How to Keep a Dog Outside Without a Fence (6 OPTIONS)

Zoning laws, landlord restrictions, and HOA covenants are a few reasons why some dog owners can’t put up a fence.

If you can’t have a fence, you have to learn how to keep a dog outside without a fence.

Some fence alternatives include cords, trolley runners, invisible fences, and pens, which all serve as viable options if you can’t use a fence to keep your dog in the yard.

So, fortunately, fences aren’t the only way to keep your dog contained.

Let’s take a look at why it’s crucial to keep your dog in the yard, what the alternatives to a fence are, and what makes them effective.

How to Keep a Dog Outside Without a Fence

Keep a dog outside without a fence by using an invisible fence (wired or wireless), a GPS collar with virtual fencing capability, a dog run, dog kennel, trolley runner, or cable tie-out.

See our related article, How Do I Teach My Dog to Stay in the Yard? Whether you have a fence (and an escape artist), an electric fence, or no fence at all, training is essential to keep Fido home!

Can I Have a Dog Without a Fence?

Dogs will run away if they aren't kept in by a fence or leash
Without a fenced yard, you may need to take your dog outside on a leash even for bathroom breaks.

Many dog owners think about this. Is it safe to have a dog roaming around outside with no boundaries?

Is it okay for their mental and physical health to keep them inside and only take them out to relieve themselves?

When you have a dog, it’s important to:

  • Keep them from running away
  • Keep them from going up to strangers
  • Keep them safe from cars
  • Keep other dogs and animals away

But when a fence isn’t an option in your yard is it even possible for them to be out there?

The answer is yes, there are solutions to fences, and you can have a dog in a yard without one. 

In some cases, it may limit their mobility, in other cases, you may need to get creative, or spend a good chunk of money, but a dog can thrive in a yard without a fence. 

Below are different types of solutions to this problem so you can find out what they are, and which ones are best for you and your dog.

Alternatives to a Traditional Dog Fence

dog inside an invisible fence boundary
Invisible fences are a common way to keep dogs safely at home without building a physical fence.

While it’s not a good idea to let your dog roam free because it can run away or be hit by a car, keeping your dog active is an important part of their mental and physical well-being. 

If you’re facing a situation where a traditional fence isn’t an option, these alternatives can make it possible to keep a dog outside without a fence.

Read our related article… What Are the Best Ways to Keep a Dog in the Yard? These safe and effective methods will give you peace of mind!

Use a Tie-Out Cable

Of the many fence alternative options, the most basic, inexpensive, and easiest to install is the cord. Traditional cables are an easy way to keep your dog from leaving your yard. 

They vary in size, and are portable, so you can move them, or take them with you when you travel.

Install the cable with a spring anchor to the ground to give it more flexibility and movement.

Pros of Cables

They are portable so you can move them if needed, travel with them, or even have different ones in different places. 

You can take them anywhere you go, and easily find something to hook them to so your dog can play near you without you worrying too much about them.

They are also the most inexpensive alternative to fences.

Cons of Cables

They do vary in length, but even the longest cables won’t allow your dog to go too far.

This means they won’t be able to really sprint around the yard or fully exercise the way they would if they were not attached to anything. 

Be aware of how your dog is attached to the cable, and use a harness if possible.

When the cable is attached to a collar on their neck and they run, they are at risk of injury, because the cable could forcibly restrict their movement when it reaches its maximum length.

Never leave your dog tied to a cable if you can’t frequently check to make sure the dog isn’t tangled or snared in the cord because there is some risk of strangulation or injury from a cord.

Cords also get tangled when your dog runs around attached to them, so regular maintenance is required.

Top-Rated Cord: BV Pet Tie Out Cable for Dogs

  • 30 ft. long cord
  • Holds dogs up to 125 lbs.
  • Steel cable clips for security with covers to protect them from water
  • Available for one-day shipping
  • 4.7 out of 5 stars

Cost

The cost of a cord will start at approximately $6.00 and go to about $45.00.

Use a Trolley Runner

Slightly more intricate than a traditional cord, another fairly simple and cost-effective alternative to a fence, is the trolley runner.

These consist of a cable that runs horizontal to the ground with a cord that attaches to the cable. 

This allows your dog to run around along the length of the cable.

These are more permanent than cords, but are cost-effective, and still portable if you’re willing to put in the installation work.

Pros of Trolley Runners

Because of the design, you can give your dog a larger area to run around in. Trolley runner cables can be 100+ feet giving your dog ample space.

