Do Electric Dog Fences Work?

dog sitting on a grass

Keeping your furry companion within the boundaries of your property is important for their safety. But do electric dog fences really work? While they may be an affordable and easy option, experts warn against their health hazards. They also don’t always work as expected. Read on to find out why and what other solutions there are.

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What are Electric Dog Fences?

An electric fence uses a boundary wire buried or placed around the perimeter of the yard. When a dog attempts to cross the boundary, a transmitter sends a signal to the dog’s collar, delivering a shock to deter them from going any further. According to manufacturers, it’s not enough to harm the dog, but it gets their attention. However, as we’ll discuss later, this isn’t always the case.

Electric dog fences may be especially appealing to dog owners who live on farms or other large properties without traditional fences. But they’re also convenient for homeowners in residential areas who may not want to, or be able to, put up a normal fence.

Electric collars come with safety instructions. These usually include:

  • Not keeping the collar on the dog for longer than the maximum advised time
  • Using the right settings – never settings that are too high
  • Repositioning the collar as necessary
  • Not using the collar with a leash
  • Monitoring the dog when it wears the collar
  • Properly washing the dog’s neck area
  • Never using the collar on wet fur
  • Not using the collar on puppies
  • Properly training the dog; using an electric collar is not a quick-fix solution

These are just examples; all electric collar users should speak to a professional to get proper training and know their collar manual from front to back. Here’s an example of an electric collar manual, but take note that the instructions may vary depending on the collar type and brand.

However, even electric collar users who take these steps aren’t guaranteed safety for their pets. As you’ll see below, experts say electric collars pose safety risks even when owners use them as directed.

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The Risks and Drawbacks of Electric Dog Fences

electric shock dog collar
Main Image Credit: Vera Aksionava / Canva Pro / License

As explained above, electric dog fences work in cohesion with electric collars. Electric collars are advertised as harmless tools. However, they still pose various physical, emotional, and behavioral risks for dogs. According to studies as well as news stories, even the best practice of using electric collars with professional training doesn’t eliminate these risks, although it does reduce them.

In worst-case scenarios, dogs that wear electric collars become seriously distressed, aggressive, or severely injured. Some dogs have even passed away due to bad reactions to the shocks. For these reasons, animal welfare organizations and charities are vocal about their opposition to electric collars as well, for example:

  • Peta
  • American Veterinary Society of Animal Behavior (AVSAB)
  • Association of Professional Dog Trainers (APDT)
  • Association of Pet Dog Trainers (APDT)
  • Pet Professionals Guild (PPG)
  • Humane Society of the United States

Here are some of the concerns raised by studies as well as many professionals, dog owners, and animal welfare organizations.

Physical risks:

  • Malfunction: Electric collars may malfunction. In that scenario, they may generate repetitive shocks or switch to a high setting on their own.
  • Injury: Electric collars may hurt dogs, especially if they’re used improperly and without training.
  • Unreliability: While professional training decreases risks, it doesn’t guarantee safety. Some dogs have been injured and passed away as a result of professional electric collar training. A study by the National Library of Medicine confirms this.
  • Unpredictable results: Dogs’ reactions to electric collars are unpredictable. What is a mild tingle to some may be a severe shock to others.
  • Negative well-being effects: Dogs may become fearful or anxious when approaching their boundary, affecting their overall well-being. According to Peta, repeated shocks may also lead to physical issues over time.
  • Accidents: Untrained owners may use the wrong setting and harm their pets; they may also shock their pets unnecessarily or punish them in anger. 
  • Lost dogs: In some cases, dogs are determined enough to ignore the shocks and escape, leaving them in danger.
  • Water hazards: There are additional safety hazards if the dog gets wet for any reason, such as during rainy weather.

Behavioral risks:

  • Behavioral distress: As stated by the National Library of Medicine, electric collar training leads to “behavioral signs of distress in pet dogs.” This may lead to anxiety and aggression. Studies also show that dogs trained with electric collars have higher cortisol levels.
  • Unpredictability: All dogs are different, and their reactions to shocks are unpredictable.
  • Opposite effect: Using electric collars on dogs with existing behavioral problems may make them worse.
  • Sounds and vibrations: Some electric collars have a feature where the collar will beep or vibrate before the shock. This gives dogs a prior warning. With some collars, the owner can eventually replace the shock with just the beep or vibration. However, the problem is that the dogs still associate the sound or vibration with the shock. This, again, leads to stress.
  • Disrupted bond: Electric collars can disrupt the bond between a dog and its owner, as the dog may associate the shocks with negative experiences. 

