Please fence me in

Fencing facts


In my neighborhood there is a dog whose owners allow him to roam at large. He routinely knocks over trash cans, defecates in the yard across the street, and has twice attacked the dog two doors down. I cannot train my dog in my own front yard without this dog harassing me, and he constantly teases my dogs in their fenced yard.

The day of my father's funeral, this dog pestered the guests as they arrived at my house, kept trying to enter the house, and teased my dogs to the point that I had to chase him home. Yes, neighbors have asked the owner to keep this dog home, but this owner doesn't seem to listen or care.

Most states have leash laws or dog containment laws. Owners *run the risk of a citation if the dog warden arrests their dog, and they are liable for any damage the dog may cause on his excursions. If it becomes tedious to walk the dog every time he needs relief, some owners tie their pet in the yard. Although this keeps dogs at home, it often subjects them to teasing by children and other dogs, which can cause excessive barking and aggression. It also places them at risk of strangulation from the rope or chain and injury in a fight with a trespassing dog.

The old adage "Good fences make good neighbors" is especially applicable when the neighbors own dogs. There are many fencing systems available to satisfy personal needs as well as zoning and esthetic requirements.

Fencing basics

Throughout Europe, for centuries, walls were the most common fences. However, Americans were used to vast plains and developed the fabric fence to minimize interference with the wide open spaces. Most fencing is rather expensive, so don't be shy about fencing a small area for the dog even if your yard is huge. Emphasize length; a dog run 10 feet wide and as long as possible in your yard allows the dog to run up and down and exercise nicely.

Don't worry about dogs jumping over or digging under fences. First, a young puppy raised with a particular fence, even a low one, will likely grow up with a respect for that fence and won't try to escape even when full grown. To prevent digging under, bury the bottom of the fence several inches in the ground or fill a narrow trench along the perimeter of the fence with concrete. If the dog digs holes along an established fence, fill the holes with concrete or patio blocks.

A new fence should be of sufficient height to discourage jumping. If the fence isn't high enough, consider a jumping harness that prevents the dog from leaping, or install "barbed wire arms," those angled steel extensions for the top of the fence. String the arms with plain wire or fence fabric instead of barbed wire, and the dog can't jump or climb up, over, and out.

Fencing types

Beauty, budget, and breed of dog may affect the type of fence you choose. I can't believe the number of people who think a fence is ugly and that it will ruin their yard and landscape. I think there is nothing more lovely than a nice split rail or wrought iron fence.

Most fencing is expensive; if you don't have a fence and are planning on getting a dog, add a fence to the budget. Buy the best looking fence you can afford that is strong enough and high enough to restrain the size dog you plan to get and that meets the zoning code of your community.

If money was no object, I'd prefer a nice high masonry wall such as those that surround movie star homes in Beverly Hills. Walls are the strongest barrier and they promote privacy. Perhaps the ultimate for me would be a brick wall interspersed with tall wrought iron bars and a big ornamental wrought iron gate.

For 12 years we lived in a townhouse condominium. We had three dogs and a 20-foot by 30-foot patio surrounded by a six-foot solid cedar fence. Next to a wall, this was a very fine dog containment system. People couldn't see in, the dog's couldn't see out, and the little patio almost became a room extension of the house. Solid wood privacy fences are available, but they are very expensive and they do block the view. However, they prevent passersby from teasing your dogs and sticking fingers through to possibly get bitten. Some communities and subdivisions zone against this type of fence or regulate the height and the side of the fence the boards must face.

I'm surprised we don't see more picket fences, those expressions of the American Dream. These fences consist of narrow slats of wood nailed upright on a solid wood frame. Installed at the proper height for your breed, they are a very strong dog containment system. They can span the gaps in a solid wall or stockade fence. They offer the strength of wood yet don't totally block the view. Picket fences are rather expensive, though not as costly as a wall or privacy fence. They are fairly good looking, do not prevent people from poking things at the dog, and may be prohibited by some zoning laws.

Split rail fences provide a much more open view. They usually consist of wooden brace posts joined by two or more wooden cross rails. This fence looks nice and is often incorporated into professional landscape designs. Split rail fences provide a very strong base, but fabric must be added inside the fence to confine the dog. Otherwise, he will scoot under or through the rails. (Make sure the fabric is added inside the fence or the dog may be able to climb to rails and ooze over the top.) The fabric becomes almost invisible, particularly if shrubbery is planted along the fenceline. Cost is midway between expensive solid fences and cheaper fabric fences. It combines well with other fencing and can be used to dress up the more visible portions of a fenced yard.

