How Do Invisible Dog Fences Work – Are They RELIABLE?

Invisible fences are a popular option for keeping dogs at home without putting up an ugly, expensive fence but you may be wondering if they work.

They’re really quite ingenious, but how do invisible dog fences work?

Knowing how a wireless invisible dog fence works may help you decide if it’s the right solution for your dog and your home.

Read on to get the simple facts about how they work and how effective they are plus tips on training your dog to stay inside of one.

How Does a Wireless Dog Fence Work?

Dog with an Invisible Fence frisbee
An invisible fence creates a safe play space for dogs without a physical fence. It keeps them from running away or getting into roadways.

Generally speaking, any wireless dog fence works by pairing a central radio transmitter to a receiver collar worn by the dog.

The transmitter sits at the center of a circular invisible perimeter that is the fence.

The collar receives signals from the central transmitter.

When the dog approaches the perimeter a warning beep sounds giving the dog opportunity to turn around and return to the yard.

If the dog progresses to and through the invisible boundary the collar administers a static shock correction meant to deter the dog from going further out and run back into the perimeter instead.

Set up a perimeter in your yard using the transmitter, then mark it with the flags included with your system.

Once set up, it will send a radio signal to the collar if your dog goes outside the perimeter.

The boundary is made clear to your dog with little flags placed just inside the safe boundary area.

The dog spends several weeks in training to learn the boundary before flags are gradually removed.

What’s the Difference Between Wired and Wireless Fences?

Underground, or wired, dog fences vary slightly from an invisible fence.

The only major difference is instead of a radio transmitter that establishes the boundary, a wire is buried where you want the boundaries to be. 

The wire creates a circuit that makes a reliable and powerful boundary that communicates with the receiver collar.

The benefits of using a wired fence is that the shape can be customized to fit the yard or boundary area, and it can be expanded up to 5 acres.

The only real drawback is that it takes some effort to bury the wire.

(PST. Check out our guide, How Deep is Invisible Fence Buried? for help with that!)

The benefit of using a wireless fence is that it is very quick and easy to set up once you have everything in place.

Another potential drawback is that the perimeter is always a circle, it can’t cover as much yard, and the transmitter is always the center of the fence.

The other components work the same, and the correction is the same when your dog reaches the boundary set by the underground wire or virtual fence.

Read our related article, Best Virtual Dog Fence 2022, for more virtual options we think you should check out!

Do Invisible Fences Work for All Dogs?

Dogs on a porch
Hidden or “invisible” dog fences are one of the best solutions for keeping pets safe and contained. 

While invisible fences do work for many, they don’t work for all dogs. When first installing an invisible fence, there is a training period that needs to take place. 

After this time, your dog may be used to the fence, and know its boundaries, but there’s a chance the new fence may not take.

There are instances where dogs will run through the fence if they are scared, enticed by something they see, bored, or simply don’t respond to the training.

Some things to be sure of when training:

  • You have been thorough with your training – make sure you go through all the steps properly to teach your dog the boundaries.
  • Your dog is getting enough stimulation exercise If not, they could become bored and break the barrier to simply run around and entertain themselves.

See our related article, Training Dog for Invisible Fence, for training solutions, tips, and tricks!

How Long Does Training Take and What Does it Entail?

Training your dog to get used to the fence usually takes 2 to 4 weeks. It involves positive reinforcement and teaching your dog the boundary and the correction.

Positive reinforcement is recommended because most dogs are more anxious to please their owners than they are to avoid consequences.

Don’t leave your dog alone in the yard until you’re sure they won’t try to run away.

If you need help installing here is a video to help.

How Effective are Invisible Fences?

Once you have completed the training, and your dog is comfortable with the new boundaries, can you count on your fence to do its job? 

According to VCA Animal Hospitals, the positives and negatives are pretty even, so it comes down to personal preference and your dog’s behavior.

Pros of Using An Invisible Fence

They Work in Almost any Type of Yard

While physical fences might be tough to install in yards that are smaller or have sloped terrain, invisible fences work with various sizes and terrain types if the transmitter is on the same plane as the boundaries. 

Some traditional physical fences may have to have gaps because of the terrain, so especially for sloped or smaller yards, invisible fences tend to be more effective.

If your terrain is more than a little sloped you could have trouble getting seamless coverage with a wireless invisible fence.

In this case, an invisible fence with a boundary wire is your best bet.

Your Dog Can’t Climb Over or Dig Under an Invisible Fence

Adventurous dogs sometimes feel the urge to dig holes to get under fences or climb a physical fence if they have an urge to run free. Invisible fences prevent this.

