Are Wireless Dog Fences Reliable?

There’s a lot of options when it comes to invisible fences. You’ve got standard wireless, underground wired, and GPS dog fence kits. But are wireless dog fences reliable?

We did some digging to find out. Yes, wireless dog fences are reliable when used in the right circumstance. Standard wireless dog fences are most reliable for small, squared shaped yards that are less than an acre. Underground dog fences are most reliable for larger yards and when you’re trying to keep your dog out of your pool or garden. GPS fences are best for open large yards that have metal sheds, other nearby wireless systems at your neighbors, and other forms of interference that mess up underground or wireless systems but don’t affect GPS signals coming from above.

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How Wireless, Underground, And GPS Dog Fences Are Supposed To Work

First some definitions so you don’t get confused. There are three main types of invisible fence.

All three operate off a similar principal. They are paired with a vibration or shock collar. When your dog gets close to the boundary they create a beep, vibration, or small electric shock to signal to the dog they should back away from the boundary.

Also, all three use radio frequencies to create the boundary. How they build the boundary is what’s different.

For wireless fences they use a small transmitter that creates a spherical boundary. These boundaries have limits of usually about an acre max if you want to keep them reliable.

PetSafe Stay & Play Wireless Fence for Stubborn Dogs – Above Ground Electric Pet Fence – from the Parent Company of Invisible Fence Brand
Dome shaped boundary created by wireless dog fence transmitter

Underground dog fences use a wire that goes around your property boundary. The transmitter connects to that wire and sends the radio signal through it. This allows you to build it to any shaped property. You can also splice wires together to create a huge boundary.

SportDog Brand In-Ground Fence Systems – from the Parent Company of Invisible Fence Brand – Underground Wire Electric Fence – Tone, Vibration, & Static – 100 Acre Capability – Remote Trainer Option, Containment System
Underground wired fences let you customize to any layout you desire

Lastly we have GPS dog fences. They use radio signals from orbiting satellites to build your boundary. You set the range. These systems are also great for tracking your dog. The big downside – satellite boundaries are the most spotty and least reliable of the three technologies.

That’s a huge bummer as the benefits of this system are well beyond the others.

AngelaKerry Wireless Dog Fence System with GPS, Outdoor Pet Containment System Rechargeable Waterproof Collar EF 851S Remote for 15lbs-120lbs Dogs (1pc GPS Receiver by 1 Dog)

Strengths That Make Wireless Dog Fences More Reliable Than Others

  • Easy to install in less than 10 minutes
  • Smaller transmitters can be used inside the house to keep dogs or cats out of rooms or away from certain objects.
  • Works great for smaller, square shaped yards that are less than an acre.

Reasons Wireless Dog Fences Fail

Wireless dog fences that use a single transmitter to create a dome boundary are unreliable when the following conditions occur:

  • There’s interference near the transmitter. Dense metal objects like radiators, refrigerators, or other appliances can distort the signal.
  • Metal shed interference in the yard
  • Metal in cars in the yard interfering with the boundary
  • Interference from thick concrete walls
  • Interference from thick bushes and lots of trees
  • Steep sloped yards can have weak signals on the downhill side.
  • Neighbors with wireless dog fences nearby interfering with your boundary signal
  • Yard is too large for the signal
  • Low batteries in the collar – not checking them or replacing them often enough
  • Collar settings set too low
  • Not using the correct prongs for long-haired dogs
  • Not tightening the collar correctly
  • Broken receiver collar
  • Broken transmitter
  • Aggressive dogs that breach the boundary
  • Distracted dogs that ignore the collar and breach the boundary when other dogs, animals, or distractions are nearby
  • Unstable boundaries caused by interference that you didn’t notice ruin the boundary training you conducted with your dog. He or she gets confused now at the boundary and either gets aggressive or scared. They get scared to leave the house.

How to Make Your Wireless Dog Fence More Reliable

Here’s how to make sure your wireless dog fence is as reliable as possible:

  1. Use the right sized signal for your yard
  2. Check the boundary manually while carrying the receiver collar. Make sure it makes a consistent signal all around the dome-shaped boundary.
  3. Keep heavy metal objects at least 3 feet away from the transmitter
  4. Train your dog for at least a few days and preferably for 3 weeks. Start with basic boundary training and go all the way through distraction training and even aggression reduction training if needed.
  5. If your house has thick concrete walls mount the transmitter in weather protected location outside the walls or inside a window. Try a few locations and check how it affects the boundary by walking it manually with the receiver collar.
  6. If you have lots of trees or bushes that are interfering with the signal than consider using an underground wired fence. GPS systems can also be blocked by thick tree canopies.
  7. If you have steep parts of your yard consider using an underground wired system. GPS would work great here if your yard is open and not blocked by trees and the steep part isn’t a cliff that makes a GPS signal shadow. See our article that covers sloped yards in more depth.
  8. Don’t park any vehicles, especially larger ones with more metal, near the boundary. Even a large truck more than 3 feet from the boundary can cause a signal shadow behind it.
  9. Install the receiver collar right below the base of your dogs skull. Tighten it till you can comfortably fit two fingers underneath. If you put it on at the base of the neck it could slide up to the smaller part of the neck where the prongs won’t make a reliable connection.
  10. Use the longer prongs for long-haired dogs and the shorter prongs for short haired dogs. Most collars come with both.
  11. Use the minimum signal required (lowest shock setting – vibrate or beep only if possible) and again, teach your dog to understand this. Some collars will start with the beep when your dog is far away, then go to vibrate as they get closer, then small shock, then larger shock as they keep getting closer. Using these variable collars makes your system more reliable.

