to the main boundary with wire as well. So, mark out a line for your connection trench. Don't worry—there is a special way to cancel out the signal on these connection trenches that we will discuss later. Similarly, you will need to connect your transmitter to the wire boundary. So, if your transmitter is being housed in, say, your garage, you will need to run a length of wire from the main boundary to your garage. Mark out a line for this connection wire too! We will worry about canceling out this signal later as well.
Step 4 - Dig the Trenches
Once your boundary is all planned out, grab your tools and get to work! Use a handheld weed whacker to clean up the boundary and prepare it for digging. Then, dig a three-inch deep trench along your fence line with a long-handled shovel. Width doesn't matter, but about one inch will do just fine. Dig out your island trenches and your connecting trenches as well.
Step 5 - Lay the Wire
Luckily, your pet will be able to cross some of these wires, otherwise by the time we were done laying them he wouldn't be able to go anywhere! By canceling the radio signal along the connection trenches, you open up the whole yard for your dog's leisure.
Earlier I mentioned that wires within eight feet of each other are rendered ineffective. Because of this, you can twist two lengths of wire around each other to create sections of fence that do not correct your dog. So, in the trenches that connect island boundaries (and your transmitter) with the main fence line, twist two wires together and lay them in your trench. This way, the signal for that section will be cancelled and your pet will be able to walk past without consequence.
If you need to cut your wire (or accidentally do) during installation, don't worry. Use a waterproof wire splice to connect wire ends. Normal splice or tape will not be enough: you need a waterproof splice approved for outdoor use.
When you place your wire across a solid surface, like a driveway or path, follow a natural crease or crack in the surface. To get a more professional look, you can cut a trench into the surface with a circular saw and mortar over your wiring. You can also buy a rubber driveway cable protector and run your wire through it.
Step 6 - Cover it Up
The wire needs to be buried one to three inches below the ground. Any less than this and you increase the risk of damage to the wire by lawn mowers and gardeners. Cover your wire with soil and pack down firmly. To speed lawn regrowth, sprinkle some grass seed, water, and cover with a thin layer of straw.
Step 7 - Activate
Your next step is to hook your loose wire ends (you should have only two) into your transmitter. There are a few different kinds of transmitter boxes so read the instructions that came with your kit for specifics. Plug in your transmitter, and follow the package instructions for turning on your system.
Training your dog to understand the invisible fence will take time and patience, but the going should be quick depending on the temperament of your pet. While they are still learning, invest in a sign that says "Dog in Invisible Fence Training" at the perimeter of your yard. Your dog might not cross the boundary, but while he is learning he will still run and bark right up to the fence if someone interesting comes along! With no visible barrier between them and a very excited dog, some neighbors may get a little spooked.
If you didn't do this in the planning stage, it is a great idea to set up colored training flags along the fence line. These act as visual cues so that your pet can begin to learn the boundary of the fence. These flags should remain in place for at least two weeks after you activate your fence.
When you first turn it on, have your pet on a leash. Approach the boundary and he first hears the warning sound, lead him away and give him a treat. Continue this process all day before he encounters the fence on his own. If you have a stubborn dog and he reacts negatively to the training, keep it up before you allow him to be unsupervised in the yard. Keep in mind that a strong dog can bull through the fence if he is provoked, so proper training beforehand is essential.
Set aside a place along the fence boundary, like your driveway or front gate to be the "invisible gate." You don't want to keep your dog in your yard indefinitely. So, he needs a place that is "safe" for him to enter and exit when he is with you. Deactivate the fence and allow him to walk through it, but only when you are by his side. If you do not train him to use this gate, your dog will be reluctant to cross the boundary at any point. This training will assure him that he has a point of passage, usable only when he is with you. Of course, he will not be able to leave through this gate unless you have deactivated the fence.
They say "happy wife happy life," but in my experience it should most certainly be, "happy pets happy life." Watching your pets run around unhindered every day for half the cost of pro-installed invisible fence or a third of the cost of wooden or chain link fence will soon make every shovel-stroke well worth it.
(Need some more ideas for keeping things in or out? Take a look at these rustic, low cost fencing options.)