Why is My Electric Fence Weak? CAUSES and What to Do

We’ve all been there – something exciting happened on the other side of the boundary, and our pup ran through the underground electric fence like it wasn’t even there.

You may be wondering, why is my electric fence weak?

In this article, we’re going to take a look at why your electric fence may be weak and what you can do to solve the problem and keep your dog safely at home.

Why is My Electric Fence Weak?

a content dog outside
Your dog may not mind a weak electric fence, but it will allow it to run away which can be dangerous, or even fatal.

Common reasons for electric fence weakness are:

  • The collar’s batteries need to be replaced
  • The collar doesn’t fit properly
  • The system’s settings need to be adjusted to increase the boundary or correction

If you’re using a wireless electric fence, the signal could be obstructed by landscaping or building materials causing signal weakness or possibly blocking it altogether.

If this is the case, you’ll have to clear away all obstructions or switch to a different type of fence, like an in-ground wired invisible fence, that will give you reliable coverage.

Read More: Can you put an electric fence charger outside? Where you place your charger could determine its effectiveness. Here’s where to put your fence charger!

How to Troubleshoot a Weak Electric Fence

First and foremost, if you suspect that your electric fence is not working properly, consider an alternative method to keep your pets safe and contained outdoors while you attempt to solve the issue. 

Keep in mind that one of your best tools in a situation like this is the manual that came with your product.

Your manual has specific troubleshooting tips for your system that you should walk through methodically.

Here we’ll cover some common reasons why your electric fence signal may be weak and allow your dog to run away.

Reasons Why Your Electric Fence is Weak

As you would expect, there are a great number of reasons that an electric dog containment fence may not be working. 

These issues can range from simply needing to replace batteries or adjust settings on your device, to damage occurring to the underground components of your system.

Some of the most common reasons that your electric fence may be weak are:

  • The receiver collar’s batteries need to be replaced
  • Your pet’s receiver collar hasn’t been properly fitted so the prongs touch the skin
  • The boundary width needs to be increased so the dog can’t jump over
  • Your system’s underground wire is damaged or has experienced degradation over time

The best way to determine what your system’s problem may be is to start by making the easiest adjustments first, and then considering the more challenging issues. 

For example, checking to make sure that the batteries don’t need replacing should come first.

Then you can start considering if the system is damaged and needs to be repaired or replaced.

It’s also important that you know what to do initially when your pet does escape its underground fence system. 

This article, My Dog Runs Through the Invisible Fence, provides solid tips for what to do if your pet has escaped the invisible fence.

Test and Replace the Collar Batteries

dog wearing an e-collar
The receiver collar will not work unless it has batteries. Watch the collar for a low-battery warning light and check them regularly to make sure they aren’t dead.

The test to see if your pet’s collar battery needs to be replaced is a simple one.

Simply remove the collar from your pet, and approach the boundary line holding the collar. 

Remember to keep the collar low to the ground, as it needs to be at “pet height” for this test to work.

As you approach the boundary line, listen for a warning beep.

If you do not hear one, it’s likely that you need to change the batteries in your pet’s collar.

There are low-battery warning lights on the collar, but if you miss the warning period, it may die altogether, along with the warning light.

Understanding Receiver Collar Battery Life

Battery life varies between different brands of receiver collars, but on average, a battery can last between 1 and 4 months.

There are also some brands that have rechargeable batteries and some that do not.

This information can be found in your manual or online.

  • Replaceable batteries cost around $10-$12 each but last for 3-4 months on average.
  • Replaceable batteries keep the fence up and running with no downtime.
  • Rechargeable batteries don’t cost additional money but need to be recharged every several weeks.
  • Rechargeable batteries will need several hours to charge, resulting in fence downtime during charging.

Some brands use batteries in their system that can be purchased at most stores, but other brands use batteries that are specific to their models and must be purchased directly from them. 

Some sites, such as batteriesinaflash, sell batteries that are compatible with many of the larger brands of electric underground fencing.

Check to Make Sure the Collar Fits Right

A properly fitted collar is imperative to the device working properly. 

The collar should fit around the dog’s neck tightly enough that the prongs barely graze the dog’s skin.

They must make contact or the corrective shock will not be felt, allowing your dog to run away.

However, the collar must be loose enough that the prongs are not digging into the skin at all.

Make sure you can fit 2 fingers underneath the collars so it’s loose enough to be comfortable for the dog.

  • Keep the dog’s fur groomed and clean. Excess dirt can decrease the effectiveness of the prongs.
  • Consider shaving some of the hair on the neck so the prongs can touch without the collar having to fit too tightly.
  • The collar likely came with longer prongs for long-haired dogs. Swap the prongs for these longer ones if needed so you can get contact without tightening the collar.

The goal of the collar is to give feedback that keeps the dog inside the yard.

