'Invisible' fence safeguards pets, home

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Ah the family pet. A source of great joy, deep camaraderie and yes, at least occasional frustration.

Perhaps you have a dog that spends a little too much time checking out what's inside the cat's litter box; a cat that for some reason likes to sharpen its claws on the chair in your study; or maybe a rambunctious puppy that thinks the toys in the kids' playroom are meant for him. Or maybe you have an area of your yard — such as a garden — that you want to protect from digging by your pet.

A hidden or "invisible" fence could be just what you need to protect certain areas of your home by restricting the places where your pet can traverse.

Animal fencing systems work by delivering a radio frequency static correction from a transmitter board located inside the home to a collar worn by the pet, if the pet enters a restricted area. Most invisible fence systems use wires buried underground for outside containment and transmitter systems that deliver the same correction in a predefined area indoors.

One common misperception is that animals receive an electric shock when they enter the restricted area. In fact, the correction is a static shock, similar to walking on a carpet in socks and then touching a doorknob. The correction, if designed and installed correctly, serves as a reminder, rather than a punishment for the pet.

But proper design and installation is key. Pet owners who are interested in adding an invisible fence should look for a company with a good reputation of training pets in a positive way.

"We use a gentle steps training program, so the dog isn't afraid to use the yard," said Shane Wisdom, owner of Dog Wisdom in Saint Peters, Mo. "The idea of a dog fence is not to shock the dog. It only corrects the dog while they're within the signal field. We teach the dog their boundaries before we ever use the correction, so the dog understands where their boundaries are. The dogs typically only need one or two corrections to keep them in. From that day on, the dog never touches the fence because the dog knows where the fence is. I liken it to touching a hot stove. You only have to tell me once."

There are a variety of pet fence systems on the market, so it's important pet owners do their research on the various options available. For example, a quality system will work for multiple pets and allow different settings on the pet's collar that determine how much of a static correction the pet receives based on its size and its temperament. Some systems only offer a one-correction-fits-all approach.

"We mount a control box in the garage and all the settings are done through that control box, so you can program each individual (collar)," Wisdom said. "So, if you have a 4-pound dog, a 30-pound dog or a 130-pound dog, I can program each individual collar to match that dog, so the collar for the 130-pound dog won't (issue a correction level) for the 4-pound or 30-pound dog at the same rate."

Many systems also offer an audible warning that alerts the pet they are about to reach the correction zone.