Tuesday, May 5, 2009


The instructions for our dog-zapper fence indicated that the collar's default setting was at level 1, which only emits a warning beep. It suggested that the collar's correction level be set to level 2 for training, instead of level 4 which provided the maximum voltage. I mentioned this to the wife as we were initially exploring our box of wireless fence. I also read her the part that suggested that level 4 might be necessary for overly energetic dogs and how I thought Sadie might qualify. And while I saw the wife messing with the collar later, I didn't think she'd changed the levels at all.

On the first evening of owning the system, I turned it on and set it for the maximum boundary area (#8) and went outside to trace the safe zone by walking until the collar beeped and then planting a flag along the perimeter. The system actually sets up a shockless warning zone at the outer edge of the safe area where the collar will simply beep. If you stray further than that, the collar will continue beeping and give a warning shock and will continue administering shocks until the collar returns to the safe zone or 30 seconds passes, after which it shuts down. I couldn't tell, of course, if the collar was actually giving off any shocks, just from the beeping, so I stepped across the boundary beyond the warning zone and touched it. It gave off a very strong shock--powerful enough that I jerked my hand away. That would definitely get a dog's attention, but if that was level 2, I'd hate to see level 4.

What I didn't know was that the collar was actually set on level 4. It's not the sort of thing you can tell by looking at it, because changing the levels is done by pressing a single button until the proper number of flashes occur on the collar's LED light, alerting you to the current level. Evidently, the wife had adjusted it to 4 or it was simply set there when we bought it.

Still unaware of the level, I soon saw just how much the dog's attention was captured by level 4 when I allowed her to step across the boundary for a test shock. At first, she just heard the warning beep, telling her she was in the warning area. I told her to come back and, as usual, she ignored me and kept going until the shock kicked in. She yelped, nearly flipped in the air and then practically fell over trying to get away from whatever had clearly just stung her on the neck.

I felt awful. I took her in the house and gave her a Pupperoni and told her she was a good dog. I then sat down with the collar, was horrified when it flashed four times when I tested the setting. I changed it to level 2 and tested that on myself, too. It was still uncomfortable, but far less powerful than level 4.

The wife and I had to do some reconfiguring of the safe-zone to fully encompass our back yard and partially cover the upper part of the front. This basically involved moving the transmitter from the garage to the laundry room. After that we planted flags around it, noticing how our safe zone flags seemed to match up nicely with the ones remaining from the previous owners--which might mean they had the same system. The only problem area seemed to be at the driveway, where there was something of a dead zone that refused to beep. In fact, the wife walked most of the way down the driveway before the collar kicked in. We thought this might be a problem.

Now, while it was certainly not a fun experience for Sadie to be shocked at level 4, it might have been a good thing in the long run. It only took two real training sessions from us and she pretty much knew to stay away from the flags. I don't think she was even shocked a second time, as she had learned to associate the beep from her collar with "get the hell out" and would run back toward the house whenever she heard it.

After her second training session, I thought she seemed pretty clear on the whole stay away from the flag system, so I decided to do an early road test and see how things went. I unclipped her leash and let her free. For about half an hour, Sadie stayed with me in the back yard and played and chased the water stream from the hose while I was trying to water the grass seed I'd planted. Then, just as I was ready to head back inside, she looked over toward the neighbor's house, did the "I'm not on my line" math and bolted. I walked to the edge of the house to see how this played. Sadie made it all the way in front of the next door neighbor's house before the collar began shocking her, at which point she gave a sudden jerk, stopped and looked back in my direction.

"Come on back, Sadie," I called. She then turned and ran as fast as she could back to our yard, then came up to me and did the "Am I a good dog?" dance.

"That's the way it's gonna be," I told her.

We've now had a week of solid use for the wireless fence and we still like it a lot. Sadie does, too, cause now she can go pretty much where she wants and has a lot of space to run and play. She still tests the system now and again. For instance, being a smart dog, she's discovered the dead-zone in the driveway and has dashed through it a few times. She can usually make it nearly to the bottom of the driveway before the collar kicks in. This gives her an extra long run back up the hill to get in the safe zone, assuring her a couple of shocks in the process.

We've also discovered that instinct overpowers pain, as she willingly ran through the barrier in pursuit of some deer. She got 30 seconds of shocks with that one, but kept right on chasing her adversary until the collar shut down. She returned to the yard, soon enough, and the collar kicked back on. I suppose if we have too many such incidents we'll have to raise her level to 3.

Finally, we don't think we'll have to buy a battery backup for the system after all. I think PetSafe has made some improvements over the one our vet told us about, because we've unplugged the transmitter to move it while Sadie was wearing the collar and there were no accompanying beeps or shocks.

If any of you were on the fence about buying such a product, it certainly has my household's endorsement. It's pricey to be sure, but far cheaper than installing an actual fence around a half-acre.

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