Strengths That Make Underground Wired Dog Fences More Reliable Than Others

  • Consistent signal even for very large yards or yards with weird shapes
  • Signal carries through thick trees and bushes since it’s generated locally from the boundary wire instead of far away at the transmitter in the house
  • Signal carries well even if your house’s thick concrete walls block a normal wireless transmitter
  • You can easily buy extra wire to expand it almost infinitely.
  • Extra wire and layouts can be customized to keep your dog out of the garden or pool or any area you want to exclude.
  • Build an exact boundary in any shape rather than just a generic dome.
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Reasons Underground Dog Fences Fail

A lot of the reasons underground wired dog fences can be unreliable are the same for wireless fences. We’ll cover them more briefly and expand on the new ones.

  • Poorly fitting collar
  • Bad batteries
  • Broken receiver collar
  • Broken transmitter
  • Metal interference near the buried wire
  • Buried utilities cause interference.
  • Neighbors with wireless or underground systems causing interference. If your neighbor has a buried underground fence wire that is within 3 feet of your wire it could cause both signals to cancel each other. This would be a complete breakdown on that side of the fence so that there’s no boundary at all.
  • Wire is broken – This is the main thing that can cause your underground wired system to fail. Utilities dig and cut the wire. Soil shifts over time. Tree roots move things. Lawn mowers drive over it. Edgers cut through it. There’s a lot of things that can break a wire. Finding the break and fixing it can be time consuming as well. See just what you’ll need to do to fix a break in our article here.

How to Make Your Underground Dog Fence More Reliable

  1. Check for buried utilities and keep your underground dog fence wire at least 10 feet away from them. Follow the guidance in this article on dealing with utilities.
  2. Maintain the collar and keep batteries charged.
  3. Ensure the collar is fitted properly.
  4. Keep large metal vehicles at least 10 feet away from the buried wire. Be especially careful of this on driveways.
  5. Check for breaks and walk the line regularly (at least once a year).
  6. Check with your neighbor to see if they have a system. You’ll also notice this by walking the line annually and looking for weak points.
  7. Use waterproof high quality splice kits when joining two wires to extend your line.
Waterproof Invisible Fence Repair Splice Kit, Pack of 4.
Waterproof splice kits for underground boundary wire

Strengths That Make GPS Dog Fences More Reliable Than Others

GPS dog fence kits come with some great benefits:

  • The signal comes from above not from ground level. This makes them more reliable when you have ground level interference (e.g. cars, metal sheds, metal appliances near the house transmitter, thick concrete walls blocking the house transmitter).
  • Easy and fast to install and setup. Just like the wireless system and way easier than burying the wire of an underground system.
  • Track your dog’s location via the GPS device or the app on your phone.
  • Portable – easy to take camping, hunting, hiking, or RVing

Reasons GPS Dog Fences Fail

GPS isn’t perfectly reliable. Like any GPS device they rely on satellite signals. These vary throughout the day as satellites move through their orbit. In addition tall buildings, cliffs, and thick tree canopies can block the signals from above.

  • Signal is blocked by tall buildings
  • Tall cliffs block the signal if your yard continues below the cliff (plus you need to be really carefully if the boundary is close to the cliff so it doesn’t scare your dog around the edge)
  • More expensive than wireless or in-ground systems
  • Shorter battery life – they use smaller batteries than other receiver collars. Plus many rely on the battery inside the handheld unit rather than having a transmitter plugged into an outlet.
  • Not reliable on smaller properties less than 5 acres
  • Inconsistent boundary – a GPS signal is only reliable to plus or minus 10 feet. This makes the actual boundary constantly changing. This is a major reason why these aren’t good for small yards. Even for large yards they can mess up your dog’s boundary training.

How to Make Your GPS Dog Fence More Reliable

  1. Only use GPS dog fences with large yards
  2. Check the receiver collar batteries and the GPS device batteries daily before use.
  3. Conduct annual training with your dog.
  4. Walk the boundary and make sure there aren’t any GPS shadows (e.g. tall buildings, thick tree cover, cliffs)

AngelaKerry Wireless Dog Fence System with GPS, Outdoor Pet Containment System Rechargeable Waterproof Collar 850YD Remote for 15lbs-120lbs Dogs (1pc GPS Receiver by 1 Dog, Black)