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Good Fences Make Good Neighbors?
June 14, 2004 8:00 AM   Subscribe

I would like to fence in my back yard, but my neighbors would prefer that I didn't. (more inside)

My husband and I recently moved into a new house and would like to enclose our back yard with a charming (and dog-corralling) picket fence. However, we've just learned from a neighbor that years ago, a group of residents (our house's past owners included) made an informal "no fence" pact to preserve the views of the wooded landscape.

We know we're not officially prevented from putting in the fence --- there's no homeowner's association, and our town doesn't require us to seek our neighbors' approval --- but our sense of neighborly good will is telling us to think twice. We definitely don't want to come off as the nature-hating, unwritten-rule-breaking jerk neighbors; we just want a safe, enclosed area where our dog (and future children) can run and play. I'm not really asking for factual information here as much as experience-based opinions and/or advice. What would you do if you were in this situation -- defer to the neighbors, or go ahead and build the fence?
posted by boomchicka to Home & Garden (35 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
 
You really aren't responsible for the previous owner's commitments to neighbors. Perhaps you should renegotiate. It's possible that there is some sort of fence that won't deeply offend them, and it really would behoove you to at least make some effort towards appeasing them, but you're well within your rights to do as you please on your property.

If dog corralling is what you're after, though, aren't there "invisible fence" systems out there?
posted by majick at 8:07 AM on June 14, 2004


Plead your case with your neighbors (most of them either individually or as one big party). Discuss alternatives. Have a great time. If, at the end, you still decide on the fence, at least your neighbors will understand that you respected them enough to have a conversation.
posted by BlueTrain at 8:08 AM on June 14, 2004


I guess you could talk to your neighbors and see if they're reasonable, but I would put up the fence - a nice fence (sounds like what you're doing.) Your dog's need for a safe place to get exercise is more important, IMO then your neighbor's opinion of your property.

One thing you could try - build the fence, but at the same time put something really obnoxious in your front yard - like some day-glow christmas trees or a cellular tower or something. Anyway, wait a few weeks, then take the obnoxious stuff away. The fence won't seem so bad.

An invisible fence is an option, I guess, but I don't think you're allowed to put the collars on a kid.
posted by drobot at 8:28 AM on June 14, 2004


If dog corralling is what you're after, though, aren't there "invisible fence" systems out there?

what about the children they are planning on having? Zapping then at the perimeter of the yard doesn't seem like a good idea.

Talk to your neighbors, let them know you are meeting with them out of respect, tell them your reasoning, maybe show them what kind of fence you are planning on doing and let them know why you are going to do it. Be firm, but let them know it is not your intention to alienate them, but merely protect your property as well as protect the neighborhood from your dog. That's what I'd do. You don't need to ask their permission and you sure as hell don't have to obey some pact made years before you took ownership of the property. If that was the case, it should have been added as a disclosure in the property listing, and it doesn't sound like that is what happened.

Especially nowadays, where people are very open to suing over everything, I'm a big fan of fencing in my yard and latching the gates from the inside. The fence keeps my dog in, it keeps the neighborhood kids out (and away from the dog).
posted by jerseygirl at 8:29 AM on June 14, 2004


aren't there "invisible fence" systems out there?

I can't help with the neighbour issue, but invisible fencing is not a good choice if you need to contain a dog. It doesn't prevent other things coming into your yard (as jerseygirl mentions, kids, people, coyotes), every dog has some stimulus which is strong enough to make it brave the zap to get to (cars, bikes, rabbits, cats, other dogs) and then the dog likely won't come back IN because it'll get zapped. Not a good invention, in my humble opinion, it provides an entirely false sense of security.
posted by biscotti at 8:39 AM on June 14, 2004


my side of the block backs to woods and a neighbor a couple of doors down put in a fence with wood and wire. it sounds horrible, but it turned out well and blends in with the natural setting. It was something like this, with chicken wire type stuff stapled to the inside to make sure their dog didn't get through. from two doors down we can't see the wire (or whatever they used), and I'm glad they did this as opposed to solid fence.