You can move them easily, take them with you on trips, and have them in multiple places.

Cons of Trolley Runners

Trolley runners require two sturdy structures, like trees or buildings, to secure the cable.

They are moveable but they also have more pieces, making them less portable, and more difficult to install.

Dogs have much more room to run and the high clip point of the line makes it harder for the dog to get tangled, but it does happen.

Check the dog frequently to make sure it’s okay.

Top-Rated Trolley System: Heavy-Duty Aerial Dog Tie Out Trolley System

  • 100 ft. cable
  • Shock absorbent
  • Tangle resistant
  • Available for one-day shipping
  • 4.6/5 stars

Cost

Trolley runners tend to run from about $15.00 to over $135.00.

With a little know-how, you can build and install a trolley runner-style dog run with a minimum cost in materials.

Check out this how-to video for building a DIY trolley dog run.

Use a GPS Collar

A GPS collar works like an invisible fence, but it never needs anything more than the collar that’s on the dog.

No wires or additional transmitters are needed so it can be set up anywhere.

Calibrate the GPS collar by setting the perimeter based on the initial collar location.

Set the limits that the dog can wander from the initial calibration location and the collar will use GPS to track the dog’s movements.

When the dog gets too close to the virtual fence it will receive a warning beep and static correction as needed, similar to a regular invisible fence.

Have lots of land you need to cover? Read our related article on the Best Wireless Dog Fence for Acreage to get the biggest bang for your buck.

Pros of a GPS Collar

Your dog has the protection of a virtual fence to keep him home, and you can always track his movements on the app provided with the GPS collar.

If you want to turn off the perimeter and just use GPS tracking, that is a function of the collar.

Cons of a GPS Collar

This option does not keep cars, people, or other animals from coming to bother the dog.

It is only as effective as the training you give your dog to respect the boundaries of the collar.

Top-Rated GPS Collar: Tractive Waterproof GPS Dog Tracker

  • Live tracking and location history
  • A subscription plan needed to use, starting at $4.99/ month
  • Virtual fence – notification when your dog crosses your designated boundary
  • Fitness tracker included
  • 94-hour battery life
  • Available for same-day shipping
  • 4/5 stars

Cost

GPS collars cost between $35.00 and $1,000+

Read our related article, Do GPS Dog Fences Work? to learn everything you need to know about the effectiveness of GPS fences (and if it’s right for you)!

Use an Invisible Fence

Dog inside a virtual fence
Virtual fencing keeps a dog at home through the use of a wireless or wired transmitter and a receiver collar.

Depending on the reason for not being able to install an actual fence, an invisible one may be a good option.

An invisible fence provides boundaries for your dog without the look of a fence. 

But can you move an invisible fence and take it with you or relocate it to another part of the yard?

Wireless invisible fences are somewhat portable but usually aren’t meant to be moved around a lot.

Because they use radio signals to set the boundary communication with the collar they’re more portable.

Wired invisible fences are more customizable in terms of shape and size but take longer to set up and are not portable.

Both types of invisible fences use warning beep and static shock to keep the dog within the boundary.

Mark the perimeter with training flags, then set up the transmitter somewhere inside your house, garage, or shed, and put the collar on your dog.

After a few weeks of training, it will work on its own.

Read More: Best Wireless Dog Fence for Hills. It can be difficult to find a wireless fence suitable for sloped yards. We did the work for you and here’s what we found!

Pros of Invisible Fencing

Invisible fences provide your dog with boundaries and keep them in a designated area where they will be away from danger and trouble.

Your dog will know where they can and can’t go, and you won’t have to keep an eye on them or their location.

Cons of Invisible Fencing

These fences will not keep other animals or people out. There also isn’t a guarantee they will fully contain your dog. 

Some dogs run through invisible fences, so it is important to note that a different method may be best if your dog tends to run away or not learn boundaries quickly.

Top-Rated invisible fence: PetSafe Stay & Play Wireless Pet Fence

  • 3/4 of an acre coverage
  • Designed for pets over 5 lbs
  • Waterproof collar
  • Battery lasts up to two months
  • Static-free reentry if your pet gets out (won’t react if your dog tries to go back into the perimeter)
  • Portable
  • No limit to the number of pets on the system
  • Available for one-day shipping
  • 4.2/5 stars

Cost

Costs range from approximately $120.00 to $525.00+

Use an Outdoor Dog Kennel

dog in a kennel
Dogs don’t have as much room to roam in a kennel, but at least they can have some fresh air off-leash instead of staying inside all day.

