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An electric dog fence is a dog containment system that prevents your dog from leaving the pre-determined perimeter of your yard.
Many owners prefer wireless or in-ground dog fences over standard physical fences for several reasons:
With all electric dog fence units, your dog will wear a special collar that communicates with your property's boundary perimeters (which are set according to an in-ground wire or a wireless signal).
When your dog first begins to approach the boundary line, the collar will emit a warning sound. If your dog continues to approach the boundary and does not turn back within several seconds, the collar emits a static shock correction.
Here's an illustration we created showing the differences between wireless, in-ground, and physical dog fences:
Still not quite clear? Read our more detailed guide explaining the differences:
There are two types of electric dog fences: wireless and underground.
Wireless dog fences use computer GPS or radio signals to determine yard perimeter and to communicate with corresponding dog collars and ensure the dog is not traveling outside of the pre-determined boundaries.
With wired invisible dog fences, a string of wire is dug into the perimeter of your yard. The main transmitter unit connects with the physical wire perimeter, which then communicates boundary information with the dog’s collar.
Yes, invisible dog fences are very safe.
Despite wireless and under ground fences also being referred to as electric fences (and conjuring images of One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest), they are not nearly so cruel or frightening as some may at first assume.
Electric dog fences emit a static shock correction, similar to what you might experience if you rubbed your socks on a rug and touched a metal handle.
Your pet certainly cannot be injured or seriously hurt from an invisible fence unit. The static shock sensation is more 'surprising' than physically painful.
Many vets and pet professionals recommend wireless and in-ground dog fences as a safe, smart, and convenient way to let your dog roam around your property without worry.
Nearly all bad experiences owners have with invisible fences come as a result of not properly training their dog.
Setting up your electric dog fence and tossing your dog outside, hoping that they'll figure it out how it all works, is a 100% guaranteed recipe for disaster.
Without training, dogs can’t understand why they are being shocked. In some cases, dogs become terrified to go outside or sit immobilized in their yard, too frightened to move.
Obviously this isn’t what any owner wants for their pet – the whole point of investing in an electric dog fence is to enable your dog to roam and frolic about the yard in safety, not terrify them to the point of paralyzation.
You’ll receive a collection of training information when you order your electric dog fence, but here’s a basic rundown of how it works.
1. Set Up System + Flags. After installing the dog fence system, you’ll set up flags around the perimeter of your boundary area 10 ft apart (you may need to buy extra flags for larger yards).
2. Show Dog Boundaries with Tone Only. Switch the collar to a tone-only setting and hold it in your hand. With your leashed dog, approach the flagged boundary line. When the collar emits the warning sound, bring your dog several paces back towards the safety area. Reward with praise and treats!
3. Repeat With Several Flags. Repeat this process with a few flags on the first training day until your dog resists approach the flag.
4. Add Static Correction. In following days, switch to the static shock correction (start with a low setting and adjust if necessary if your dog ignores it). Continue approaching the flags (and retreating after the correction) until your dog resists approach the boundary flags.
5. Test Your Dog For Distractions. After several days of training, test your dog's resolve by throwing a ball or toy outside of the boundary line. If he doesn't go after the toy and stops at the boundary line, reinforce him with praise.
6. Go Off Leash. After a week of solid training, let your dog off leash in the yard. Don't move to this step until your dog has completed the previous steps.
7. Begin to Remove Flags. After two weeks, begin to remove boundary flags. Start by removing every other flag, and then eventually you can remove them all.
Extra Training Notes:
For more in-depth training help, YouTube has tons of helpful videos, such as this invisible fence training video from PetSafe.
The DIY route can be a hassle, but plenty of owners have installed in-ground wired systems themselves. If you feel confident, go for it.
Just read instructions carefully and make sure you have a map of your property. You don’t want to go digging around your yard and accidentally hit a water line or anything else potentially disastrous.
We will be detailing several different options from both PetSafe and Invisible Fence, the two biggest brand names in electric dog fences.
Overview: The PetSafe Wireless Dog Fence System consists of a main transmitter unit that communicates with the corresponding dog collar.