The plus about a physical fence is in case you have wildlife that might conflict with your dog. The dog down the street is an Airdale, and it would be jolting itself all the time running after squirrels, and a safety measure for some of the roaming cats (Airdales were bred to hunt small furry animals, and we know first hand with our cat!). Plus, we have foxes that come through our backyards and that might be a problem as well if the dog were out at night.

anyway, hope that helps. let me know if you'd like pictures of what it looks like from my property in case you want ammo.
posted by evening at 8:41 AM on June 14, 2004


I see a huge difference between a three foot high picket fence and an eight foot high privacy fence.

Anyone who complains about a three foot fence deserves dog poop in their yard. ;-P
posted by mischief at 8:48 AM on June 14, 2004


Why do you need a fence to keep in your kids? If they're too young to understand "stay in our yard" then they're probably too young to allow to play outside by themselves anyway.

Unlike animals, children do not need to be fenced in, as a rule.
posted by stupidsexyFlanders at 9:24 AM on June 14, 2004


The kids don't need a fenced yard. They may need a fenced play-area for the first few years. After that they just need markers.

The dog should be on a long leash-line. That would be a high-tension, 100' wire anchored on a couple of sturdy posts or trees, from which hangs a good-length leash (~20') with a thimble and swivel.

Your dog will have the equivalent of a 100'x40' fenced dog-run, without the fence. The dog will be happy, the neighbours will be happy, and the kids will be happy.
posted by five fresh fish at 9:34 AM on June 14, 2004


Why do you need a fence to keep in your kids? If they're too young to understand "stay in our yard" then they're probably too young to allow to play outside by themselves anyway.

Well, I want a fence for my kids, but it's not to keep them in- it's to keep other things out. The harder it is for a predator (be that in the form of an unleashed neighborhood dog or a sex offender looking for a convenient victim,) to get to my kids, the better.
posted by headspace at 10:02 AM on June 14, 2004


Indeed, a wire fence is the way to go, in this case.
posted by Hildago at 10:05 AM on June 14, 2004


Jerseygirl - great ideas; that is precisely what we intend to do if we go through with it. We'll explain it all to the neighbors, show them the fencing material, etc.

An invisible fence is not an option we'd ever consider. We'd rather continue our current method of always being outside with him than zap the little fellow.

evening - that option does sound good, thanks! Our next step if we decide to go forth will be determining the best material that's both nature-friendly and would contain a dog, and that sort of combo of materials might just do the trick.

mischief, I agree completely. It's not like we want to put up one of those god-awful white vinyl fortress walls.

stupidsexyflanders and five fresh fish - I'm not looking for a way to pen my kids IN, so much as keeping others OUT, like say stray dogs.

Unfortunately, the leash line is not a good option for our dog, who tends to sprint off toward the nearest squirrel or bunny, as dogs tend to do. Reaching the end of the line at high speed can't feel very good.

Thanks for the responses, everyone! Keep 'em comin'!

on preview: headspace is right on regarding kids and fences.
posted by boomchicka at 10:13 AM on June 14, 2004


Good fences make good neighbors.
posted by rushmc at 10:20 AM on June 14, 2004


boomchicka -- re: the leash line -- have you considered putting springs at each end of the line, where it attaches to the tree? This makes for a more gradual stop.

And I hope you get more comfortable with the idea of kids "out in the world" as you have them and they grow up. I don't know what kind of neighborhood you're in, but to think that you need a fence to protect your kids just seems sad.

You're going to have a very difficult time with the first day you leave your kids at school.
posted by stupidsexyFlanders at 10:24 AM on June 14, 2004


I'd say talk to your neighbors. My house backs up against a big beautiful field that no one on the street obscured with a fence. I thought it was weird when I moved in -- I didn't know there were people without fences (when house shopping, about a third of the houses didn't have them).

