Considering an electric dog fence? For some pet experts, these “invisible fences” are a source of controversy. Find out if an electric dog fence is the right choice for your pet.

By Leah Lopez Cardenas
August 24, 2020
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Credit: Eric Jeon

Electric dog fences, also sometimes known as underground or invisible fences, are one option available when looking for a way to keep your dog close to home. Unlike a traditional wood or chain link fence, electric dog fences work by placing a wire underground around the perimeter of the yard that transmits a sound or static electricity to your dog’s collar to warn them when they’re approaching the boundary lines. This way, the dog learns to stay in the contained area you’ve designated for them in an effort to keep them from running off and getting lost or in danger.

But electronic dog fences can be a source of controversy. While these underground e-fences may be an attractive option for your landscaping, some pet experts say they’re not always a good option for the dog. Keep these factors in mind when deciding if an electric dog fence is the right way to safely and affordably contain your dog.

Will an Invisible Fence Work for All Dogs?

A common question pets owners ask is, “Will an electric fence hurt my dog?” Electric dog fences, not to be confused with the more dangerous electric fences used for large farm animals such as horses and cows, are generally safe for all dog breeds in that they won’t physically injure them says Mick McAuliffe, Director of Behavior and Enrichment at the Animal Rescue League of Iowa. Static correction collars use a shock similar to the prick you receive after walking on carpet and then touching a metal doorknob. In-ground electric fences are considered safe for children and other pets to be around, as the static correction is only given to the dog wearing the associated collar. Although, that doesn’t necessarily mean an electric fence is the right fit for your dog.

“I would not recommend them for a shy or fearful dog. The static correction may induce anxiety and the response may be to flee, which could leave the dog outside the fence,” says McAuliffe.

Pet behaviorist Dot Baisly from Northeast Animal Shelter in Salem, Mass. also recommends an alternative to an electric fence. “Fear issues can be amplified. The dog will start to pair the presence of fear stimuli with anxiety of a child running by or pair the presence of other dogs with the shock and become pain reactive.”

“Here in the Northeast (US), we have to worry about coyotes that can attack. An electric fence does not protect dogs from theft or predators, and if he does escape, he won’t return at any point because he’ll be afraid of the barrier,” Baisly said.

Some dog owners with larger acreages may consider electric dog fences as a cheaper alternative to the cost of materials required to install a physical barrier fence. According to McAuliffe, one way to offset these costs is to fence off a smaller area of land (around a quarter of an acre or larger for medium to large dogs) to use for bathroom breaks and play time instead of fencing in the entire property.

Why Choose an Electric Fence for Your Dog?

Electric fences are fairly simple to install and often cost less than other types of dog fences, sometimes even with professional installation. If cost and labor are major concerns, it might be an option to consider for your pet to keep them from wandering into neighbors yards or into the street where they can be hit by a moving vehicle.

This type of fence also allows both you and your dog to see outside of the yard. If you want to keep your lawn more aesthetically pleasing, these fences won’t disturb your view. This can also be a plus for your dog, as being able to see out of the yard gives them more excitement from outside stimulants. However, this can also generate barrier frustration for your dog if they encounter other animals or people outside the fence perimeter that they can’t interact with.

Which Type of Electric Fence is Best?

There are many electric dog fences to choose from as you’re shopping for the right solution. Here are a few to look into if you still want to go this route.

In-Ground Dog Fences

Wireless Dog Fences

How Much Does it Cost to Install an Electric Dog Fence?

The brunt of the cost to install any type of fence will be labor, not the materials. Hiring a contractor to install the fence may cost more, but will save you from doing the hard work yourself. Especially if you live in a place with hard soil or rocky terrain, it may be better to leave it to the professionals.

If you do choose to DIY, there are a few tips to make things easier. For an in-ground electric fence, you may want to rent a trencher from your local hardware store to lay the electric fence wire. Make sure to also have a shovel on-hand, because you’ll have to go around the perimeter and bury the wire by covering it back up with the removed soil.

A totally wireless fence, which operates using GPS, is the easiest to do yourself—the only setup involves opening the product from its packaging, turning it on, and programming it for the perimeter you want it to contain. However, while the fence itself is easy to install, these kinds of fences do involve a more time intensive training regimen to get your dog familiar with where he can and can’t go.

If you choose an electric dog fence for your dog, many pet experts like McAuliffe and Baisly recommend that you keep your dog indoors for the most part and don’t leave your dog outside unattended for any period of time, no matter what kind of fence you install. Supervising your dog while outside allows you to intervene with proper training when they need it and alleviates some of the risk of predators or unfavorable encounters with neighboring people and pets.