The transmitter emits a 17.5 kHz radio signal in a circular perimeter around your home. When your dog (wearing the collar unit) nears the perimeter, they will hear an audio warning, followed by a static correction.
PROS: No digging or wires required – you can have your wireless fence up and running right away. As noted, the unit is portable, allowing it to be moved to other yards and locations.
Another major benefit is the ability to adjust the diameter range, fine-tuning the perimeter to the perfect circular size for your yard.
You’ll get training materials when you order your PetSafe unit, plus you can watch PetSafe YouTube training videos to get your dog properly adjusted to the new invisible fence.
CONS: The PetSafe wireless dog fence only transmits boundaries in a circular area – you cannot do a rectangular or square shape.
For those with large yards, this isn’t a huge issue. However, if you have a small or oddly shaped yard, being forced to stick with a circular shape may significantly cut down the amount of yard space your dog can access.
Some buyers have found the boundary lines to be inconsistent, which is not surprising considering the unit functions with a radio signal.
My experience with this unit was largely positive, as I used the system with my own dog. My one recommendation is to take off the collar once your dog enters the house. I found that some electronic devices in my home would set off the collar if my dog got too close to them, so I definitely recommend getting into the habit of removing the collar when your dog is in the home.
The PetSafe Wireless Pet Containment System (PIF-300) is available from Amazon or from the PetSafe website.
Overview: The Stay + Play Wireless Fence from PetSafe is a model very similar to the unit mentioned above.
The major differences being that this unit has rechargeable collar units (rather than relying on batteries) and can emit a larger diameter.
PROS: Is compatible with original unit, so if you decide to buy the Stay + Play unit, in addition to the original, both will work with one another.
CONS: Some have found this unit to be less stable than the original PetSafe wireless unit (detailed above) when dealing with sloped yards. Some report that the Stay + Play has more difficulty with uneven terrains than the original PetSafe wireless fence unit.
The PetSafe Stay + Play Wireless Pet Fence is available from Amazon or the PetSafe website.
Overview: PetSafe also offers a physical in-ground wired system that you can install manually.
PROS: Wired fences can be customized for your yard in a square, rectangular, or other shape. Some also report the wired systems to be more stable, with more consistent boundary lines (since you’re dealing with a physical wire rather than a radio signal).
CONS: Digging and installing underground wired units will always be more of a hassle. The manual installation can be quite a pain. You may want to consider renting a fence trencher from a hardware store to make installing the underground fence easier.
Note: PetSafe offers a different version of this in-ground kit for “stubborn” dogs over 30lbs. They also offer an in-ground fence designed for small dogs (5lbs and up) and cats.
Overview: The PetSafe YardMax Rechargeable in-ground invisible dog fence is very similar to the PetSafe Basic In-Ground fence listed above.
The Major Differences: More usable yard space (30% more) by moving the “warning zone” to outside your boundary line.
Also features wireless collars and unique no-go zones for indoor and outdoor objects you want to keep your pet away from.
PROS: More space for your dog to play, rechargeable collars, and the ability to create additional safety no-go zones for dogs.
CONS: Again, digging wires can be a pain. We recommend renting a fence trencher to make installation easier. The YardMax system is also priced higher than the classic in-ground system and the wireless system.
Want a PetSafe underground wired dog fence but don’t want to install it yourself? You may want to check out PetSafe’s Pro Install option. Professionals will come install the unit and will train your dog, doing all the work for you.
Overview: With the Invisible Fence Pet Containment System, a physical wire is installed (by a professional) around the boundaries of your property, establishing your dog’s perimeter.
A transmitter unit (usually places in a garage or basement) will send a radio signal along the underground wire. The radio signal is then picked up by the corresponding computer collar unit.
The collar unit delivers a warning sound when your dog approaches the boundary. If the dog continues to approach the boundary after the warning, a static correction is issued.
Where to Buy: Can only be purchased directly from Invisible Fence.
PROS: This Invisible Fence Traditional Containment option is this brand’s most affordable option.