One of the neighbors broke the unwritten pact by getting a dog, and I was happy to agree to a fence at that point, since seeing a wimpering dog on a 40' leash all day looked depressing. Now that the fence is in place, the dog's much happier and the whole block (myself included) ended up getting a fence, which I now enjoy. I've planted up the backyard now that I know where the "limits" are and the backyard finally feels like an extension of the house. The view to the field is still great from the upstairs, and I opted for a "good neighbor" fence, which is actually semi-see through from an angle.
posted by mathowie at 10:28 AM on June 14, 2004


Well, Flanders, I live in a neighborhood that's directly off a main thoroughfare (US-40,) meaning we get a lot more than your usual neighborhood foot traffic. Wanting to put limits on your kids' accessibility isn't a sad thing, it's a realistic thing. My son is ten and now officially allowed to ride his bicycle anywhere inside the neighborhood he pleases. It's frightening for me, but a neccessary step for him. There is a time for everything, including a fenced in back yard; as a parent whose child was attacked by an unleashed dog while walking our neighborhood, I'm grateful for folks like boomchicka who want to give their pets the freedom to roam but the limitations of a fence so they don't roam too far unsupervised.
posted by headspace at 10:40 AM on June 14, 2004


I don't know what kind of neighborhood you're in, but to think that you need a fence to protect your kids just seems sad.

That's a good point.

Around here at least, there's an influx of coyotes (and wild turkeys too, but they aren't as bad) now due to overdeveloping the land, forcing them out of their environments, etc. They've seen them around schools, I've seen them in my neighborhood and in the past, cats have gone missing, little dogs have been killed and big dogs have got into skirmishes. About a year or so ago, in the town over, someone was bitten by a rabid racoon. And this is in a small somewhat urban area just outside of boston, and not in a wooded area as boomchicka described...

It's not always the drug dealing child molesting malcontents you are keeping out, sometimes. Although, they do have cars and can travel to the nicer or safer neighborhoods and grab kids, too, I suppose.
posted by jerseygirl at 10:40 AM on June 14, 2004


I thought it was weird when I moved in -- I didn't know there were people without fences.

Jesus.
posted by IshmaelGraves at 10:43 AM on June 14, 2004


Explain to your neighbors that it's an issue of safety, for neighborhood kids as well as your dog, and that you're going to have a fence, period. You're not going to let your dog wander around, crap on people's lawns, and get hurt, and you're for damn sure not going to let neighborhood kids wander up to your dog unsupervised, provoke it somehow, and get bitten.

But you understand their concerns and want to reach some manner of accommodation, so let's talk about what sort of reasonably-priced fencing they'd object to the least. If they actually care about the view, they might prefer a chain-link fence.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 10:48 AM on June 14, 2004


You're going to have a very difficult time with the first day you leave your kids at school.

I'm not sure why you're attempting to take this discussion off on such a strange tangent. You're trying (unsuccessfully I might add) to make it sound like any parent who wants a fenced-in yard for their kids to play in is one step away from ordering their plastic bubbles, when that's not even remotely the case. It's not unusual for a parent (or future parent) to want a somewhat protected space for their children.

I do, however, greatly appreciate the many helpful suggestions regarding the matter at hand. Thanks everyone!
posted by boomchicka at 10:51 AM on June 14, 2004


If you think the esthetic argument is worthwile, then support it. If your neighbors wishes are worth something to you, then factor them in.There are alternative ways of restricting your dog's roaming, and your child can probably live and grow without a picket fence holding him/her in. Of course it's normal to want to protect your child. But a lot of fences have been built, both real and figurative, that don't need to be there, in the interest of saving the children.