Efficiency concerns:

  • Connection misunderstanding: Some dogs may not make the connection between the electric shock and the boundary, making the fence ineffective.
  • Wrong association: Dogs may instead associate the electric shock with people, objects, going potty, or going outside altogether.
  • Inefficiency: According to studies, electric dog fence training isn’t as effective as other dog training methods. 

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Why People Use Electric Dog Fences

Many owners use electric collars with the best intentions. They love their furry companions and want to keep them safe. They may also not be aware of the risks.

A few reasons owners might purchase electric collars are:

  • Cost: Typically, electric dog fences cost $957 to $1,444 to install. But a DIY electric fence installation is relatively easy and costs anywhere between $54 and $780, with the average being around $238. In comparison, regular fences cost between $1,330 and $5,550, or $3,448 on average. But many owners may not take the cost of necessary training into account, which may go up to thousands of dollars. It typically costs between $30 and $250 per session. Additionally, it’s important to stress that the cheaper the electric collar is, the less likely it is to work up to expectations.
  • Flexibility: Not everyone can get a real fence for various reasons. They may be leasing or may live in an area where only certain types of fencing are permitted. These dog owners still want to let their dogs out in their yards rather than keep them in their homes. However, this benefit of electric collars should be closely examined against their risks and drawbacks.
  • Behavior: Some owners have dogs who are unsociable or have severe behavioral problems but respond to the electric collar. This is sometimes the case with shelter dogs that were neglected or never received proper training. It’s important to note, though, that not all dogs with behavioral problems respond well to electric collars. Moreover, when it comes to aggressive behavior, studies show that electric collars are likely to make it worse.

Alternatives to Electric Dog Fences

dog fence in a lawn
Photo Credit: Pxhere

There are many other ways to keep your furry companion safe and contained than with a wireless electric dog fence. For example:

  • A real fence: As mentioned above, a real fence costs more but provides your property (and dog) with various benefits. It also looks good and gives your home some privacy. It typically costs $1,330 to $5,550, or $3,448 on average. Professionals can help you find the right fence for your yard, and you can save money by picking a budget-friendly fence, such as a chain-link fence. Plus, there are additional ways to dog-proof your fencing, too. Get a quote for your area.
  • A GPS collar or tracker: If you’re worried that your pet might get lost, a GPS collar or tracker is another great option. This device allows you to track your dog’s location in real time, helping you know its whereabouts at all times. It’s especially useful for adventurous dogs who like to explore beyond their set boundaries. There are various tracking systems out there that typically cost between $28 and $620.
  • Dog training: Effective training goes a long way. Some training can be done at home. But, if your dog is exhibiting behavioral issues or if you simply want to enhance its obedience and manners, professional dog training is a valuable investment. There are various kinds of training out there that differ in price. Typically, one session may cost anywhere between $30 and $250. 
  • Staying indoors: This may be an obvious point, but it’s nevertheless worth mentioning. If you’re unable to look out for your dog outside, the best move may be to have them stay indoors. 

Do Electric Dog Fences Work?

Some dog trainers and dog owners insist that electric dog fences are effective, but others disagree. What’s more, studies have shown that electric dog fence training isn’t as effective as other dog training methods. On top of that, owners need to account for the physical and emotional risks of using electric dog fences.

For those reasons, some dog trainers, dog owners, and experts want to only allow the product under strict regulation for strictly specified situations, while many want to ban it completely.

Remember, the well-being of your dog should always be the top priority when considering containment options. 

As you’ve seen above, there are various alternatives for electric dog fences. For instance, getting a real fence is the standard option for a physical barrier that can effectively keep your dog within a designated area. To install one, get in touch with one of our fencing pros.

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Main Image Credit: cmannphoto / Canva Pro / License

Judith Gallova

Judith Gallova is a freelance writer living in Slovakia. She found her passion for writing when she created her first blog at the age of 10. Later on, she started working in marketing, and eventually combined her writing and marketing skills to become a freelance writer. In her free time, she often studies the Bible, goes to the gym, spends time with loved ones, and enjoys all things art and design.