Invisible Dog Fence 101: From In-Ground to Wireless

electric dog fences

In our Dog Fence 101 Guide, we’ll be covering a wide range of topics. To jump ahead to a specific topic, click a category:

What is an Electric Dog Fence?

 An electric dog fence is a dog containment system that prevents your dog from leaving the pre-determined perimeter of your yard.

Many owners prefer wireless or in-ground dog fences over standard physical fences for several reasons:

  • electronic dog fenceEasier Maintenance. Electric dog fences are much easier to maintain than physical, above ground fences.
  • Safer Alternative. Dogs cannot dig under or tear through wireless or under-ground fences, as they can with traditional physical fences or outdoor dog kennels.
  • Maintain Outdoor View. Implementing an electric dog fence allows owners to maintain their picturesque scenery, without having their view blocked by a physical fence or outdoor dog kennel.
  • Less Expensive Than Physical Fencing. Installing a physical yard fence can easily cost thousands of dollars, while wireless or in-ground dog fences cost a fraction of that amount.

How Do Electric Dog Fences Work?

With all electric dog fence units, your dog will wear a special collar that communicates with your property’s boundary perimeters (which are set according to an in-ground wire or a wireless signal).

When your dog first begins to approach the boundary line, the collar will emit a warning sound. If your dog continues to approach the boundary and does not turn back within several seconds, the collar emits a static shock correction.

Here’s an illustration we created showing the differences between wireless, in-ground, and physical dog fences:

invisible dog fences guide

Still not quite clear? Read our more detailed guide explaining the differences:

Types of Electric Dog Fences: Wireless vs. In-Ground

There are two types of electric dog fences: wireless and underground.

Wireless Electric Dog Fence

Wireless dog fences use computer GPS or radio signals to determine yard perimeter and to communicate with corresponding dog collars and ensure the dog is not traveling outside of the pre-determined boundaries.

PROS:

  • No wires, no digging, no complicated installation
  • Units are often portable
  • The boundary lines can be adjusted according to your needs and aren’t permanent
  • Can be setup within 1-2 hours

CONS:

  • In some cases, boundaries may fluctuate to a small degree
  • Some units are affected by signals/radio reception

Wired Underground Dog Fence

With wired invisible dog fences, a string of wire is dug into the perimeter of your yard. The main transmitter unit connects with the physical wire perimeter, which then communicates boundary information with the dog’s collar.

PROS:

  • Perimeter can be completely customized for your yard
  • Underground perimeters won’t fluctuate

CONS:

  • Complex installation that potentially requires a professional
  • A path must be dug around your yard
  • The unit is not portable
  • Wire breaks can be frustrating to repair

Are Electric Dog Fences Safe?invisible dog fence cost

Yes, invisible dog fences are very safe.

Despite wireless and under ground fences also being referred to as electric fences (and conjuring images of One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest), they are not nearly so cruel or frightening as some may at first assume.

Electric dog fences emit a static shock correction, similar to what you might experience if you rubbed your socks on a rug and touched a metal handle.

Your pet certainly cannot be injured or seriously hurt from an invisible fence unit. The static shock sensation is more ‘surprising’ than physically painful.

Many vets and pet professionals recommend wireless and in-ground dog fences as a safe, smart, and convenient way to let your dog roam around your property without worry.

Electric Dog Fences: You MUST Train Your Dog

Nearly all bad experiences owners have with invisible fences come as a result of not properly training their dog.

wireless pet fence

Setting up your electric dog fence and tossing your dog outside, hoping that they’ll figure it out how it all works, is a 100% guaranteed recipe for disaster.

Without training, dogs can’t understand why they are being shocked. In some cases, dogs become terrified to go outside or sit immobilized in their yard, too frightened to move.

Obviously this isn’t what any owner wants for their pet – the whole point of investing in an electric dog fence is to enable your dog to roam and frolic about the yard in safety, not terrify them to the point of paralyzation.

How to Train Your Dog With an Electric Fence

You’ll receive a collection of training information when you order your electric dog fence, but here’s a basic rundown of how it works.

1. Set Up System + Flags. After installing the dog fence system, you’ll set up flags around the perimeter of your boundary area 10 ft apart (you may need to buy extra flags for larger yards).