Some dog owners use invisible fencing to reinforce existing fencing and keep escape artists inside.

You Won’t Forget to Close the Gate

We all forget to do things sometimes, and closing the gate is one of them.

If you don’t have a gate to close, you won’t forget to do it, and your dog won’t feel the need to take advantage!

Cons of Using An Invisible Fence

Response to Training Will Determine Effectiveness

As mentioned above, it takes time for your dog to get used to the new boundaries, and it doesn’t always work.

Effectiveness is dependent on how well your dog picks up the new rules, and if they accept them.

Some dogs will need more than a few weeks of training, or refresher sessions quite frequently to remember where the boundaries are and to stay inside.

It Doesn’t Keep Unwanted Things Out

Other dogs, wild animals, and even intruders won’t be kept out by an invisible fence. Make sure these things aren’t common in your area.

Certain Things May Cause your Dog to Ignore the Correction

If something is alarming, enticing, or urgent enough for your dog to ignore the correction, they can run right through it

Dogs sometimes ignore the repercussions of running through the boundaries to get away from potential danger or get to something they really want. 

You can help prevent this if it happens more than once by increasing the boundary width so the dog has more territory (and corrective shocks) to run through before getting away.

Do Invisible Fences Work for Big Dogs?

Dog inside an invisible fence
While traditional fences work well in yards that are flat or gently sloping, wired invisible fencing works in almost any terrain.

Now that we’ve considered the effectiveness of fences in general, another question is does size matter when it comes to invisible fences?

Are they going to be as effective with big dogs as small to medium dogs?

The answer is yes. The reality is size doesn’t really play a role in the effectiveness of an invisible fence. The thing that does is their breed.

If they are a breed that tends to run after smaller animals because they have a strong hunting drive, then fences will be less effective on them. 

They can still be contained in one with diligence.

Additionally, the intensity of the correction can be adjusted depending on your dog’s response to it.

Increase the correction intensity to ensure the size of the dog won’t impact effectiveness.

Are Wireless Dog Fences Safe Physically and Emotionally?

If the effectiveness and logistics sound good so far, let’s consider the most important thing, your dog’s health. Are wireless dog fences safe?

Is using this fence healthy both physically and emotionally? After all, the “correction” we’ve been talking about is a static shock.

For most dogs, it works. They learn where the boundaries are, and learn that if they go through it, they will feel a shock so they stay where they should.

For others, particularly dogs that run after other animals or scare easily, it can be a problem.

According to, some negative effects of the training collar that comes with invisible fencing are:

  • Fear and anxiety – Untrained dogs don’t associate the shock with leaving the boundary. Anxiety and aggression towards other animals or people can develop as a result of dumping the dog in the yard with an invisible fence and no training.
  • Physical injury Collars are meant to cause slight discomfort to deter them from wandering, but in some cases, skin injuries can occur due to rubbing from the prongs. Never fit the collar too tightly on the dog.
  • Dogs weigh the positives and negatives When there is something rewarding enough to get outside the boundary, dogs will accept that they are going to be shocked to get to it.

If your dog seems untrainable, don’t give up.

Try taking your dog to obedience training to help it learn to obey commands, then complete a full invisible fence training regimen when you’re done.

Some dogs have a rough time learning new things or remembering what they’ve been taught.

Don’t get frustrated and angry.

If your dog just “doesn’t get it,” an invisible fence may not be right for you.

What is the Shock From an Invisible Fence Collar Like?

The shock generated by an invisible fence collar isn’t like a zap from an electrical outlet or a lightning bolt.

It’s like the static shock you get from touching a doorknob, metal railing inside a building, or your car door.

You can get a high-intensity static shock that even makes you yelp in surprise, but it doesn’t cause any damage. The same is true for the receiver collar.

The shock generated comes from batteries, not a wall outlet.

It generates a shock that makes your dog think twice about leaving the yard, but never causes damage.

When people talk about damage from a shock collar it’s always from the prongs, and it’s always preventable by making sure the collar isn’t too tight.

We always set our dogs’ collars to the lowest setting they’ll pay attention to.

The point is to remind them to stay in the yard, not to punish them for trying to escape.

Final Thoughts

Invisible fences are simple enough to install but come with questions about whether they are right for your dog, your yard, and your individual situation.

We suggest that you weigh all your options before buying any fence.

Also, take your dog’s temperament and breed into consideration. Invisible fencing works best with confident, trainable dogs.

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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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