The Invisible Fence brand comes with professional installation, as well as professional pet training assistance to ensure that your pet is trained properly with the invisible dog fence unit. The official Invisible Fence brand is also endorsed by the ASPCA.
CONS: Priced higher than other units.
This option is similar to the unit mentioned above, with a few main differences:
Overview: The Invisible Fence GPS 2.0 system is the most advanced of all pet containment systems.
You set up your yard boundaries via GPS satellite, and your dog wears a special GPS computer collar to keep him out of the boundary area.
Where to Buy: Can only be purchased directly from Invisible Fence.
PROS: One cool advantage of going with Invisible Fence’s GPS system is that the GPS computer collar can also be used to set up avoidance areas in your home.
If you want your dog to stay away from trashcans, pools, or certain areas, you can program those areas as avoidance zones. Your dog will then get warning sounds and static corrections as they would with perimeter boundaries. This can be helpful if you have a dog who likes to get into the trash or to prevent potential pool disasters.
You can also work with Invisible Fence to install collar-activated doggie doors, which is another cool bonus feature.
CONS: Again, this unit can get quite pricey, although it has plenty of features to earn its price tag. The GPS 2.0 unit is also not available in all areas.
Replacement Collars. If your original collar breaks, you’ll need to buy a new one. Replacement collars can be quite expensive, ranging anywhere from $50 to $200.
Multiple Pets. Many units allow you to use your in-ground or wireless dog fence with multiple pets – you’ll just need to buy more collars.
Batteries. Batteries for collar units usually need to be replaced every 3-4 months. Some replacement batteries are quite cheap – many units use simple watch batteries. However, over a year that could end up costing you anywhere from $60-$90/year, so it’s certainly something to consider when budgeting.
Wiring. If you decide to go with an in-ground wired dog fence, you’ll want to pay particular attention to the gauge of wire you’ll be installing.
When it comes to wiring, the lower the gauge, the tougher the wire. For this reason, we tend to recommend not using 20 gauge wire (which is often what comes with the lower priced units). Instead, you are better off using 14 or 16 gauge wire. This wire will hold up for longer. Weaker 20 gauge wire will break more frequently, requiring you to dig up the wire and patch it. You can imagine what a headache that would be!
Power Failures. Since invisible dog fences are powered by the electric transmitter unit, power failures will shut down your wireless fence. If you live in an area that frequently deals with power outages, a physical fence may be a better choice.
We also recommend grabbing a surge protector to ensure that your transmitter unit doesn’t get destroyed in case of a power outage.
Other Animals Can Still Get In. An in-ground or wireless dog fence will keep your dog out, but won’t stop other dogs or animals from coming into the area.
This means that there is the possibility of your dog being attacked and being unable to escape the boundaries of your yard. For this reason, you should always supervise your dog when outside, even with the invisible dog fence installed.
Variety of Animals. While these fences are mostly designed with dogs in mind, many units can work with cats as well. Some people even use them with goats!
Camping and Vacations. If you travel a lot or often go on camping vacations, you may be better off with the wireless units. The wireless units make it easy to transport and use your system in other areas. Just remember, you’ll need to re-train your dog and teach them where the new boundaries are.
Age. Most experts recommend not using an invisible dog fence until your dog is at least 6 months old. You want to wait until your dog is mature enough to be trained and can understand how to navigate the electric fence.
Dogs have different personalities, and while I certainly can’t guarantee all dogs will catch onto the electric fence boundary system, in my own experience, dogs quickly learn how the static shock dog fence works.
My own dog, with proper training, learned where his boundaries were and rarely tested them after a month. In fact, after a few months I didn’t even bother putting the collar on him most times, as I felt comfortable that he understood where his yard boundaries were and wouldn’t cross them (although every now and then he would try something, so I wouldn’t give up the collar completely).
Do you have experience with using under ground or wireless dog fences? Share your experience in the comments!
Meg Marrs is the Founder and Senior Editor at K9 of Mine. She is a lifelong canine enthusiast and adores dogs of all shapes and sizes! She loves iced coffee, hammocks, and puppy-cuddling!