2. Show Dog Boundaries with Tone Only. Switch the collar to a tone-only setting and hold it in your hand. With your leashed dog, approach the flagged boundary line. When the collar emits the warning sound, bring your dog several paces back towards the safety area. Reward with praise and treats!

3. Repeat With Several Flags. Repeat this process with a few flags on the first training day until your dog resists approach the flag.

4. Add Static Correction. In following days, switch to the static shock correction (start with a low setting and adjust if necessary if your dog ignores it). Continue approaching the flags (and retreating after the correction) until your dog resists approach the boundary flags.

5. Test Your Dog For Distractions. After several days of training, test your dog’s resolve by throwing a ball or toy outside of the boundary line. If he doesn’t go after the toy and stops at the boundary line, reinforce him with praise.

6. Go Off Leash. After a week of solid training, let your dog off leash in the yard. Don’t move to this step until your dog has completed the previous steps.

7. Begin to Remove Flags. After two weeks, begin to remove boundary flags. Start by removing every other flag, and then eventually you can remove them all.

Extra Training Notes:

  • Keep Training Sessions Short. Training sessions should last between 10 – 15 minutes. You don’t want to exhaust and frustrate your dog. Shorter, more frequent training sessions are the most effective.
  • Plenty of Play. Be sure to start and end every training session with plenty of fun play time. Take frequent play breaks if your dog seems stressed. Patience is key!
  • Leaving the Area. When going on outside walks, always remove the invisible dog fence collar and replace it with a walking collar + leash. When leaving the property, always leave by the same route so as to not confused your dog.

For more in-depth training help, YouTube has tons of helpful videos, such as this invisible fence training video from PetSafe.

Can I Install A Dog Fence Myself?

The DIY route can be a hassle, but plenty of owners have installed in-ground wired systems themselves. If you feel confident, go for it.

Just read instructions carefully and make sure you have a map of your property. You don’t want to go digging around your yard and accidentally hit a water line or anything else potentially disastrous.

Best Invisible Dog Fence: Static Shock Units

We will be detailing several different options from both PetSafe and Invisible Fence, the two biggest brand names in electric dog fences.

PetSafe Wireless Systemwireless dog fence

Overview: The PetSafe Wireless Dog Fence System consists of a main transmitter unit that communicates with the corresponding dog collar.

The transmitter emits a 17.5 kHz radio signal in a circular perimeter around your home. When your dog (wearing the collar unit) nears the perimeter, they will hear an audio warning, followed by a static correction.

Price: $$

Where to Buy: Available from Amazon or the PetSafe website

Key Features:

  • Fully Adjustable Circular Perimeter. The 17.5 radio signal emits a circular perimeter that is completely adjustable. It can emit a perimeter as far as 90ft in all directions (resulting in a total possible diameter of 180ft, or ½ acre). You can position the transmitter to give your dog run of the front and back yard, or just one area.

invisible dog fence

  • Easy to Install. Just turn on the main transmitter unit, adjust your circular diameter range, and you’re set. No wires, no digging, no fuss.
  • Adjustable Correction Options. Choose from five different levels of correction (bigger dogs may need stronger static corrections). You can even do a sound only correction if you choose.
  • Waterproof. The collar unit is waterproof, so no need to keep your dog inside when it’s raining.
  • Automatic Shut-Off. If your dog does end up leaving the boundary zone, the static correction will shut off after 30 seconds. It won’t activate again for another 5 minutes.
  • Connect Multiple Yards. With multiple transmitters, you can actually connect several yards together, allowing dog neighbors to join together for even more safe play space for their pets! The two circle boundaries will overlap where they connect, joining the two areas together.
  • Portable System. If you end up moving, you can easily take the PetSafe wireless dog fence system with you. Just unplug the central unit, grab the collars, and your off (although you’ll have to re-train your dog to help them understand new boundaries).
  • Multiple Dogs. Use this wireless pet containment system with multiple dogs – simply buy multiple collars.
  • 8 lbs + Up. This unit is best for pets that weight 8lbs or more.

PROS: No digging or wires required – you can have your wireless fence up and running right away. As noted, the unit is portable, allowing it to be moved to other yards and locations.

Another major benefit is the ability to adjust the diameter range, fine-tuning the perimeter to the perfect circular size for your yard.

