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Are you looking for a way to contain your dog within the boundaries of your yard? While some people prefer a physical fence made of wood, plastic, or chain link, others gravitate toward an “invisible” fence with a mild electric charge.
Most states do not require dog owners to leash their dogs. However, many cities and other municipalities will impound “at large” dogs that are found wandering alone. As a dog owner, you want your furry friend to stay safe and close to home. You don’t want him interacting with strangers who pass by your yard, and you most certainly don’t want him to get snatched up by animal control.
Over the years, electric fences and shock collars have been developed to make training and containing your dog much easier.
If you’re in the market for a safe, humane way to keep your dog in the yard without a physical fence, please see the product matrix above for our top recommendations.
At BestReviews, we never accept “free” manufacturer samples. We buy products off of store shelves just as you do, and we scrutinize them for quality. Our mission is to arm our readers with the information needed to make the best use of their money.
In this shopping guide, we examine the types of products available to you and answer some common questions about electric fences.
Some experts recommend that you initially set up a smaller field (using any included flags or markers) than the field you ultimately want the dog to abide by. This trains the dog to recognize the flags/markers as boundaries. Once the dog becomes accustomed to the smaller field, you can then expand it.
Two types of electric fences exist on today’s market: wired and wireless. Both types work to keep your dog secure in his space, and both have their pros and cons.
These fences include an actual wire that works above and/or below the ground.
Pros of wired fences
Cons of wired fences
These fences employ a sensor grid to determine when the dog goes near (or crosses) the line of sight.
Pros of wireless fences
Cons of wireless fences
Ultimately, though, it’s an aesthetic choice.
If you choose a wireless system, make sure nothing is blocking the sensor(s). If the sensor is blocked, gaps within your invisible barrier could occur.
The basic goal of an electric fence is to keep your pet or animal in an enclosed area without setting up walls. First, you take the wire line (or sensors, depending on which system you get) and set up a perimeter. Then you mark that perimeter with small flags that both you and the dog can see.
After the perimeter is set up, you hook the dog to a collar that sends a small static electric charge or auditory response that only the he can feel or hear. Over time, the dog learns where he can and cannot go.
When your dog approaches the invisible fence, the product senses the device you’ve hooked to his collar and sends a signal. If the signal persists, the system will continue sending shocks until the signal goes away.
When you’re training your dog to stay within his boundaries, this is a great feature. But if he’s a naturally fast dog who visits the fence line frequently — or if he happens to chase something that goes outside the boundary — this could pose a hazard for him.
Keep this in mind when setting up your fence. You want to keep your dog in, but you certainly don’t want to put him in a situation where he could shock himself repeatedly.
The more often your dog tests his boundaries, the faster his collar battery will wear down. Check the collar batteries frequently to make sure they have enough juice.
How big is your yard? The dimensions of your property can help you determine which electric fence is best for you.
The PetSafe model in our matrix covers about three quarters of an acre. This would be enough for most urban backyards. The Friendly Pet Products and SportDOG can cover 25 acres and 100 acres respectively. This type of product would probably be better for a dog owner with a massive yard or farm land.
You needn’t be a handyman or electrician to install your electric fence. Thankfully, most amateurs have an easy time setting up their system.
Simply unpack the wire, run it the length of where you want it to go, and place the flags or markers around the line so you and the animal know exactly where they are. Then put the collar on the dog and turn the system on. Depending on the type of fence you purchase, there may be a few other technicalities to your setup. However, most systems work the same way.
If you plan to install your electric fence on a flat surface, you’re unlikely to encounter problems related to the quality of your landscape. But if you plan to install the fence on a hilly or curvy plot of land, you may run into some problems. An animal could feasibly get over or under a fence line without shock if the fence is situated in a place with uneven terrain.
Each of the fences on our matrix employs a collar system. It will likely become an everyday task for you to switch the system off when you take your dog beyond the fenceline.
Some systems, such as the Perimeter Technologies and PetSafe products in our matrix, include cloth-based collars with a snap. Owners tell us these are quite easy to remove. Other products use a notched belt system that may be harder to take off and put back on again.
While the fence itself plugs into an outlet and never needs charging, the collar is another story. At some point, you’ll need to remove the collar and charge it overnight. People whose pets live outside year-round must keep this in mind before investing in a collar system that requires periodic charging.
There’s no such thing as a cheap system. Some electric fences cost less than others, but you’re simply not going to get a quality fence for under $50.
We strongly advocate against cheap, poorly made systems. The welfare of your dog is at stake. You don’t want a system that shocks him unnecessarily, nor do you want a system that fails to contain him safely in his own yard.
An electric fence is no easy purchase. We advise all consumers to weigh their options carefully.
Before making a purchase, check to see if the collar in your chosen system will fit your dog. If not, you’ll need to find a model with the proper size.
Q: Will the shock provided by an electric fence hurt my animal?
A: The best electric fences provide a shock that deters unwanted behavior but isn’t painful. The shock is meant to be irritating, but it should never cause injury or pain. That said, there are some consumers that view the use of an electric fence as a moral dilemma. And there are definitely some poorly made products out there that do more harm than good.
Q: I’m interested in an electric fence for my dog, but I want to use the least amount of shock possible. Any advice?
A: First of all, opt for a quality-made fence with a reliable shocking system. Cheap invisible fences have been known to deliver too much shock or even shock at the wrong times.
Second, investigate options that let you customize the amount of shock your dog will receive. For example, the SportDOG in our matrix offers four levels of shock, and the PetSafe Wireless offers five levels.
Q: Is an electric fence the right choice for me?
A: This is a question that only you can answer. If you’re struggling with this decision, we encourage you to think about the pros and cons of installing an electric fence.
Pros: An electric fence helps your dog learn to stay in his own yard without the visual obstruction of a physical fence. It may even be cheaper than installing a regular fence. You don’t have to change your landscaping, and you don’t have to worry about the physical upkeep of a wood, plastic, or chain link fence.
Cons: An electric fence won’t keep other animals and people out of your yard. The collar will need to be charged periodically, and some people find set-up to be a hassle. Furthermore, some people just don’t feel comfortable subjecting their dog to the disciplinary electric shocks associated with an invisible fence.