Electric Dog Fences: The Danger and Risks Associated · The Wildest

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Electric Fences for Dogs: The Danger and Risks

Why it’s best to avoid these altogether.

by Tracy Krulik, CTC, CSAT
Updated February 25, 2024
Male Alaskan Malamute dog stands in the yard between the plants
pavlobaliukh / Adobe Stock

Eleven years ago, Linda Teasley and her husband wanted to give their two puppies, Goldendoodle Noodles and English Bulldog Sheba, access to their yard so the dogs could run around and play. But in order to do so, they needed to make their half-acre property safe.

Having previously suffered through their local association’s laborious design-review process when they planned to build an addition to their Northern Virginia home, Teasley didn’t want to revisit the process to build a fence. Instead, the couple installed an electronic fence — a decision that made sense to them at the time, but which they’d later regret (more on that later).

In fact, electronic dog fences are not recommended by many veterinarians and dog trainers. Keep reading to find out why you should find other, positive methods of training your dog.

What is an electric fence?

An electric fence for dogs, sometimes called an “invisible fence,” is meant to keep dogs within bounds using a wire buried in the ground, a transmitting box, and a collar. When the dog gets close to the wire, the collar gives a beep, a vibration, or a shock. They are not considered part of a positive-reinforcement training routine and should be avoided.

“Electric fences and shock collars are similar in that they give the dog an electrical shock, seemingly out of nowhere,” says dog trainer and breeder Tommy Wylde of Floofmania. “The shock is painful and very sudden. Using this method will create fear in a dog, making them fearful of doing the seemingly ‘wrong’ actions, rather than making them happy to behave and please their humans.”

Are electric fences cruel or safe?

Electric fences cannot be called safe because of the emotional harm they could cause to a dog. Today, many pet parents in the U.S. are making the same choice the Teasleys did, as an increasing number of homeowners’ associations, as well as cities and counties, are putting restrictions on the types of fencing allowed — physical and electronic alike — and where they can be built.

But (and this is a big but), there’s a pretty strong argument to be made about the safety and efficacy of these systems. Many pet parents would rightly like to ban shock collars, which would effectively end the use of electronic fences. Shock collars are already illegal in a number of other countries, including Sweden, Denmark, Norway, Slovenia, Switzerland, Germany, Portugal, and Wales, the Canadian province of Quebec, and in some states in Australia.

Why are electric fences dangerous?

Shock collars are an aversive tool, which means they use pain and/or fear to motivate the dog to stay in the yard. Remember, pain and fear threshold levels are different for each animal, just as they are for each person.

Some dogs are motivated to stay put, but some dogs become so afraid of the shocks that they won’t go out in the yard at all, and some dogs don’t care a bit and fly through the shock. Case in point: the Teasleys ended up scrapping their electronic fence about two weeks after it was installed, because Sheba ran and hid upstairs when the collar was put on her and Noodles just trotted through the “barrier,” ignoring the shocks.

Beyond the system not working out, any time a dog feels pain or is hurt, there’s a risk of fallout behaviors developing, says Niki Tudge, certified dog trainer and behavior consultant and president of the Pet Professional Guild. “What happens is that dogs start to generalize the pain to what they see and hear around them,” she says. “Then you end up with dogs who become reactive and aggressive towards children going past on bikes or people walking by.”

For this reason, cities like Overland Park, Kansas, stipulate that electronic fences cannot be used in front yards, and they have to be at least 10 feet from public walkways or neighboring property lines. Council Bluffs, Iowa, goes even further: Not only can the system not be used in the front yard, but the owner must be with the dog when the dog is outside.

Do electric fences even work?

No, don’t count on it. Pet parents should keep in mind that electronic fences are not actually fences. No physical barrier secures a dog inside the perimeter or keeps other animals or people out. “Generally speaking, the electronic containment system is something that is an illusion of containment,” says Kenneth Phillips, an attorney who specializes in dog-bite cases.

In fact, “electronic containment systems usually are not considered to be any type of boundary fence as required by the ordinances of various cities and counties all over the country,” Phillips says. Municipalities that do include information on electronic fences generally state that they cannot be used for any dog with a history of aggression.

Not having a physical fence in place can spell danger, not only for people and animals passing by, but also for the dog in the yard. In December 2015, McCann — who has led many Greyhound search-and-rescue missions — got a call from his veterinarian to help find Dimitri, her 15-year-old Terrier mix. Dimitri was out in his yard with his two siblings when a coyote entered the yard and dragged him away. McCann grabbed his infrared camera and set out to look for Dimitri; after more than an hour, the search party found the little black pup gravely injured a couple of hundred yards from his home. He died two days later.

