What to Know About Invisible Fences

Considering an invisible fence to protect your pet, but need more information? Here's how they work, ballpark costs and potential issues.

Dogs bring great joy to the world, but sometimes they also bring great aggravation. It’s not uncommon for over-eager canines to run off to play with the most interesting nearby item, whether that’s a squirrel, another dog, a person or even a car.

This can be hazardous for the pet and the object of their interest, as well as a genuine liability for the dog’s owner. The most common solution to this problem is a fenced-in yard. But what if a physical fence isn’t an option for you?

For many pet owners, the answer is an invisible fence.

Components of an Invisible Fence

The key feature of an invisible fence is, of course, that there’s no physical fence keeping your pet where it needs to stay. That’s achieved through three equally important elements: the collar, proper training and the boundary.

Most pet owners focus on the collar, often with a great deal of apprehension. A properly calibrated collar has enough of a shock to startle a dog, but not enough to injure or cause pain.

If in doubt, hold the collar to your arm and cross the fence. You should feel an irritating buzz but no pain. In addition, most collars sound a tone when the dog approaches a set distance from the boundary, usually three to four feet. A properly trained dog will stop at the sound and never feel the buzz.

Proper training is essential! Some dogs can be frightened by corrective collars, leading to additional behavior issues. Other dogs are the opposite: They’re almost indifferent to the tone and the buzz. Your dog is unique. That’s why proper training is essential for the fencing to be effective, and for your pet to be safe and at their happiest.

The last element of an invisible fence is the boundary. There are two primary types: wired and wireless.

Wired systems are created with a wire loop usually, though not necessarily, buried just below ground. Wireless systems use a central transmitter, usually located in the house or garage, to create a circular zone where your dog can roam.

A wired boundary allows for custom shapes, and even shapes within shapes, so you can make areas like pools or flowerbeds off limits. Although limited in shape, wireless systems are easily transported, making them a great choice for renters or RV owners.

Invisible Fence Cost

Invisible fencing costs far less than a basic traditional fence because it requires minimal materials. Factor in any additional requirements from a local municipality or homeowner’s association, and the savings can be staggering.

Professionally installed in-ground systems often run from $1,000 to $2,000, which includes material, trenching and at least one training session. DIY kits are available starting at less than $200. To go the DIY route, you’ll need to educate yourself on proper training or pay to hire a trainer. Your call.

Replacement batteries for the collar receiver will be your only ongoing cost. Depending on the model, batteries may be standard or rechargeable. It’s also smart to keep a back-up collar. To be safe, expect to spend about $40 to $50 a year on batteries or replacement collars.

How to Install an Invisible Fence

Installing a new invisible fence involves the following steps:

  1. Measure the fence location.
  2. Purchase a fence system.
  3. Install the transmitter box and bury the boundary wire.
  4. Connect the boundary wire to the transmitter box.
  5. Place the collar on your pet.

How to Train a Dog on Invisible Fences

Before activating the fence, walk your dog on a leash around the perimeter of the fence and let them sniff the flags. The pets will hear a warning beep as they get close to the boundary and will receive a static correction from the collar. Repeat this process several times a day for a few weeks until your dog understands the boundaries and stays within them. Continue to repeat the process until the pet understands the boundary.

Are Invisible Fences Cruel?

Proponents argue invisible fences can provide a safe and effective way to keep pets safe and that small electric shocks are not harmful. However, critics argue they are inhumane and cause unnecessary pain. There is no one answer and it will be dependent on each person’s ethical beliefs. Do sufficient research before purchasing an invisible fence.

Potential Pitfalls of an Invisible Fence

Of course, no system is perfect. An invisible fence can’t stop other dogs or humans from entering your yard. Plus a determined dog can run right through the fence, then must brave a shock to return home — yet another reason why training is essential. (Some systems allow free re-entry, meaning no shock when the animal crosses the fence to return home.)

For the right owner and pet, an invisible fence can let the dog enjoy the outdoors without the cost and obstruction of physical fencing.

Dan Stout
Ohio-based freelance writer and author Dan Stout is a former residential remodeler, commercial site supervisor and maintenance manager. He’s worked on nearly all aspects of building and DIY including project planning and permitting, plumbing, basic electric, drywall, carpentry, tiling, painting and more. He also publishes noir fantasy thrillers, including The Carter Series, from Penguin imprint DAW Books.