Robert Holmes shows people how to build underground dog fences on his website, and I asked Robert to provide answers to a few basic questions about them as a brief introduction to the subject for my readers. One of the things about these electric dog fences that piques people's interest in them is that being buried in the ground, they are invisible. So if you build one, you're not left with an intrusive structure that may not complement your yard very well -- yet you still have an effective mechanism for keeping pets at home.
Q. Robert, how do these containment systems work?
A. Underground dog fences use a boundary wire that goes around your property. The boundary wire emits a radio signal. Your dog wears a special collar that picks up these signals. When the dog gets too close to the property border, the collar emits a warning beep. If the dog continues to approach the property border it receives a static correction. With a bit of training the dog learns to stay within bounds to avoid getting the correction.
Q. An advantage of building specifically an underground dog fence is that it remains invisible. But what if I don't mind having a barrier show? Can I save myself some work and not bury the boundary wire?
A. It is not necessary to bury boundary wire to create an underground dog fence. Especially in areas that do not require mowing, many people just secure the boundary wire to the ground using lawn staples. The boundary wire is pretty robust and can endure a bit of light traffic.
Many users of these devices already have a physical barrier on their property and are trying to stop their dogs from digging underneath them or jumping over. Where there is already a barrier in place, you can just zip-tie or staple the boundary wire to the existing barrier and skip the burial.
But there are advantages to building an underground dog fence. Burial protects the boundary wire from predators such as lawnmowers! And burying the boundary wire also hides it out of sight. But burying boundary wire is not required to create a functional containment system.
Q. What is the easiest way to bury the boundary wire?
A. If you decide to bury the boundary wire and build a truly underground dog fence, then you can save a lot of time and effort by renting a trencher with a cable laying attachment from your local tool or garden store. Trenchers are typically used for laying down sprinkler system lines, but work just as well for laying boundary wire. The trencher performs three functions; first it cuts the trench in the ground, second it lays the boundary wire in the trench, and third it backfills dirt over the boundary wire. It will allow you to install boundary wire around a half acre plot in about two hours. Trenchers cost about $50 for a day and fold to fit in the trunk of most cars. Many people also dig the trench manually using a flat shovel or a lawn edger, but these methods are much slower.
A. There are three ways you can install boundary wire across a driveway: over, under, or through. The last option is the most common as it is easier than tunneling under a driveway and more durable than going over the driveway. Just find an expansion joint in the driveway and make a very shallow cut along the expansion joint with a circular saw. There is no reason to go much deeper than half an inch. Then lay the wire in the cut you made and caulk over the cut with an outdoor caulk.
Q. How do I find a break in the boundary wire?
A. First, walk around the path of the boundary wire and look for any obvious disruption in the ground near the perimeter. Most breaks happen where a power edger has severed the boundary wire where it crosses a driveway or footpath.
If you can’t find it by visual inspection you will need to get an RF-Choke. You can get this component at most electronics stores for less than two dollars. When you fit it to the system, it makes the boundary wire sing in a way you can hear on an AM radio. Take an AM radio along the boundary wire path and "listen" to the boundary wire. Where the noise stops, you know that there is a break in it.
Q. How do I repair a break in the underground dog fence boundary wire?
A. To properly repair a break in your boundary wire, take the two ends and strip off a half-inch of insulation on each side. Then join the two. It is important when you splice the two together that you use a waterproof splice. If you use a regular splice, your join may short when water seeps into the splice.
Q. Do underground dog fences work equally well for all dog breeds, dogs of all ages, and regardless of training?
A. An underground dog fence is going to work with any dog that has been trained. It is more challenging on dogs that have lost their sight or hearing, because they can’t hear the audio cues or see the visual cues so you should budget extra time and patience for the training on these dogs.
You should not train a pregnant dog or a puppy under 6 months. Pregnant dogs should not be trained out of an abundance of caution. Puppies require some time to mature to accept direction, so wait a little while before training them.
Q. Can underground dog fences harm dogs?
A. A good modern containment system is extremely unlikely to harm your dog. The corrections have an automatic shutoff to stop the dog from receiving excessive corrections. But relying on such a device is a serious undertaking. If you are going to rely on it to keep your dog safe and contained in your property, you need to make sure your dog is well trained on the system. If the dog is not properly trained and escapes into the street, there is a real risk of harm.
This means that if you are going to install the device, whether you do it yourself or get a professional installation, you need to be committed to doing the two or three weeks of training necessary to get the dog to understand the new rules. Training is not difficult but must be consistently done, with 2-3 sessions a day for fifteen minutes. Without the training the system will be ineffective and we would not entrust a dog's safety to the system.