Given accounts such as these, as well as the basic question of whether it is ever OK to use pain or fear to train a dog, it’s unsurprising that the collars are banned in other countries. While groups, including the Pet Professional Guild, lobby to ban shock collars in the U.S. some rescue organizations will not adopt any dog to a home that uses an electronic fence. So though it may be time-consuming, it’s best to put up an old-fashioned, red-tape-lined fence and keep an eye on your dog when they’re outdoors.

Note: If you have a deaf puppy, talk to a trainer who specializes in training dogs who are not able to hear recalls about a safe, positive way to train them, such as a watch me
cue or a vibrating, no-shock collar (never to be used for correction, only to get their attention). Deaf Dogs Rock is a great resource for learning about and training deaf pups.

Setting up an electric fence for dogs

Installing an underground fence for dogs is a fairly intensive procedure. If you’re going to do it, you’ll need to install a transmitter underground, determine a boundary and dig a small trench, connect the wires, test the collar, and ground the system.

But do you really want to do all that for something that’s not good for your dog? An invisible electric fence isn’t worth it, according to experts. “Using pain as a ‘motivator’ really isn’t recommended by anyone anymore,” Wylde says. ”It’s cruel, and it runs the risk of making the dog anxious and stressed. Dogs can even become aggressive, mistrusting, and unpredictable.”

Can I install an electric fence myself?

A do-it-yourself electric dog fence is a bad idea for multiple reasons, not least of all that you might hurt yourself while trying to install it. Even if you manage to do it successfully, once it’s functioning, your dog is the one who’s likely to get hurt.

“These electric devices, often considered ‘convenient solutions’ for pet containment and training, pose significant risks to a dog’s physical and psychological health,” says Dr. Sabrina Kong, a veterinarian with extensive experience in both clinical practice and animal behavior. “Electric fences can cause stress, anxiety, and confusion. Dogs may learn to associate the shock with the area around the boundary or even passersby, potentially leading to fearfulness or aggression.”

Electric fence alternatives

“Physical barriers, such as traditional fencing, provide a visible and safe containment solution without the adverse effects of electric shocks,” Kong says. But what should a loving dog parent do if, like the Teasleys, they want to let their dog play outside but can’t build an actual fence?

“Pretty much anything else you can think of will be better than using pain,” Wylde says. “Today’s dog training world is all about positive reinforcement. You reward positive behavior and simply ignore undesirable behavior rather than punishing the dog. This not only works better, but also keeps the dog happy, and willing to follow your instructions because they’re fun instead of being fearful of consequences.”

“There are many safer and more humane dog containment and training methods, such as traditional fencing, training and positive reinforcement techniques, and even GPS tracking collars,” says Aaron Rice, a dog trainer and founder of Stayyy. “By embracing these alternatives, pet owners can ensure their dogs are happy, healthy, and well cared for.”

(If your dog won’t come when called and you feel like you’ve tried everything, try working with a trainer who can help you figure out some new strategies to keep your dog safe.)

FAQs (People also ask): 

Do electric fences work for big dogs?

As stated above, electric fences are dangerous and should be avoided for any dog, regardless of size.

“Positive reinforcement training methods, which reward desired behaviors, offer a compassionate and practical approach to teaching boundaries and obedience,” Kong says. “Leash training and supervised outings also ensure safety while allowing dogs the joy of exploration and exercise under the watchful eyes of their owners. Pet owners should use more humane and constructive strategies to provide their dogs with well-being while maintaining a loving and trusting relationship.”

What is an above ground electric fence for dogs?

An above-ground electric fence for dogs is just what it sounds like: An electric fence that isn’t installed underground. However, they work the same way — by causing pain to your dog to get them to behave in a desired way. Electric fences, whether above ground or below, are risky for all the reasons listed above. Don’t get one; your sweet pup deserves more.



Tracy Krulik, CTC, CSAT

Tracy Krulik, CTC, CSAT, is a Northern Virginia-based certified canine separation anxiety trainer and honors graduate of Jean Donaldson’s prestigious Academy for Dog Trainers. Krulik is also the founder and managing editor of  iSpeakDog — a website and public awareness campaign to teach dog body language and behavior.

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