What is the Invisible Fence for Dogs and How Does it Work?

If you have a dog, you know pet containment is an issue, especially if you want to give your dog some time to play and explore outside.

Putting up a fence to enclose the area is one way to go, but not everyone wants a fenced-in yard. If you’re a pet owner looking for an alternative, consider an invisible fence.

What is the invisible fence for dogs, and how does it work? The invisible fence is an underground electric fence that stays hidden and keeps dogs contained.

The wires transmit a signal to a device the dog wears on its collar. By the way, here’s How to Change the Frequency On an Invisible Fence Collar if your dog’s isn’t working.

There are many reasons to use an invisible fence and a few things to consider before putting it in your yard.


Before opting for an invisible fence, we recommend obedience training and taking the time to understand and carry out the process.

Training your dog can prevent the potential stress of an invisible fence collar, and focuses on positive cues to reinforce boundaries. 

While invisible fence collars aren’t painful, for certain dogs they can cause potentially severe emotional distress without the proper training.

Brain training techniques are a science-backed way to help prepare your dog for new boundaries without the use of force or dominance!

What Exactly is the Invisible Fence?

Dog with an invisible fence collar
Invisible fences create discreet boundaries for your dog so that they don’t leave your yard or their designated area.

The Invisible Fence Company is a brand that sells a discreet underground containment system for dogs and cats.

Essentially, you install a boundary wire around an area of your choice in a closed loop, typically the perimeter of your yard.

The buried wire emits a radio signal that communicates with the device on your dog’s collar.

When the animal approaches the hidden buried wire of the invisible electric fence, the collar device emits a warning sound. If the pet moves closer to the perimeter, it delivers a mild electric shock. 

A mild electric shock may sound cruel, but the intention is to teach the dog the boundary line so they don’t cross it and go where the owner doesn’t want them to be.

Eventually, just the warning sound is enough for the dog to know to stop.

Many people also place boundary flags around the perimeter of the hidden fence during the training phase, marking the boundary wire to help the dog recognize the boundaries visually rather than learning through trial and error.

The invisible fence comes with these white flags, which you can remove after the pet learns the boundaries and no longer needs visual cues.

Read our related article on How to Train Your With an Invisible Fence for helpful training information!

How Does the Warning Fence Work?

While the basic idea behind an invisible dog fence sounds straightforward, the technology is far more complex than you might expect, and it has advanced significantly since the release of the first invisible fence.

Let’s explore how invisible dog fence works.

Invisible Fence Technology

As mentioned, the invisible fence uses digital radio frequencies to communicate with the collar device.

The electrified wires transmit a signal upwards, so whenever the receiving device the dog wears is near the hidden wires, it picks up that signal.

As the signal gets stronger, the collar device delivers an electric shock.

During installation, a control panel is also placed in an accessible location. This panel allows the dog owner to deactivate the hidden wires if they choose to.

There might be situations when you don’t want the underground pet fence wire activated, either because you want to take your dog beyond the hidden boundary or are changing its location.

Read More: Do Wireless Dog Fences Need WiFi? Find out what’s needed to power your invisible fence and help it perform!

The Computer Collar Receiving Device

The dog wears the receiving device around the neck on its collar. The device itself is discrete, and most dogs barely notice it when it’s not emitting a shock.

The shock collar device weighs about an ounce and measures approximately 1.75” wide and 1” tall.

Large dog breeds barely notice they have it on their collar; however, some small and toy breeds may find it difficult to adjust.

Read More: Do Other Collars Work With Invisible Fence? If you have a collar from a different brand, will it work with your new fence? Find out here.

Why Do Dog Owners Use the Invisible Fence System?

For most people, deciding to install an invisible fence stems from practical reasons.

They want to let their dog enjoy the outdoors and more time off-leash, but they don’t have a physical fence or barrier to prevent the dog from running away or wandering too far.

Traditional fencing might be preferable, but they’re not possible for everyone.

Some people cannot afford to install one, and others don’t want to divide their property with physical barriers.

In some cases, homeowners may live in a subdivision with strict rules regarding the types of fences they can install.

In these cases, an invisible fence is an attractive option. It’s both cost-effective, and as the name suggests, completely invisible.

Read our related article, Is Invisible Fence Worth it? where we explore more considerations we think dog owners should take into account before buying.

How Much Does the Shock from the Invisible Fence Hurt the Dog?

Does an electric fence hurt a dog?

Fortunately, the invisible fence shock collars don’t cause as much pain as you might think.

These collars are mainly designed to irritate dogs rather than cause significant pain. With that said, all dogs have different sensitivity levels.

What might seem like an annoyance to one dog may feel like a significant amount of pain to another.

Veterinarians are divided on the invisible fence and other shock-based underground dog fence systems for pet containment.

You should also consider the potential psychological damage the shock from the receiver collar can cause. 

Anxious dogs have a much more difficult time adjusting to invisible fences, especially those rescued from abusive situations, as they tend to panic and react poorly to negative reinforcement.

Simply put, how much pain and anxiety the shock causes depends on the dog. Some struggle with invisible fences, while others adjust well to the system.

Check out our article on How to Keep a Dog Outside Without a Fence for more ideas on keeping your dog safe without a physical fence!

Does the Invisible Fence Actually Work?

While there is a learning curve, there’s no denying that the invisible fence system works.

The Invisible Fence brand has some informative training videos for customers that help you train and condition your dog. 

According to the company, a team of leading animal behaviorists developed its Perfect Start Plus Training Program to help dog owners teach their dogs how to recognize the boundaries without unnecessary fear and distress.

