Are GPS Dog Fences Reliable?

GPS dog fences are one of a number of technology options available for ‘invisible’ or ‘virtual’ fences which define the area you want to keep your dog within. Whilst not totally fail-safe, these are effective mechanisms to control the area where your dog can roam. 

This article explores and explains the principles of ‘invisible’ fences, and specifically how GPS dog fences work. It also sets out the distinct advantages of a GPS dog fence system compared to the other ‘invisible’ fence options which are available on the market and explains the downsides and constraints when using a GPS dog fence. 

Available ‘Virtual’ Fence Technologies

There are three different ‘virtual’ fences available on the market today. These systems work based on the same principle, but the technologies that they rely on are different:

  • Wireless dog fences use a transmitter located on your property that creates a dome-shaped invisible boundary. 
  • Underground dog fences, as the name implies, use a wire which is installed underground, which can be configured flexibly to match your bespoke boundary requirements.
  • GPS dog fence uses signals from orbiting satellites to build a ‘virtual’ boundary that you set in the system.

In all cases, these systems are paired with collar which is worn by your dog. When your dog gets close to the boundary, that you have defined in the system, the collar will let off an inhibiting noise, a vibration, or a small electric shock signal to encourage the dog not to cross the defined boundary.

The GPS Fence Explained Simply 

GPS stands for Global Positioning System and comprises of satellites, ground stations, and receivers. There are over 30 navigation satellites orbiting the Earth which are used for a multitude of commercial and military purposes. 

In simple terms, GPS is able to pinpoint moving receivers (for example your cellphone, or a GPS dog fence collar) on the Earth’s surface.  GPS is typically accurate to around plus or minus 10 feet, and so when setting up your invisible fences that level of error should be taken into account.  

The GPS fence system has one major advantage over the other types of ‘virtual’ fence. It can track your dog and show your dog’s position superimposed on a digital map. So, if your dog ignores the collar signal, you can use GPS technology and track your dog’s position in an app. This makes it easy to locate and retrieve your roaming dog. 

There are two types of GPS wireless dog fence currently available on the market:

  • Traditional – This works through the GPS radio transmission system using a receiver attached to your dog’s collar.
  • Assisted – This uses cellphone technology of the mobile phone with an active SIM card that connects the device to the phone network.

The traditional version GPS does not depend on cellphone technology and so it can be used in areas where there is no cellphone coverage and also does not require you to take out a monthly subscription. 

Advantages of Using a GPS Dog Fence

There are some very distinct advantages when using a GPS dog fence compared to wireless and underground dog fences, as follows:

  • Easy and fast to set up – GPS dog fences do not require any physical installations in your yard or field. So, there are no transmitters or detection systems to install or bury. A GPS dog fence system can be set up virtually anywhere, configured flexibly to meet your specific needs, and easily adjusted if your requirements change.  
  • No fixed equipment repairs or maintenance – With a GPS dog fence, typically, all you are using is the collar receiver and a cellphone. This means that there are no physical wires to install or get damaged.  
  • Transportable – The GPS dog fence system is not fixed to a single specific location. Using your cellphone you can effectively take the fence with you, and then set it up anywhere according to your requirements at that particular location. This is a great feature if you like to go on camping, RV, or other types of vacation trips. You could also easily set it up at a friend’s house if you went to visit with your dog.   
  • Reliability – As the GPS signal comes from above the GPS fence system is not disrupted by metal structures and other objects nearby on the ground, or thick brick and concrete walls that can interfere with wireless or underground systems.
  • Ability to track your dog’s movements in real-time – Not all, but many GPS dog fences available today include activity tracking. It’s very interesting, and often very amusing, to track and plot the pattern of your dog’s movements as it safely explores and plays within its defined space. You can see exactly where your dog has been and what it has been up to! Other features can also include tracking and metrics showing how much exercise your dog is getting each day measured in distance and calories burned. 

Downsides of GPS Dog Fence Systems

OK, so a GPS dog fence is not 100% reliable. It relies on the strength of the signals from satellites which can change over time as the satellites progress through their pre-determined orbit. However, you can, to a certain degree, be reassured that the underlying basis of the GPS dog fence systems is a global satellite system developed by the US Government originally for military purposes. 

The downsides associated with GPS dog fences are as follows:

  • Obstructions between the satellite and your yard or field such as tall buildings or a covering of trees tree will disrupt the signals, create system blackspots, and reduce system accuracy.
  • They can be more expensive than the wireless or underground system alternatives, and assisted GPS systems come with monthly subscription plans.
  • They are not suited to very small yards owing to the +/-10 feet level of accuracy of the GPS signal. This is a particular problem for very small yards as the level of accuracy (and hence the position of your invisible boundary will fluctuate. 

How to Maximise the Effectiveness of GPS Dog Fences

If you follow these guidelines, you should find that GPS dog fences are a pretty reliable mechanism to keep tabs on your dog. Even if your dog does manage to ignore the collar warnings, the systems often have in-built alarms for the owner alerting you to a straying dog. Top tips to maximize effectiveness are as follows: 

  • These are most appropriate for large yards, and least effective in small yards.
  • Always check that the batteries in the collar receiver have sufficient power for your needs that day.
  • Before purchasing and setting up, walk around the boundary to check whether there are any GPS shadows or black spots caused by any nearby tall buildings or trees.
  • Remember the 10 feet margin of error and set your invisible boundaries accordingly. 

Conclusions

GPS dog fences are one of the technology options available for ‘virtual’ dog fences which can help to stop your furry friend from roaming too far away. A GPS dog fence tracks your dog’s activity on a digital map and emits a noise, vibration, or shock from a collar worn by your dog once it crosses the ‘virtual’ boundary line. The system can also alert dog owners when this happens.    

GPS dog fences are easy to set up, flexible, and totally transportable as they do not require any fixed equipment.  

Reliability is good too, as long as they are used appropriately and your yard is not overshadowed by tall buildings or tall large-canopied trees which can block the GPS signals. Remember too that GPS dog fences are best suited to large yards and don’t work so accurately in small yards.