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Invisible Fences vs Real Fences – Do They Really Work? 🐾 Little Dog Tips

It’s tough when you don’t have access to a safe, fenced-in yard for your dog.

I know what it’s like. I live in an apartment right now, I have to take my dogs for four walks a day for potty breaks and exercise.

We lived with my parents for two years, and during that time my dogs had free range of their backyard. When we visit for the weekend, my dogs get to enjoy running around off-leash in the grass. Meanwhile, I get a break from walkies to spend time with my family.

I know that many aren’t so lucky. Many pet parents don’t have access to a yard at all, and while dog parks can be a great place to let your dog loose, they put your dog at risk for fights and disease.

Invisible fences can seem like a viable option – and at times, they might be necessary. However, it’s important to understand the risks of using them so you can decide whether they have a place in giving your dog their best life.

What Is An Invisible Fence?

Invisible Fence® is a brand of pet containment systems, though there are other companies that make similar products.

Generally, these products work with a collar that your dog wears. The collar has two inwards-facing metal prongs that rest against your dog’s skin, and these prongs deliver a static shock when activated.

The boundary can be created by installing a wire underground around the pet parent’s property, which carries a radio signal from a transmitter. Newer, wireless systems use GPS tracking.

Either way, the system works by detecting when the dog is close to or crosses the boundary. They can be set up to let out a warning beep, and then a corrective static shock if the dog crosses the threshold.

The static shock is similar to the stimulation of a TENS unit. If you’ve ever used a TENS unit to soothe a sore or tight muscle, you know that it feels slightly tingly when set on “low,” and can cause the muscle to twitch or jump. Set too high, it can be quite painful.

Manufacturers insist that your dog will only experience a shock once or twice during the initial training period, then obey the boundary when they hear a warning beep.

Do Invisible Fences Really Work?

According to a 2017 study, 44% of dogs contained by an electric fence were able to escape.

When working as intended, an invisible or electric fence would prevent your dog from running away, getting lost, or getting hit by a car. In exchange for your dog’s safety, a little shock might seem like a small price to pay.

But these pet containment systems give pet parents a false sense of security.

The system can suddenly stop working for many reasons.

The receiver collar relies on a battery that must be either replaced or recharged.

If the collar is not fitted correctly, the prongs may not reach their skin to deliver a shock.

Broken wires, cloudy weather, and power surges are a few more reasons the technology can fail, possibly without warning.

It’s not uncommon for lost dogs to be found while wearing a transmitter collar.

Even if the technology is working as intended, a dog can experience a strong enough prey drive – or fear drive, especially during thunderstorms and fireworks – to bypass the boundary despite the shock.

Are Invisible Fences Painful to Dogs?

The level of stimulation can be adjusted on most products, with sensations ranging from a subtle tingle to a powerful, though momentary jolt. It shouldn’t be very scary or painful when a dog receives a shock.

But it’s important to understand that a dog experiencing a corrective static shock, unlike a human using a TENS unit, cannot anticipate, understand, or rationalize what is happening to them.

One vet reports that 28% of dogs that wear shock collars suffer from stress, anxiety, and PTSD-like symptoms.

Dogs cannot rationalize that they’ll experience an unpleasant sensation if they are crossing the line and at risk of danger.

Instead, they can develop redirected aggression towards the humans and other dogs they see when they approach the boundary line.

Others become fearful, running away from their home – rather than returning from the boundary – or become afraid to go outside altogether.

These experiences are reported from anecdotes and first-hand accounts. Yes, there are plenty of people who use these products without issues – and quite a few whose dogs experienced serious adverse effects.

Can Invisible Fences Cause Injuries?

For an invisible fence to work, the probes must be against your dog’s skin at all times. This can result in painful pressure sores, which can become severe if the collar is too tight or rarely moved around.

Vets report burns, lesions, cardiac episodes triggered by shock collars. Like TENS units, they’re not recommended for individuals with a history of heart issues or seizures.

The most dangerous aspect, though, seems to be the false sense of security that invisible fences offer. They do not keep out wildlife, nor do they keep strangers from entering your property and harming, harassing, or stealing your dog.

Why Real Boundaries Are Better

If you have the means, consider getting a real, physical fence.

You can set up a dog run if your property is too large to surround with a perimeter fence.

A real fence can help keep out wildlife and strangers that can enter your property and harm your dog.

For escape artists, dig-proof barriers are available. Climb- and jump-proof fence toppers can help too.

A well-kept fence can add curb appeal and property value to your home. Win, win, win.

Does Your Dog Even Need A Fence?

Personally, I notice that my dogs get more exercise and mental stimulation during our walks. When they hang out in my parents’ backyard, they tend to laze around.

Even dogs that do have their own yard benefit from on-leash walks.

If you don’t have a yard, think beyond the fence and consider going for walks more often. You can even use a long-line to safely allow your dog to run around in open, unfenced spaces.

Another fun option – see if SniffSpot has hosts near you that will let you rent their yard or private dog park for a fee. Some even have pools and agility equipment!

Is There Ever A Reason To Use An Invisible Fence?

If you’re aware of the risks and willing to train and supervise your dog, you may still decide that an invisible fence is right for you. You may find a way to limit, or even eliminate the need for shock stimulation.

Though I feel strongly about the choices I make for my own dogs, and I’m always happy to help pet parents make educated decisions, there’s no place for judgement among dog parents.

At the end of the day, if your dog is happy, healthy, and safe, and you’re confident that you can use equipment properly and minimize risks, you should do what you feel is right for your pup.

Lindsay Pevny
Lindsay Pevny lives to help pet parents make the very best choices for their pets by providing actionable, science-based training and care tips and insightful pet product reviews.

She also uses her pet copywriting business to make sure the best pet products and services get found online through catchy copy and fun, informative blog posts. She also provides product description writing services for ecommerce companies.

As a dog mom to Matilda and Cow, she spends most of her days taking long walks and practicing new tricks, and most nights trying to make the best of a very modest portion of her bed.

You’ll also find her baking bread and making homemade pizza, laughing, painting and shopping.

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