If you don't give a shit about the woods, fuck the neighbors. That's what we call the American Way.
posted by scarabic at 12:37 PM on June 14, 2004


you can get fences with wooden posts at the corners (and maybe every 3m or so) and wire strung tightly between them. not chicken wire, but cable tightly stretched. you probably need to hunt around for the right company (don't know how you'd get the wire tight yourself, but maybe it's possible to diy this).

so i'd get a brochure from a company like that, hopefully showing a fairly unobtrusive fence, and show it to the nightbours (along with a brochure of a rather more obtrusive fence to show what you're not doing).

however, they must also have had kids and pets, so it might be worth finding out what their experiences are. i'm not sure i'd feel that good being the person who built the first fence, if others have made sacrifices as a group to avoid it. and you might find that it's better for your kids to be part of a friendly neighbourhood, where everyone keeps an eye out for each other, than being behind a fence that, when some creep climbs over, no-one bothers to tell you or call the police, because you're the "fence family".
posted by andrew cooke at 12:58 PM on June 14, 2004


our dog, who tends to sprint off toward the nearest squirrel or bunny, as dogs tend to do. Reaching the end of the line at high speed can't feel very good.

It can't feel very bad, though, otherwise they'd learn to not do it.
posted by five fresh fish at 1:10 PM on June 14, 2004


Count me in on the talk-to-the-neighbors but only to inform them that you are building a fence. No use taking them by surprise. Regarding the preservation of views: many objects in the landscape can be seen as view "framers" -- enhancing a view. That wuold need to be one tall fence or one short/distant woodland for such an impact.

After spending time in France, I have come to deplore the "shared garden" that is the American suburb. I want to see more walls -- 8' tall enclosing delightful secret gardens or wastelands of discarded tires per the owner's wishes.

Sidebar: my brother lives in a subdivision with convenents restricting fence design. Fences can only start at the side of the house and include the rear year and must be of a particular design, with a arched top "up" (like a smile) or a concave top (like a frown) between pickets. Finding such restriction abhorrent and alwyas looking to twist the rules of design, I asked if he could do a fence that mixed the two, yielding a serpentine top. He did not recall such a restriction, expcet for the one that would be voiced by his wife.

posted by Dick Paris at 1:11 PM on June 14, 2004


I apologize for my comment above, boomchicka is right, that was a crazy stupid extrapolation.
posted by stupidsexyFlanders at 1:33 PM on June 14, 2004


I grew up on the west coast where all back yards are fenced so that's normal to me. The first time I went back east and saw unobstructed back yards that went on and on for houses I was really freaked out. It just looked so communal -- what if you want to wander out in the backyard half naked? There were a couple fenced yards (for dogs) in the place I eventually setted, but they were half-height and still much more see through than is normal back west. Now I'm back in the land of privacy so I can streak with impunity, but I do kindof miss the social expanse of the infinite back yard. Half-height fences made of wire and woodsey material seem a good compromise, with maybe a gazebo or strategically placed bushes around any hottub areas so as not to shock people. Do what you can to preserve the natural parts -- I'm sure you enjoy that too -- but a dog without a fenced backyard is a really bad idea and sensibly needs to be accomodated.
posted by dness2 at 2:08 PM on June 14, 2004


if they actually care about the view, they might prefer a chain-link fence
There is nothing uglier! We have one. I hate it.

Our lot line is only a scant 4-5' on either side of the house. We had to build a trellis on the deck so that we could sit out there without feeling like we were sitting in the neighbor's living room. We planted a few trumpet vines (pretty and fast-growing perennials) and it's not so bad now. Fences are good.

Tell them in no uncertain terms that you're building a fence, but that you've taken their views (ha-ha) into consideration and leave it at that.
posted by mimi at 2:22 PM on June 14, 2004


Popping back in to say that leash lines are ALSO a bad idea, unless the dog is supervised while on it. Dogs can and do die from strangulation on them, tethering a dog outside alone can often lead to aggression, and leash lines still don't address the issue of keeping things OUT of your yard (a tied-up dog is coyote bait).
posted by biscotti at 2:33 PM on June 14, 2004


i'm not sure i'd feel that good being the person who built the first fence, if others have made sacrifices as a group to avoid it.