The collar should never cause the dog pain or be tight enough to cause pressure necrosis.

Check the collar regularly to make sure the dog’s skin is healthy.

If the dog doesn’t need to wear it 24/7, then remove the collar at night to give the dog’s neck a break.

Adjust the Electric Fence Settings

There are two settings on the electric dog fence that may need adjusting to keep your dog inside the fence where it belongs.

Adjust the Collar Stimulation Level

Another quick fix may simply be to change the settings on the pet’s system.

Every animal has a different recognition level to the stimulation from an electric fence collar.

Because of this, it’s important to recognize the animal’s responses and adjust. 

There are several good resources that will help you to properly find the intensity level that your electric collar should be on.

Most of them suggest turning the collar settings up until you find a definite reaction from your pet, then back down one step. 

Keep in mind that the reaction from your pet is a small one, and should result in the dog turning back into the yard.

Your dog should never yelp, cry, or jump when the collar is being used.

This video does a great job explaining how to determine the right intensity for your dog’s training collar.

A proper intensity level for your dog’s collar will help to remind it where the boundaries of the electric fence are and keep it from crossing them.

The collar shouldn’t cause the dog to be fearful or harmed. The responsibility is yours to train the dog to stay home.

The feedback from the collar serves as a reminder to the dog of the training it received.

Read More: Electric Fence Shock Side Effects in Dogs. Keep an eye out for these signs in your dog when using an electric fence.

Adjust the Electric Fence Boundary Width

The boundary width circles around the boundary wire of an in-ground system. It can usually be set from 0 to 10.

This setting determines how close your dog can get to the boundary before it receives correction.

  • A setting of 0 allows the dog to get right on the wire before getting a shock. The warning beep and shock will usually activate at the same time.
  • A setting of 10 will create a boundary width of around 20 to 25 feet. The dog will receive a warning beep long before reaching the wire and the corrective area is very wide.

If your dog runs through invisible fence, increase the boundary width until it is wide enough that the dog doesn’t want to jump over or run through.

Sometimes if the boundary is too narrow the dog discovers that it’s worth a second or two of shocks to gain freedom for the afternoon.

Increasing the boundary width can deter or stop this behavior.

How to Test the Underground Wire

If the wire for an in-ground system has been installed for a number of years, it may become degraded or have small breaks that cause it to work intermittently.

One of the easiest ways to identify this issue is to walk your boundary with the e-collar.

If it beeps in some areas, but not others, there is likely an issue with the underground wires. 

If the insulated wire has been buried underground then damage is very unlikely, but testing the fence can confirm that the problem is not in the wire.

If there ever seems to be damage to the underground component of your fence, check back into any areas where you know that digging may have occurred.

Also check any areas that commonly face vehicle traffic, as the fence can become damaged from the weight of the vehicles especially if the soil shifts over time due to vehicle traffic.

Once you have located the partial break in invisible fence, it needs to be spliced back together.

In order to do this, you will need to use a high-quality underground wire splicing kit.

Read More: Should Electric Fence Ground Wire Be Insulated? Your wire should already come insulated, but here’s what to do if there’s a break in the insulation.

Electric Fence Troubleshooting List

dogs in an animal shelter
Dogs usually end up in animal shelters after running away from yards. You can avoid this by training your dog well and making sure your fence is working right.

Overall, the best way to make sure that your underground electric fence system is working properly is to follow this checklist: 

  • Daily check for a low-battery warning light on the collar.
  • Make sure the receiver collar fits properly – not too loose, not too tight, and the dog hair doesn’t stop it from touching.
  • Make sure the correction level is set where you want. If the battery runs out, double-check the settings before replacing the collar in case they were reset.
  • Regularly take the dog’s collar off and use it to test the perimeter to make sure it’s working right.

Electric dog fences are an ingenious solution for keeping dogs at home without spending a bundle on traditional fences.

Many dog owners use them in conjunction with regular fences to keep dogs home.

However, if the electric fence isn’t working right, your dog will be the first one to discover it.

We recommend having a monthly maintenance and testing routine to know that the fence is working right.

Final Thoughts

Your fence’s manual should be the first thing you consult when your fence isn’t working because it contains information specific to your fence model.

However, the testing tips and fixes we’ve given usually solve issues with weak electric fences.

Testing these items will also give you peace of mind knowing that the fence is working to keep your dog safe at home.

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Jesse Hopping, CCDT

Jesse is a natural-born dog-lover certified dog trainer (CCDT), dog foster, and former volunteer at Richmond SPCA and surrounding dog shelters for over 10 years. Her pack includes a Bernedoodle and 3 Boston Terriers. She’s sipping caramel coffee and watching her pack play in the sun when she’s not writing blogs. Jesse has her Certified Dog Trainer designation from CATCH Canine Trainers Academy since 2018 and and majored in English from the University of Virginia.

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