You’ll get training materials when you order your PetSafe unit, plus you can watch PetSafe YouTube training videos to get your dog properly adjusted to the new invisible fence.

CONS: The PetSafe wireless dog fence only transmits boundaries in a circular area – you cannot do a rectangular or square shape.

For those with large yards, this isn’t a huge issue. However, if you have a small or oddly shaped yard, being forced to stick with a circular shape may significantly cut down the amount of yard space your dog can access.

Some buyers have found the boundary lines to be inconsistent, which is not surprising considering the unit functions with a radio signal.

My experience with this unit was largely positive, as I used the system with my own dog. My one recommendation is to take off the collar once your dog enters the house. I found that some electronic devices in my home would set off the collar if my dog got too close to them, so I definitely recommend getting into the habit of removing the collar when your dog is in the home.

The PetSafe Wireless Pet Containment System (PIF-300) is available from Amazon or from the PetSafe website.

Stay + Play Wireless Fence

top rated invisible dog fences

Overview: The Stay + Play Wireless Fence from PetSafe is a model very similar to the unit mentioned above.

The major differences being that this unit has rechargeable collar units (rather than relying on batteries) and can emit a larger diameter.

Price: $$$

Where to Buy: Available from Amazon or the PetSafe website.

Key Features:

  • Wireless & Easy. Turn on the transmitter unit, set your circular diameter range, and you’re done.
  • More Space to Play. The Stay + Play unit can cover a circular area of ¾ acre (210 ft in diameter).
  • Adjustable Correction Options. Choose from five different levels of static correction or a sound only correction.
  • Waterproof. The collar unit is waterproof, so no need to fear the rain.
  • Automatic Shut-Off. If your dog breaks through the boundary zone, the static correction will shut off after 15 seconds.
  • Connect Multiple Yards. With multiple transmitters, you can connect several yards (or several other large areas) together.
  • Portable System. Like the other system, this unit is also portable.
  • Suitable for Smaller Dogs. Can be used with dogs 5 lbs and up.

PROS: Is compatible with original unit, so if you decide to buy the Stay + Play unit, in addition to the original, both will work with one another.

CONS: Some have found this unit to be less stable than the original PetSafe wireless unit (detailed above) when dealing with sloped yards. Some report that the Stay + Play has more difficulty with uneven terrains than the original PetSafe wireless fence unit.

The PetSafe Stay + Play Wireless Pet Fence is available from Amazon or the PetSafe website.

PetSafe Basic In-Ground Systeminvisible fence for dogs

Overview: PetSafe also offers a physical in-ground wired system that you can install manually.

Price: $

Where to Buy: Available from Amazon or the PetSafe website.

Key Features:

  • Customize to Fit Your Yard. Underground wire means you can customize your boundaries for your property.
  •  500 ft Of Wire. This invisible dog fence unit comes with 500ft of wire, and is capable of being extended to cover up to 5 acres of land (with the purchase of additional wire).
  • Adjustable Correction Options. Choose from several levels of correction, plus option for sound only correction.
  • Waterproof. The collar unit is waterproof, so no need to keep your dog inside when it’s raining.
  • Automatic Shut-Off. If your dog does end up leaving the boundary zone, the static correction will shut off after 30 seconds. It won’t activate again for another 5 minutes.
  • 8 Pounds + Up. This unit is suitable for dogs weighing 8 lbs and over, and fits necks that are 6-28 inches.

PROS: Wired fences can be customized for your yard in a square, rectangular, or other shape. Some also report the wired systems to be more stable, with more consistent boundary lines (since you’re dealing with a physical wire rather than a radio signal).

CONS: Digging and installing underground wired units will always be more of a hassle. The manual installation can be quite a pain. You may want to consider renting a fence trencher from a hardware store to make installing the underground fence easier.

Note: PetSafe offers a different version of this in-ground kit for “stubborn” dogs over 30lbs. They also offer an in-ground fence designed for small dogs (5lbs and up) and cats.

PetSafe YardMax Rechargeable System

invisible dog fence yardmax

Overview: The PetSafe YardMax Rechargeable in-ground invisible dog fence is very similar to the PetSafe Basic In-Ground fence listed above.

Price: $$$

Where to Buy: Available from Amazon or the PetSafe website

The Major Differences: More usable yard space (30% more) by moving the “warning zone” to outside your boundary line.

