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How An Electric Fence Works

An ordinary electric fence works like this: The fence energizer's  positive (+, active, red) terminal sends an electric current out onto electric fence wire.  The current immediately looks for a way to flow back to the negative (-, ground, green or black) terminal and thereby complete a circuit.  Only once the circuit is complete does the animal feel a shock.
There are multiple routes the current can take on its journey from one terminal to the other. Two of those are shown below.

A Simple Electric Fence Installation Using Soil Moisture
The current sent onto the electric fence line by the + (positive) terminal finds no way to return the the - (negative) terminal; so it sits there, waiting, until an animal comes along and touches it. As soon as contact is made, the current begins to flow through the animal and down to the soil.  It travels through the moisture in the soil until it reaches the ground rod, which it climbs to return to the - (negative) terminal, thereby completing the circuit.  Now the animal will get a shock.

A Simple Electric Fence Installation on Dry Soil

The current sent onto the electric fence line by the + (positive) terminal finds no way to return the the - (negative) terminal; so it sits there, waiting, until an animal touches the wire. As soon as contact is made, the current begins to flow, through the animal and to the grounding mesh lying on top of the soil. It travels along the length of the mesh and climbs up the wire connecting the mesh to the - (negative) terminal thereby completing the circuit - and its journey.  Now the animal will get a shock.

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