Outdoor kennels could be an option for people who don’t have restrictions on what they can put up in their yard, have smaller yards, or have dogs that always need to be contained.

You can build an outdoor kennel with pallets, fencing, repurpose a shed, or purchase and build a kennel kit.

Pros of Kennels

Kennels are a very secure place for your dog while out in the yard. They don’t allow other animals or people to get in, and they ensure your dog isn’t going anywhere.

Cons of Kennels

Kennels are not portable and may involve a long installation process.

They are much like fences, so making sure you can have one in your yard is necessary before buying.

Top-Rated Outdoor Capable Kennel: Advantek 5 Foot Portable Indoor Outdoor Metal Pet and Dog Gazebo Kennel

  • Gazebo style with a covered roof to protect from elements
  • A single door makes for easy enter and exit
  • Pet-proof lock
  • Easy access to water and food bowls
  • 4.6/5 stars

Cost

Dog kennels range from approximately $23.00 for lower quality and material models to over $3,500 for larger and higher quality.

Use a Dog Pen

Building a dog pen is the closest alternative to an actual physical fence, and a bit pricier depending on the model, pens provide a high level of security for your pet. 

They require more time and effort during the installation process but offer a full enclosure for your dog.

Many people see it as the safest alternative to a fence since nothing can get in.

Pros of a Dog Pen

Pens are like kennels, preventing other animals and people from getting in.

They provide a yard that is just for your dog, can attach to crates, and offer clear boundaries for your pet.

Cons of a Dog Pen

Even though they’re generally larger than kennels, pens generally don’t span much space within a yard either.

Because of this, dogs can’t fully run around inside of them.

Like kennels, pens look like fences so people who cannot put up fences may want to check to see if this is a feasible alternative.

Top-Rated Pen: New World Pet Products B552-30 Foldable Exercise Pet Playpen

  • Portable for indoor and outdoor use
  • No tools are required for assembly
  • Attaches to dog crates to act as a yard to play in
  • Available for two-day delivery
  • 4.7/5 stars

Cost

Lower-quality materials and models start at $14.99, and higher-end models can reach over $3,000 on Amazon.

Why Does My Dog Need Boundaries?

dogs need boundaries to stay safe
Dogs are instinctual hunters who will follow their nose into trouble if they aren’t given boundaries for their safety.

Some people may wonder if it’s worth it to seek out an alternative to a fence when you can just train your dog to stay put or keep an eye on them when they are outside. 

If you have the time, patience, and a little bit of luck, boundary training does work with some dogs.

Training your dog to stay within boundaries on their own is recommended only in areas with little or no danger, and is usually not used exclusively or when you can’t be there to watch them.

Boundaries, both physical and mental, help your dog understand what can and can’t be done, making them happier.

They look to their owners to be the leaders and tell them where they stand, and what they can and can’t do. 

If this doesn’t happen, their instincts kick in, and they may feel the need to fill the role of leader.

This can lead to the dog trying to “set the rules,” or doing whatever they want, which is problematic for your dog and for you.

Mental boundaries like saying “no” when they do something wrong sets behavioral standards, and your dog learns from them.

Physical boundaries have the same effect and make clear what is expected of them, avoiding any problems you may otherwise have to encounter.

However, no matter how well trained your dog is, or how watchful you are when they are outside, there are factors that are out of your control.

Here are some common problems people face when keeping dogs in yards without fences.

Cars

To reduce the risk of cars and trucks on the road endangering your dog, keeping them contained is essential.

They could see a small animal or something else they may want to chase, and just go for it.

Other Dogs and Animals 

Not all dogs are friendly, and depending on where you live, wild animals could also pose a threat to your dog if they go too far away from your house.

This can be an issue depending on where you live.

People

Some people may say hello and keep going, some people feed dogs they see, and others aren’t so accepting of strange dogs coming up to them.

The worst case is someone stealing your purebred dog.

In any case, most dog owners don’t want their pets unsupervised around strangers. 

Different types of containment may be necessary depending on the breed, value, and temperament of your dog.

Instincts and Curiosity

Your dog’s own nose and curiosity are some of the greatest dangers to his safety. Most dogs will get on a scent or see a small animal and go after it to their own demise.

Some sort of fence, run, trolley, or kennel will help dogs to behave and stay safely inside the yard.

Final Thoughts

No matter what the reason, yards that can’t accommodate fences can still be a good place for your dogs to be.

If they have boundaries and are protected from external dangers, any one of these alternatives to fences can be a good fit in ensuring a safe and fun environment for your dog.

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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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