Why Invisible Fences Don’t Work

Want to know why invisible fences don’t work? In this article we’ll go over the two types of invisible fence, some of their top problems, a few alternatives, and how you can overcome any issues. We’ll also speak briefly on electric fences.

Note: If you click some of the links in this article we may earn a small commission at no additional cost to you.

What Is An Invisible Fence?

First let’s cover some definitions. There are two types of invisible fences:

  • Wireless Fence – This system uses a transmitter and a collar receiver. The transmitter creates a spherical boundary around your property. When the collar receiver gets close to the boundary it sends a signal – a beep, vibration, or electric shock. That tells the dog to pull back from the boundary.
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PetSafe Wireless Fence System
  • Underground Fence – This system uses the same idea as the wireless fence. When the collar receiver gets close to the boundary it makes a beep, vibration, or electric shock. The difference is how the boundary is built. Underground fences use a buried wire as the boundary. This can be shaped to yards that won’t fit cleanly into a sphere. It can also be used to keep dogs away from lakes, out of pools, or away from other dangerous areas.
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Underground Dog Fence System

Electric fences that use a hot wire or electrified wire do not count as true invisible fences. They don’t require an electric shock collar. However, they do require signs, training, and proper installation.

The Top 8 Reasons Why Invisible Fences Don’t Work

So why might an invisible fence fail? Let’s cover some of the top reasons. Then in the next section we’ll go over how to overcome these problems.

Fail #1 – Your Dog Gets Distracted and Runs Through

Squirrels happen. So do other dogs. Sometimes people walk by. Without proper distraction training your dog may get excited, ignore the collar signals, and bust through the barrier.

Fail #2 – The Transmitter Signal is Distorted Creating Weak Points in the Boundary

Invisible fences aren’t perfect. Large, heavy metal objects can distort the signal. If you install the transmitter next to a radiator it may create a boundary shadow. That’s a weak point where the collar receiver won’t work correctly.

Underground fence lines sometimes break or get disconnected. This also can create weak points if not turn off the entire line.

Shadow zones make the collars inconsistent which leads to our next point.

Fail #3 – Your Dog Gets Confused and Anxious at the Weak Points Ruining the Training

If the boundary isn’t strong and consistent it will sometimes trigger the collar at the edge and sometimes not. This can make your dog scared, anxious, or even aggressive when they get near that weak zone.

To work, invisible fences need to send a consistent signal. There’s another way you can get a signal problem.

Fail #4 – Not All Invisible Fences Are the Same

Some brands make high quality fences. When installed and used according to the instructions they’ll give out a strong signal and will work as desired.

Other fences aren’t that reliable. Before you buy be sure to check the status of the brand your buying from.

Fail #5 – Invisible Fences Won’t Keep Other Dogs or People Out

This builds on the distraction point above. Not only can other dogs or people distract your dog and get them to run over the boundary. The invisible fence does nothing to keep those dogs or people out of your yard.

Maybe they just want to play with or say hi to your dog. Maybe they don’t know there’s an invisible fence. 

If they try and interact with your dog at the boundary this could trigger the collar over and over. That would really stress out your dog possibly ruining the boundary training.

Fail #6 – The Collar Damages Your Dog’s Neck

Prongs on the shock collar can abrade the skin. If left on too long it could even cause a wound or an infection. This is true also if the collar isn’t placed correctly on the neck. There are good ways to do this as well as bad ways.

We’ll cover how to use the collar properly below.

Fail #7 – There’s a Break in the Underground Fence Line

Break’s happen. Perhaps someone tripped on the line where it comes out of the ground. Someone may have dug into the line and broken it accidentally.

When underground lines get cut it can be a pain to find the break. There’s ways to do it though which we’ll cover below.

Fail #8 – The Collar Isn’t Charged or Isn’t Holding a Charge

Lastly the collar may not have a full charge so it may not send a consistent signal. Again, this could cause stress and anxiety. It could also just completely fail to keep them in the boundary.

So is there a way to overcome these failures? There sure is and we’ll cover it next.

The Top 8 Ways to Make Your Invisible Fence Work

Fix #1 – Spend at Least 1 Week on Distraction Training

Distraction training takes a few days to two weeks depending on the dog. You can learn more about it in our article here plus see it in action.

Fix #2 – Check the Boundary for Weak Points and Fix Them

Walk the boundary with a fully charged shock collar. Make sure it sends a clear signal around the entire property. 

If there are any weak areas look for heavy metal and other things that could distort the signal. Remove them.

Fix #3 – Walk the Boundary with Your Dog and Watch for Signs of Anxiety or Confusion

All dogs must be trained to understand the boundary, understand the collar signal, and how to move back away from the boundary. That plus distraction training are key.

Walk the boundary with your dog while they are wearing a fully charged collar. How are they interacting with it? Do they clearly pull back when they hear the beep? Do they seem stressed?

If needed look for weak points in the boundary and fix them. Check the batteries and make sure the collar is sending a consistent signal.

Then repeat the training as needed.

Fix #4 – Buy from Trusted Brands or Proven Equipment

There are a few brands out there like PetSafe, Dogtra, and SportDOG that have been around for awhile. They’ve improved their products based on customer feedback.

That’s not to say that other brands and manufacturers don’t make quality products. Even with the three brands above do your due diligence. Read the reviews. Talk to others you know that use these products. And read our guides on the best wireless fences, best underground fence, and best GPS fence.

Fix #5 – Add Warning Signs to Help People Understand Your Fence

Post warning signs facing away from your property along the boundary. They should warn of the invisible fence and dogs being present.

That’ll work somewhat for people. For dogs you’ll need to work on distraction training.

Also, you may want to consider adding a true fence or an electric fence.

Fix #6 – Fit the Collar Correctly and Don’t Leave it On All the Time

Collars should be place at the top of the neck right below the skull. There should be 1-2 fingers of space under the collar for the ideal tightness. Lastly you should use the longer prongs for long-haired dogs and the shorter prongs for short haired dogs.

Check the collar regularly. Is it abrading the skin? It’s too tight.

Also, keep it just under the skull. Why? If you put it on lower on the neck it might come loose and move up. The prongs won’t consistently contact the skin and it won’t send consistent signals at the boundary. That could scare your dog and ruin the training.

Don’t leave the collar on all the time. Eventually your dog will learn the boundary due to the collar. The collar is a training tool, not a long leash.

Fix #7 – Learn to Find and Fix Breaks in an Underground Fence Line

See our article on finding breaks for an underground dog fence. Find them. Fix them.

Fix #8 – Charge the Collar Regularly and Check it Before Use

Check the collar prior to putting it on your dog. Charge it regularly and replace the collar when the battery dies (or replace the batteries).

Alternatives to Using an Invisible Fence

Training and fencing! The primary alternative is to train your dog manually to stay inside your yard. Just like with an invisible fence you’ll need to place flags or have some kind of visible barrier during the training.

Watch and read our training article here for complete instructions on training your dog to stay in your yard.

Also, consider fencing. If you wanted an invisible fence to maintain a view consider going with an aluminum dog fence (or iron fence). Both let you keep visibility.

Worried about installation costs? We cover several types of fencing and how much they cost here to make the decision easier. We also have articles on DIY chicken wire fence, DIY electric fences, and DIY wire fences.

You can also quickly install these fence kits. They even move easily around the yard and are great for RV camping. With enough units you can build them fairly large.

Just note that you should never add an electric fence element to one of these metal or aluminum fences.

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