Also features wireless collars and unique no-go zones for indoor and outdoor objects you want to keep your pet away from.

Key Features:

  • Use Wire to Customize Your Yard Shape. While underground wire can be a hassle, they also allow you to create a perimeter customized to your yard size. This unit comes with enough wire to cover a ½ acre, but can be expanded to cover a size as large as 10 acres (with additional wire).
  • Warning Zone is Outside the Boundary Line. Since the warning zone lies past the boundary zone, rather than before it, your dog has more room to enjoy your yard. With other units, your dog can potentially break through the boundary zone (most likely due to the shock correction being too low, or simply due to stubborn dogs). With this style unit, your dog cannot break through the boundary and instead will continue to be corrected until he returns to the yard, or until after 15 seconds.

petsafe yard max

  • Option to Create Extra Wireless Boundaries. With the YardMax unit, you have the option to create smaller wireless boundaries (referred to as Pawz Away barriers) around objects you don’t want your dog getting into (like wells, trash cans, or sheds).
  • Adjustable Correction Options. Choose from several levels of static correction or a sound only correction.
  • Rechargeable Collars. Collars units are rechargeable and waterproof.
  • 5 Pounds + Up. This unit is suitable for dogs weighing 5 lbs and over, and fits necks that are 6-28 inches.
  • More Pets, the Merrier. You can add as many collars as you want – all can be compatible with this unit. A full-pet household can all enjoy it.

PROS:  More space for your dog to play, rechargeable collars, and the ability to create additional safety no-go zones for dogs.

CONS: Again, digging wires can be a pain. We recommend renting a fence trencher to make installation easier. The YardMax system is also priced higher than the classic in-ground system and the wireless system.

Want a PetSafe underground wired dog fence but don’t want to install it yourself? You may want to check out PetSafe’s Pro Install option. Professionals will come install the unit and will train your dog, doing all the work for you. 

Invisible Fence: Traditional Containment

invisible dog fence reviews

Overview: With the Invisible Fence Pet Containment System, a physical wire is installed (by a professional) around the boundaries of your property, establishing your dog’s perimeter.

A transmitter unit (usually places in a garage or basement) will send a radio signal along the underground wire. The radio signal is then picked up by the corresponding computer collar unit.

The collar unit delivers a warning sound when your dog approaches the boundary. If the dog continues to approach the boundary after the warning, a static correction is issued.

Price: $$$$

Where to Buy: Can only be purchased directly from Invisible Fence.

Key Features:

  • Underground Wire. A physical wire is installed underground surrounding your property perimeter.
  • Professional Installation. Invisible Fence professionals will come and install the wire and setup your unit.
  • Pet Training Assistance. Invisible Fence pet trainers will come and work with your pet to help them understand where they can and cannot go.
  • Trusted Reputation. The Invisible Fence brand is a trusted and well-established invisible dog fence company with 40 years experience.
  • Endorsed by the ASPCA and Veterinarians. The official Invisible Fence brand is endorsed by the ASPCA and many veterinarians.
  • Available from Invisible Fence website

PROS: This Invisible Fence Traditional Containment option is this brand’s most affordable option.

The Invisible Fence brand comes with professional installation, as well as professional pet training assistance to ensure that your pet is trained properly with the invisible dog fence unit. The official Invisible Fence brand is also endorsed by the ASPCA.

CONS: Priced higher than other units.

Invisible Fence Boundary Plusinvisible fence cost

This option is similar to the unit mentioned above, with a few main differences:

  • More Yard Space. Allows for 30% more playable yard space for your pet.
  • Endless Boundary. Other units have a breakthrough line that some braver pets can rush through. With this model, pets cannot go beyond the signal’s reach – they will continue to be corrected until they return to the safe zone.
  • Pets Can Always Come Home. The Boundary Plus fence makes sure that pets will not be corrected when walking back towards the safe zone. 
  • Available from the Invisible Fence website.

Invisible Fence GPS 2.0 Wireless Dog Fence

best invisible dog fence

Overview: The Invisible Fence GPS 2.0 system is the most advanced of all pet containment systems.

You set up your yard boundaries via GPS satellite, and your dog wears a special GPS computer collar to keep him out of the boundary area.

Price: $$$$

Where to Buy: Can only be purchased directly from Invisible Fence.

