How Does an Invisible Fence Work?

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Invisible or electric fences create a perimeter around an indoor or outdoor area where a pet needs to be contained. While these fences provide a number of benefits for pet owners, they do not work for all pets and have some significant drawbacks. Invisible fences can work well as long as your pet is trained to respond to the repercussions of crossing the installed boundary.

The Basics of Invisible Fences

The invisible fence itself is a wire installed indoors or outdoors around the area where your pet is going to be contained. A transmitter connected to that wire is placed somewhere in your home, usually close to the wire placement. That transmitter sends radio waves to a device in a collar worn by your dog or cat. If your pet crosses the wire, the transmitter sends a signal to that device, then the device gives your pet a small shock to deter him or her from crossing that boundary.

Installing the fence, positioning the transmitter and placing the collar on your pet are only part of the process. The pet must also be trained to connect that shock with the unwanted behavior. Otherwise, your dog or cat will experience the shock but will not be stopped from leaving the area. Some invisible fence companies will provide training for your pet as part of the costs of installation.

Dogs and Invisible Fences

If trained properly, most dogs can be contained by an invisible fence. However, the system is not perfect. For example, a male dog may ignore the shock if he is desperate to mate with a female, or a dog chasing something may be too focused to pay attention to the shock. The shock also needs to be fairly significant or else the dog will notice the sensation, although some invisible fence sellers minimize the discomfort caused to the pet by the shock. Furthermore, administering a shock to deter behavior means you are using punishment to train your dog.

Cats and Invisible Fences

For cat owners who want to allow their pets to roam safely, invisible fences may provide a potential solution. However, certified cat behavior specialist Marilyn Krieger argues they are not the safest option. As with dogs, cats that are trained properly will usually remain within the perimeter. Unfortunately, cat instincts can override their reaction to the shock. Cats that are hunting, looking for a mate or scared by something will be more likely to cross over the wire despite the punishment. Once they want to return home, the shock may prevent them from crossing the perimeter and getting safely back to you.

Invisible Fence: Major Weaknesses

Invisible fences work fairly well to keep your pet contained in a designated area. If that area happens to be outdoors though, the fence will do nothing to protect your pet from other animals. Roaming dogs, for example, could cross over the perimeter to attack or mate with your pet. Invisible fences will also not work if the dog or cat resists training. If your pet is not trained to move away from the perimeter when he or she is shocked, then the fence will not be effective in containing your pet.

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