We agree, andrew. That's our main concern, in fact.

leash lines are ALSO a bad idea

Seconded, biscotti. We're not even considering it, but I'm glad you posted in case anyone else is thinking about using one.
posted by boomchicka at 2:38 PM on June 14, 2004


My family kept several dogs on a 100' leash line. The line was about 10' in the air, and reasonably taut. The leash had a swivel at either end. The dog's leash was long enough to drag on the ground, but not miles too long. There were stops at either end of the line to prevent the dog from wrapping around the trees. There were no obstructions between the two trees. There was bush along one side of the run, but no bushes or trees large enough to entangle the leash. The dogs were walked daily, for several miles.

None of the dogs strangled themselves on this system. None were attacked by coyotes or wolves or racoons. None seemed stressed-out by it.

I suspect the success of such a system depends strongly on the intelligence of the person implementing it.

Er... several dogs, sequentially, not simultaneously.
posted by five fresh fish at 3:42 PM on June 14, 2004


...mind, these weren't punt dogs, either. They were big, reasonably intelligent breeds.
posted by five fresh fish at 3:43 PM on June 14, 2004


Well, then your family made a suboptimal decision, and it turned out fine. That happens all the time.

It's still better not to have your dog tied up outside in an unfenced communal area. All sorts of bad things can happen with dogs tied up outside that are much less likely if the dogs are kept in a properly fenced yard. In particular, kids* can pester your dog, perhaps to the point of biting. Not because your dog is bad, but because kids can easily do things to a dog that no dog should have to put up with.

*and critters, but is there a coyote problem in Cleveland? I doubt very much that there are gator or cougar problems.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 4:14 PM on June 14, 2004


you can get fences with wooden posts at the corners (and maybe every 3m or so) and wire strung tightly between them. not chicken wire, but cable tightly stretched. you probably need to hunt around for the right company (don't know how you'd get the wire tight yourself, but maybe it's possible to diy this).

In my opinion, these can be beautiful if you grow grape vines or wisteria up and along the wires. If aesthetics are the biggest obstacle, this option will be the least invasive (don't know how well it'll hold most dogs in though).
posted by mathowie at 7:17 PM on June 14, 2004


This is kind of not really relevant at all, but the thread (probably rushmc's comment) reminded me of it... so you could build a stone wall :) - that would be quaint and natural. I'd go with some kind of wooden/ wire scenario if it's at this stage a no-fence community; white picket fences belong in white picket neighborhoods (and if I had got a house in a nature-y non-white-picket fence type of environment, I'd probably be a bit bummed if someone put one up). Of course it is your property, but it's your community, too, and I imagine you want a positive relationship with those around you, especially if you plan to raise your kids there, etc.

But dogs are tough to fence in. If they're the sort that like to go exploring, they can find ways over (or under, or sometimes through) shorter or less robust fences. But that then becomes a question of how much freedom the animal has - in cities, dogs are never off leashes unless they're inside. If your dog is good at being trained, a long leash with an elastic attachment so there are no neck-injuring jerks could work out...

But to some degree it may just be a question of fence people vs. non-fence people, and if the idea of a fence is charming to you, rather than sadly needing to be considered for practical reasons, then I would guess you are fence people, and ultimately will get your fence. So I would just follow the previous advice about trying to work with the neighbors as much as possible.
posted by mdn at 8:51 PM on June 14, 2004


Oh, we never intended to use a *white* picket fence. I only used the phrase "picket fence" to indicate (too subtly I guess) that we wouldn't build, say, an 8-foot vinyl wall. We'd definitely use materials that blend into the setting.

I wouldn't say we're "fence people," and of course we want to maintain positive relationships with the neighbors; that's why I asked this question in the first place. We're not the "it's my property, I can do what I want" type. Hence our hesitation.

We're grateful for the advice and opinions, but I wouldn't say we're any closer to building it. I'll post our decision if we come to one before this thread closes. Thanks everyone!
posted by boomchicka at 5:38 AM on June 15, 2004


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