Chain link is one of the most common fences. This series of pipe support posts and small diamond-shaped, heavy-gauge wire fabric is very strong. The holes in the fabric are too small for most dogs to penetrate. Most professional kennels use chain link in their fencing and dog runs. It is available in a variety of heights and installing barbed wire arms is easy. Zoning laws seem to allow its use where many other forms of fencing are prohibited. It hardly obstructs the view and is a strong deterrent to intruders. Chain link is fairly expensive, but it lasts longer than many other types of fences. However, children can easily tease a dog confined by a chain link fence.

Snow fence is one of the cheaper options. It is composed of low-gauge wire fabric of two-inch by four-inch rectangles. It is available in various heights and is installed on a series of brace posts and t-posts. The fabric must be stretched when it is installed to ensureadded strength.

When we moved to our current house, we bought a four-acre yard without a stick of fencing. We needed a lot of fencing quickly and cheaply (we also had to buy appliances). I found three 100-foot rolls of six-foot-high snow fence on sale; I'm so glad we chose to install it along the street and I wish we had more in other places. It hardly obstructs the view, and the openings are small enough that even small dogs can't poke head, paws, or other body parts through.

Be aware that the lower gauge wire of this fence can rust through, so periodic checking for holes is necessary. A car backed gently into chain link will make a dent; a car backed just as gently into snow fence will make a hole_which we learned the hard way.

Farm fence or sheep fence is the cheapest fence and fabric that will restrain a dog. The fabric is loosely woven, narrow-gauge wire with larger rectangles at the top and smaller ones at the bottom. It comes in various heights and is installed over brace posts and t-posts. It must be stretched for strength as it is installed.

This is the cheapest fence that will confine large breeds and, while not beautiful, it barely obstructs the view. We installed five-foot-high farm fence over 80 percent of our yard. The bad points of this fence are that the narrow-gauge wire corrodes, so it must be checked and repaired; a medium-sized dog can stick her head through the holes at head height, and, if so inclined, could nip a passerby; a small dog can walk through the bottom holes; and many urban communities prohibit this type of fence. My seven-week-old Newfoundland puppy (Newfs are large puppies!) can walk right through this fence.

Hybrid fencing

Modular fences are useful in communities and subdivisions that prohibit any type of installed fencing. We have a friend who is an

American Kennel Club judge and breeder who moved to such a community. He solved the problem by erecting a series of eight-foot chain link panels that clamp together and set on the ground. Their shape and weight hold them in place, although they may need to be anchored in high winds or to hold large, energetic breeds of dogs that jump against the panels. The panels can be disassembled and moved if necessary.

You can also purchase complete, modular dog runs. These are usually in a single piece and can be set in the yard. They don't need to be anchored, are very strong, and are not permanent, thus avoiding many zoning regulations.

Hidden Fencing

Hidden fences are sold under such names as Invisible Fence, Dog Watch, Pet Stop, Dog Guard, etc. In these systems, an electric wire is placed underground around the perimeter of the portion of the yard where the dog is to be confined. The dog wears a collar with a receiver. The wire broadcasts a weak radio field that causes the collar to beep as the dog nears the boundary, then administers a mild electric shock if he gets too close. These systems are great for people who think an ugly fence ruins their property or where zoning laws prohibit erecting fences. They don't obstruct the view and, when performing properly, appear to be miraculous. The dog magically stays in his yard with what appears to be no restraint. These systems also work well implanted around flower beds and other off-limits places, including certain rooms in the house.

These systems range from moderately expensive "do-it-yourself packages" to very expensive systems complete with trainers who teach the dog the boundaries of the system and monitors to signal a power failure. The receiver worn by the dog costs $300 or more. I read in the police reports that someone entered a yard and stole a $415 receiver right off the dog's neck.

Hidden fences do not keep people and dogs out of your yard, leaving small dogs vulnerable to attacks by larger ones and exposing all dogs to potential teasing. If two dogs are confined within a system and one breaks out to chase a cat or squirrel or another dog, the remaining dog usually follows. If the dog gets too agitated or the distraction is too strong, many dogs forget the pain and run through the system. Once out, when the distraction is over, the dog may not come home because he knows he will get shocked. The receiver collars don't work well on heavy-coated dogs, so some hair shaving may be necessary.

[More on hidden fences]


There are a wide variety of ways to confine a dog. Each has good points and bad. Each owner must weigh the options against his lifestyle and budget and decide on one that meets his needs. No system is perfect, but if you have a dog, do choose one in spite of its shortcomings. Your neighbors will thank you, and your dog will lead a healthier, happier life.

Ozzie Foreman

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