Dog Fences: Electric or Physical Fencing?

Dog fences provide an excellent form of pet security.

Dog owners with property have options. They can let their dog run loose, which is illegal. They can chain their dog, which is frowned upon and cruel. They can walk the dog on a leash, never letting it outside alone. Or they can fence their yard. But should their fence be electric or real? There are pluses and minuses to both kinds of dog fences.

When it comes to dog fences, an electric fence is usually cheaper, sometimes significantly. And unlike a physical fence, it is invisible. (Electric fences use a buried wire and a shock box that can deliver a serious jolt to a unit on the dog’s neck.) The system also emits a beep when the dog gets too close, warning it that it will get shocked if it keeps going.

Dogs aren’t stupid. Once they get shocked a few times after ignoring the warning beep, they put two and two together. “H’mm. Every time I hear that beep and keep going, I get a hell of a shock. Maybe I’ll just turn around when I hear that beep and avoid the shock altogether.” So electric fences can work. But do you really want to shock your best friend?

There’s also the question of reliability. Some dogs simply run through the shock, even after they hear the warning beep that goes with the system. In the newsletter of the Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine at Tufts University, Dr. Nicholas Dodman reports that “Not all dogs are contained by an invisible fence.” Dodman, who is the Director of the Tufts Animal Behavior Clinic, believes an industry estimate that 2% of dogs won’t be deterred by the threat of shock, “may well be an underestimate.”

Then, too, electric dog fences may be so traumatic to some dogs that once they get shocked they won’t go in the yard again. They become porch sitters, or four-legged couch potatoes.

While electric dog fences can keep over 90% of dogs in, electric fences don’t keep others out. Other dogs, cats, squirrels, children and adults can wander in as they choose. In one Buncombe County case, a child went through an electric fence, harassed a normally mild-mannered dog and was bitten, though not seriously. Nevertheless, the law said the dog was at fault and the owner responsible. The fact that the dog was on his own property and the child was trespassing made no legal difference. So the family ended up with major expenses and a legal requirement to install a physical fence.

David Ogburn knows about fences. He once had a black Labrador that simply ran through an electric fence when he wanted, ignoring the shock. Now Ogburn has his own physical fence, and works as Sales Manager for Asheville Fence. He spends his time planning new fences, both commercial and residential.  “The number one reason people want to fence their yard,” he says, “is for pet security – keeping their pets in, intruders out.”

Pet security is the number one reason people fence their yard. Click To Tweet

Ogburn currently has five crews installing fences from Burnsville to the South Carolina border, and Black Mountain to Brevard. “We put up all kinds of fencing,” he said. “Everything from basic chain link to more decorative split rail or fancy picket. We do it all.”

When Ogburn gets a call from a homeowner about fencing his yard, he visits in person and considers several factors. What kind of fence does the homeowner want? How many gates will there be? What is the terrain like? (Important because sloping terrain is more difficult to fence than a flat yard.) How many feet of fence will be needed? He also considers what kind of dog will be kept in the yard. “A four foot fence is the norm,” he said. “But for bigger, athletic dogs, like German Shepherds, we recommend a six foot fence.” Once an estimate is calculated and approved by the homeowner, a contract is signed and the work is scheduled.

While the majority of Asheville Fence’s residential work is about dogs, the firm also completes board fences for horses as well as farm fencing.

So what’s the best kind of fence for you? Cost and appearance might lead you to go electric. But, as Dr. Dodman said, “The gold standard is a real fence.”

photo credit: Phil Dragash Dog on Fence via photopin (license)

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