Key Features:

  • No Wires Are Involved. Instead of a physical underground wire, an Invisible Fence technician will come to your home and install the invisible dog fence GPS boundaries on your computer. Your pet wears a special GPS collar, which communicates with the main base computer.
  • Warning Sound + Correction. As with the other system, if your dog approaches a boundary, he will first receive a warning sound, then a static shock.
  • Complete Customization, Without Limits. With the GPS 2.0 unit, you can completely customize your yard boundaries, without the hassle of wire. There is no maximum size limit, giving you total control of boundaries.
  • Works With All Terrains. While some other invisible dog fence units cannot handle varied terrain or sloping yard, the GPS 2.0 fence works with all kinds of landscapes.
  • Create Smaller No-Go Zones. This unit allows you to customize no-go zones (like pools, sheds, and swamps) without add-ons or physical devices. It can all be done through GPS.

PROS: One cool advantage of going with Invisible Fence’s GPS system is that the GPS computer collar can also be used to set up avoidance areas in your home.

If you want your dog to stay away from trashcans, pools, or certain areas, you can program those areas as avoidance zones. Your dog will then get warning sounds and static corrections as they would with perimeter boundaries. This can be helpful if you have a dog who likes to get into the trash or to prevent potential pool disasters.

You can also work with Invisible Fence to install collar-activated doggie doors, which is another cool bonus feature.

CONS: Again, this unit can get quite pricey, although it has plenty of features to earn its price tag. The GPS 2.0 unit is also not available in all areas. 

Other Things to Keep In Mind With Electric Dog Fences

Replacement Collars. If your original collar breaks, you’ll need to buy a new one. Replacement collars can be quite expensive, ranging anywhere from $50 to $200.

Multiple Pets. Many units allow you to use your in-ground or wireless dog fence with multiple pets – you’ll just need to buy more collars.

Batteries. Batteries for collar units usually need to be replaced every 3-4 months. Some replacement batteries are quite cheap – many units use simple watch batteries. However, over a year that could end up costing you anywhere from $60-$90/year, so it’s certainly something to consider when budgeting.

Wiring. If you decide to go with an in-ground wired dog fence, you’ll want to pay particular attention to the gauge of wire you’ll be installing.

When it comes to wiring, the lower the gauge, the tougher the wire. For this reason, we tend to recommend not using 20 gauge wire (which is often what comes with the lower priced units). Instead, you are better off using 14 or 16 gauge wire. This wire will hold up for longer. Weaker 20 gauge wire will break more frequently, requiring you to dig up the wire and patch it. You can imagine what a headache that would be.

Power Failures. Since invisible dog fences are powered by the electric transmitter unit, power failures will shut down your wireless fence. If you live in an area that frequently deals with power outages, a physical fence may be a better choice.

We also recommend grabbing a surge protector to ensure that your transmitter unit doesn’t get destroyed in case of a power outage.

Other Animals Can Still Get In. An in-ground or wireless dog fence will keep your dog out, but won’t stop other dogs or animals from coming into the area. This means that there is the possibility of your dog being attacked and being unable to escape the boundaries of your yard. For this reason, you should always supervise your dog when outside, even with the invisible dog fence installed.

Variety of Animals. While these fences are mostly designed with dogs in mind, many units can work with cats as well. Some people even use them with goats!

Camping and Vacations. If you travel a lot or often go on camping vacations, you may be better off with the wireless units. The wireless units make it easy to transport and use your system in other areas. Just remember, you’ll need to re-train your dog and teach them where the new boundaries are.

portable wireless dog fence

Age. Most experts recommend not using an invisible dog fence until your dog is at least 6 months old. You want to wait until your dog is mature enough to be trained and can understand how to navigate the electric fence.

My Experience

Dogs have different personalities, and while I certainly can’t guarantee all dogs will catch onto the electric fence boundary system, in my own experience, dogs quickly learn how the static shock dog fence works.

My own dog, with proper training, learned where his boundaries were and rarely tested them after a month. In fact, after a few months I didn’t even bother putting the collar on him most times, as I felt comfortable that he understood where his yard boundaries were and wouldn’t cross them (although every now and then he would try something, so I wouldn’t give up the collar completely).

Do you have experience with using under ground or wireless dog fences? Share your experience in the comments!

5 Comments

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