Invisible Fencing Pros and Cons

I am sometimes asked if I think invisible fences are “good.”  I can’t answer that question because it is incomplete. The real question must be, “Is an invisible fence a good solution for my dog and my situation? “ An invisible fence is neither good nor bad in itself. It is a piece of equipment that may or may not be appropriate for your needs. Like any piece of equipment, an invisible fence only works well if it is used properly under the right circumstances for the appropriate purpose. 

Questions to Consider

First, think about the purpose of the fence. Will the fenced area be used for supervised playtime? Do you want to be able to let your dog out for potty breaks?  How much unsupervised time do you envision your dog spending in the yard?

Next, think about your particular circumstances. Do you have zoning restrictions or aesthetic considerations? Do you live in an area with wildlife?  Is your dog reactive to other dogs or people walking past your house? How close is your property to other homes? What is traffic like near your property?

Once you have a clear idea of your particular goals and situation, take a closer look at whether an invisible fence can meet your needs. Invisible fencing is less expensive than traditional barrier fencing and has benefits you will not get with other solutions. However, it also has limitations on what it can do to keep your dog safe. The qualities and characteristics of an invisible fence are not intrinsically good or bad. There are pros and cons that must be assessed in the context of your situation.

Invisible Fences Are Invisible.

Pro        Invisibility allows you to maintain an open feeling of green space, which may be aesthetically appealing. The absence of a physical fence also avoids any issues with zoning restrictions. Once training is complete, the little flags that indicate the border can be removed and your yard looks “barrier free.”

Con      Invisibility means there is a clear line of sight (and sound) between your yard and anyone or anything passing by.  Dogs walking past may bark at your dog. Every car that drives past, every neighbor walking by, every child playing in nearby yards is visible to your dog. For some dogs, this abundance of stimuli is too much to handle. They become agitated and frustrated. Ultimately, this frustration and agitation can lead to territorial aggression, nuisance barking, and–if an unsuspecting visitor or delivery person enters the invisibly fenced area—your dog may bite.

Invisible Fences Have No Gate.

Because the invisible fence is an interaction between the buried fencing wire and the dog’s collar, there is no “gate. ” As long as your dog is wearing his collar and the fence is activated, there is no exit that allows your dog to escape from your yard.

Pro         You don’t have to worry about kids or landscapers accidentally leaving the gate open. There is no section where your dog, the wind, or any other disturbance can unexpectedly create an opening that allows your dog to leave the area.

Con        Because the containment is reliant on the interaction between the collar and the wire, any interruption in the interaction is a problem. If there is a power outage, if the fencing wire is damaged or if you do not charge the collar, then you no longer have a fence and your dog can leave the yard. Unfortunately, you may not realize that there is a problem until your dog is outside of the boundary.

Invisible Fences Have No Walls.

Pro         The absence of a physical barrier can be an advantage if you have an “escape artist” dog that digs under or jumps over walls or fencing.  Digging and jumping are self-rewarding activities that are enjoyable in and of themselves.  As a bonus for your dog, digging and jumping around a physical barrier lead to the ultimate reward of freedom. However, with an invisible fence, approaching the boundary is essentially a self-correcting activity.  Your dog may still jump and dig, but he will do so safely within the boundaries you set.

Con        Unfortunately, the lack of physical barrier is a drawback if your dog “loses his mind.”  Dogs that have triggers, such as thunder, that cause over-the-top fear reactions or dogs that have a hyper-drive for prey could be so overwhelmed by adrenaline that they run through the invisible fence before they even realize what they are doing. The fence correction will almost always break through the adrenaline overload–but then what? Your dog has just had a vivid demonstration of what happens when he crosses the boundary line. He is unlikely to risk crossing the boundary again in order to return to your yard. Even if the fence can be programmed to not correct when he crosses into the yard, your dog will eye that boundary with serious suspicion and avoid it. The fence will have basically locked your dog out of the yard.

Reputable Invisible Fence Installation Usually Includes Training

Pro         If you simply lay out the fence wires, put the collar on your dog and turn him loose in the yard, all that will happen is that he will get many unpleasant shocks and be fearful in your yard. Fortunately, the professional training that comes with many invisible fence installations will help you teach your dog to reliably respect and remain within the boundary while also being able to be relaxed and playful.

Con        Unfortunately, the training package does not extend to your neighbors’ dogs or cats or to the neighborhood, the raccoons, skunks, or possums. Other animals can enter your yard at any time—causing fights and/or carrying disease.  The fence boundary can only keep your dog in; it can’t keep other dangers out.

Final Thoughts

Each situation is different, and the pros and cons of an invisible fence must be considered within the context of your unique needs for your individual dog. If you decide to get an invisible fence, there are a few basic principles that are common to all situations.   

  • Set the boundary area in the part of your yard with the least visibility of neighborhood activity.  For most people that is in the rear yard.
  • Set the boundary in a place that does not force visitors or delivery people to walk through the dog’s area to access your door.
  • Check the boundary area frequently to ensure that the wind, litterbugs, and/or wildlife have not introduced any safety hazards or items that might be dangerous for your dog to ingest.
  • If you will be using the boundary area to let your dog out at night, make sure it has lighting that allows you to see if any wildlife is in the yard before you let your dog out.
  • Carefully and realistically assess whether you can safely leave your dog outside when you are not at home.  The fence can keep him in the yard, but it cannot prevent someone from teasing him or entering your yard to steal, harm, or otherwise interfere with him.

Remember that a fence—invisible or otherwise—can only protect your dog in very specific ways. There are many ways your dog needs to be protected even when he is contained. But if an invisible fence is an appropriate solution for you, at least keeping him contained in your yard will be one less thing to worry about!