Given that they have sold over 3 million Invisible Fence systems in the United States alone, it’s safe to say that this system does work.

Whether or not it causes pain and discomfort are certainly up for debate. There’s quite a bit of controversy surrounding the invisible fence, which we’ll discuss next. 

Read our related article, Is There a Wireless Dog Fence for 2 Dogs or More? Yes! Here’s information for dog owners of 2 or more.

The Downsides of Using Invisible Fences

The invisible fence has proven results and can help keep your dog from wandering off, but it’s not without its faults.

Unfortunately, the convenience of the invisible fence and other shock-based barriers comes with some potential drawbacks. 

The following are just some of the reasons why many pet owners, veterinarians, and animal behaviorists advise against installing these systems:

  • Risk of Physical Pain and a Fear Response – The Invisible Fence system relies on shocks that cause pain and irritation, and the learning phase is very unpleasant. For the electric fence system to work, the shock needs to cause enough pain that the pet learns to avoid it by not crossing the boundary line.

Most dogs do better with positive reinforcement rather than negative reinforcement.

Professional dog trainers encourage treats, praise, and affection during training sessions rather than physical pain and yelling. 

If your dog was raised this way, learning how to respect invisible boundaries through a painful process of trial and error can scare and traumatize them.

For anxious dogs, these shocks can leave them feeling terrified and nervous.

While the pain and fear involved in teaching the dog to respect the boundaries are often enough to put some dog owners off of the Invisible Fence, there are also some risks for relying upon pain-based negative reinforcement.

For starters, some dogs respond by becoming more aggressive and antisocial than they once were.

  • Risk of Escape – While they can work well, an invisible fence cannot offer the same security as a physical barrier. If the dog wants to, they can cross the barrier. While they will get shocked, sometimes the motivation to cross the barrier is worth the pain.

For example, dogs with strong prey drives often chase squirrels, rabbits, and birds on the other side of the invisible boundary.

Other dogs, and even people, can also encourage dogs to risk darting beyond the invisible barrier.

Not only does this mean the dog could still potentially run off and get lost, but it’s also a major risk if you live in an area with busy roads and other hazards.

Even if a dog has perfect compliance with the invisible fence for years, something can still motivate them to run beyond the barrier at some point. 

Sadly, sometimes all it takes is one unfortunate incident to lose your pooch forever.

Read our related article, Do Invisible Fences Work for Your Dog? where we look at different breeds and how well they generally do with invisible fences.

  • Lack of Protection for the Dog – While an invisible fence can keep your dog inside of a certain area, it cannot keep other animals from coming in. 

While this might not be a concern for everyone, for those who live in areas with dangerous animals, like bears, coyotes, or mountain lions, the dog is in more danger without a physical fence.

Even seemingly harmless animals, like raccoons, are a risk if they are carrying dangerous diseases and parasites.

Loose and aggressive dogs can also wander into your yard and attack your dog.

While the risk may seem small, there’s something to be said about the protection a physical barrier offers.

Read More: How to Test a Wireless Dog Fence. Wireless fence a dud? Here’s why your wireless fence might not be working.

The Benefits of Using an Invisible Fence

Now that we covered some of the potential downsides of choosing an invisible fence over traditional fencing, let’s look at why these invisible fences are so popular:

  • Affordability – They can get a little bit pricey, but generally, an invisible fence system tends to be far more budget-friendly than a traditional fence. Fencing materials are very expensive, and building a fence from scratch is a very physically demanding project, so you’ll end up paying significant labor costs. 

You can reduce costs by building the fence yourself, but it is difficult, exhausting, and time-consuming work, so this isn’t an option for many people.

On the other hand, an invisible fence is much easier to install.

Even if you go with companies that install electric dog fences, it will still end up being much less expensive than paying for a traditional fence installation.

  • Decreased Opportunity for Human Error – Dogs can easily get out of a fenced-in yard, usually because the dog owner or one of their children forgot to close the gate. On the other hand, an invisible fence will continue to work, no matter how many people come and go from the yard.
  • No Need to Divide Your Property – If you own a large property, you may not want to have it divided by physical barriers. Not only does it look nice to have an uninterrupted property, but it also makes it much easier to mow the grass and do other lawn maintenance if you don’t have to worry about a fence.

READ MORE: The Best Exercise Pens for Dogs. We put the best exercise pens for indoors and outdoors to the test! See what we discovered.

Should You Install an Invisible Fence?

The pros and cons of installing an invisible fence are roughly equal, so it’s understandable why so many pet owners are divided.

The truth is the decision on whether you should use an invisible fence for your pooch is largely personal, and it depends on many unique factors, like the characteristics of your yard, your lifestyle, budget, and what type of dog you have.

If you’re handy and believe you could install your invisible fence yourself, it’s a very affordable option.

However, professional installation can increase the overall cost by quite a bit. 

The best advice is to decide which option you’re more comfortable with.

If you’re worried about hurting your dog or making it feel more anxious and fearful, you should probably pay the extra money to build a physical fence. 

If building a physical fence isn’t feasible, and you believe your dog would be okay during the training process, an invisible fence is a very practical and appealing option.

Read More: How Do You Cancel Out Parts of Underground Fence for Dog? Create a safe place for your dog to cross your fence using our easy-follow guide!

How useful was this post?

Click on a star to rate it!

Average rating 0 / 5. Vote count: 0

No votes so far! Be the first to rate this post.

We are sorry that this post was not useful for you!

Let us improve this post!

Tell us how we can improve this post?

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.

You can read more about me in our about us page

Connect with me:

Leave a Comment