How do electric dog fences work?

And what are their pros and cons?

Dog lying in grass
Keep Rover from roving with an electric dog fence. Rocko and Betty/Photodisc/Getty Images

There are two parts to an electric dog fence:

  1. A wire that is buried along the perimeter of the "fenced in" area
  2. A pet-collar with a receiver

The underground wire transmits a signal that makes the pet-collar beep if the pet comes too close to the electric dog fence perimeter. A mild electric shock will also be applied; the shock is not considered violent enough to harm your pet. One of the better-known companies in this business states (at that professional training sessions are part of their installation process, explaining that, in "the training process, your Professional Pet Trainer will introduce the customized static correction to your pet which reinforces the boundaries of your property and tells your pet clearly where they can and cannot go." The same source says, regarding price, that the cost will depend not only on the number of such sessions, but also on the size of your yard, exactly what equipment you want to buy, and "how many pets will be on the system" (yes, you can contain multiple pets at the same time with these systems).

Incidentally, although these pet containment systems initially made a name for themselves primarily among dog owners, systems are also available for cats. Here are some of the pros and cons of these systems (beyond the obvious pro of minimizing the chances of losing your pet):

Pros and Cons of Electric Dog Fences


  • Aesthetics: with electric dog fences, you are not forced to erect a style of fencing that, while effective for keeping pets at home, may not complement your landscape design very well.
  • Because you are not erecting a structure, per se, you don't have to worry about the zoning laws or inspection codes to which you would be subject if you were to erect physical fencing.
  • For the same reason, you don't have to worry about the maintenance typically associated with physical fences, such as having to clear weeds away from them using a Weed Eater.


  • Pet fencing often doubles as security fencing to some degree, keeping intruders (human and canine alike) out of your yard and pets in your yard. Tall chain-link fencing, for instance, will perform this dual role. Electric dog fences, however, are purely one-way, so they won't keep out intruders.
  • Nor are they fool-proof (see below for the details): the mild shock may not be sufficient to keep Rover from roving if the incentive to break free is great enough (as it may be if a neighborhood cat is spotted running by).
  • When pets do ignore the shock and cross the perimeter of the fencing, there is a disincentive (in the form of the shock) for them to come back home. So the result may be the opposite of what you want: a lost dog.

    Bottom Line: But Do They Really Work?

    Now you know how they work (that is, the principles behind the technology), but the question remains of whether or not they work effectively at keeping pets in the yard. Normally they do, but there are some exceptions (failures). The Dog Fence Guide site accounts for these exceptions in their review by pointing to two factors:

    1. "Inadequate training."
    2. "Low-quality hardware."