In many suburban neighborhoods, radio fences have been gaining rapidly in popularity as a means to keep a dog in his yard without a physical fence. Not only are the radio fences quick and easy to install, relatively inexpensive to purchase, and completely invisible, they are often the only type of fence many homeowners’ associations will allow in certain neighborhoods. But radio fences are not a substitute for a physical fence, and their effectiveness is greatly affected by how they are used, and the type of dog you have.
If you aren’t familiar with radio fences, you may have heard them called by another name. Radio fences are known by many brand names, and can be either professionally installed, or bought in a do-it-yourself kit. Radio fences also come in two main styles; one that uses a buried wire running around the perimeter of your yard that emits a radio signal, and another that emits a radio signal from a central point.
All radio fences use a shock collar that your dog wears when he is outside. This collar is set to first emit an audible warning to the dog as he nears the edge of the perimeter, then zap the dog with an electrical shock when he actually gets too close to the boundary. With proper training, most dogs quickly catch on to the system and avoid the shocks by staying in the yard.
The system, though, is anything but foolproof. I have seen many dogs over the years that have shown up in shelters wearing their radio fence collar, having been left in the yard with no one home to monitor what they were up to, or given free access to the yard through a doggy-door or open garage. Radio fences should never be used without supervision. Many dogs will take the brief shock as they cross the boundary on the run after a squirrel, for instance, or fearfully running from another dog or loud noise, such as fireworks or thunder. Once the dog has left the yard he can’t return, lest he suffer the same zap that was supposed to keep him in the yard in the first place. If the power goes out, your dog is loose.
Human error can be a problem, too. I’ve heard stories more than once of a dog owner who mistakenly tried to drive out of the driveway with a dog in the car who was still wearing his shock collar. That is enough to make your dog never want to go outside again. In fact, some more fearful dogs who have received the shock during training have refused to go out anywhere in the yard again.
Given no other option, a radio fence is better than no fence at all. It gives you an invisible barrier and some piece of mind when playing with your dog off-leash in your yard with no physical fence. But a radio fence should never be counted on with no human monitoring, and should never be used for containing a dog when no one is home.