Electric fences (AKA invisible fences or underground fences) are one of the harshest methods of teaching your dog to stay in the yard. The negative consequences of this training method also double as incentives for dog owners to choose non-harmful alternatives to electric dog fences.

If you've never had experience with an electronic containment system for dogs for use with a collar receiver, it is important to understand how this system works. When the dog approaches the fence and attempts to cross it, an electric circuit shocks and deters him from continuing to go near it.

Electric dog fences, similarly to dog shock training collars, have been receiving some heat from dog owners as of late. But in reality, many trainers and experts have advocated the use of these shock collars on dogs as long as you purchase a high quality collar and learn how to use it properly. This is key in ensuring that your pet will never be harmed.

Eventually, it becomes more psychological, he associates crossing that certain point with an electric shock, and he begins to learn to stay away from the line made by the fence.

Best Non-Harmful Alternatives to Electric Dog Fences
Photo: SportDOG / Amazon

Electric fences for dogs go by many different names:

  • Pet containment system
  • In-ground dog fence
  • Invisible fences for dogs
  • Electronic pet fences
  • Underground dog fences
  • Radio signal fences for dogs

…and so on. All of these are the exact same thing – an electronic fence that works with the use of underground wires and has to be used with a shock collar on the dog.

Why should you consider non-harmful alternatives to electric dog fences?

First of all, an electric shock isn’t necessarily extremely painful, but it is not a pleasant experience either. Although it might not be completely horrible for your dog, it may scare them or cause them to become aggressive. In some places, these types of barrier devices have already been banned completely.

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If your dog is already anxious or tense, an electric collar may worsen that. It could cause your dog's anxiety level to skyrocket, or turn him into a skittish pet that is always scared and distressed.

It’s a myth that [electronic fences] provide dogs with more freedom. In fact, these devices violate three of five freedoms that define adequate welfare for animals: Freedom from pain, injury, and disease; freedom to express normal behavior; freedom from fear and distress.” – Karen Overall, Manual of Clinical Behavioral Medicine for Dogs and Cats, 2013.

Typically dogs who leave the yard are chasing or following something. If your dog is shocked while trying to escape the yard for this reason, he may develop fear or aggression that is aimed at what he believes is the source of the shock. When in the backyard, dogs may see kids riding by on bicycles, the mailman delivering the daily post, or the dog next door. You don't want your pets to associate these kinds of things with the shock they are experiencing.

Similarly, dogs have been known to run over electronic barriers when frightened by something, like thunder, or while chasing another animal. He may be too scared of the shock to cross back over the barrier and return to the yard. He may learn to associate getting shocked while returning to the yard as a punishment for coming home.

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Odd as it may sound, electronic fences may actually encourage Fido to try to escape. Since he will only suffer painful shocks while he is in your yard, your dog may associate the source of the shock with the yard itself. If he figures out that once he gets out of the yard the pain goes away, Fido may actually try to escape on purpose.

Best Non-Harmful Alternatives to Electric Dog Fences
Photo: Andrés Moreira

Likewise, he could also associate the shock with the sight of the signal flags that indicate the perimeters of the fence. In addition to being petrified of crossing the border, he could potentially freak out any time he sees a non-fence-related flag.

If the electric fence malfunctions, the result could be very bad. There have been horror stories from electric fencing customers that involved the collar malfunctioning and unremittingly shocking the dog for hours until their owner got home. A severe collar malfunction such as that has a lot of psychological and physical implications for your dog that can be catastrophic.

Electric dog fences may even keep your dogs in when they need to get out!

Have you stopped to think about what would happen if your dog was in your yard but needed to get out? Just because pets are confined within certain boundaries by an electronic fence, does not necessarily mean they are safe. Your dog could still be in danger of attacks by other wandering dogs or another animal, or even mean humans who are able to freely enter the property. Electric dog fences are a dream come true for dog thieves!

What if your family needs to escape your property quickly? For example, what if your home catches fire or there is a gas leak, would your dog be able to escape the yard if he needed to? It would be terrible for Fido if your family was able to quickly run to the neighbors house in case of an emergency but he was trapped in the yard.

Pros of electric dog fences Cons of electric dog fences
– Not intrusive visually
– Cheaper than standard fences
– Dogs have the freedom to run
– Could be harmful to dogs
– A lot of room for system error
– Receiver must be always worn


When taken into consideration, these negatives all provide a compelling case for seeking out non-harmful alternatives to electric dog fences. It is your responsibility to train your dog to stay in the boundaries of your property, but there are less severe ways to go about it.

Best Non-Harmful Alternatives to Electric Dog Fences
Photo: Tony Alter

Best Non-Harmful Alternatives to Electric Dog Fences

1. The first, and perhaps most obvious choice of an alternative method, is an actual tangible fence. Visible fencing doesn’t have to be a white-picket affair or unappealing wire fencing. There are many options of thin plastic or wire materials that can help keep your dog in your yard.

You can get one like WamBam Fence Zippity Garden Fence from retailers like Amazon for very cheap. Another popular and best selling option is the Easy Gardener 6050 DeerBlock fence. Both are much safer for your Fido.

These fences are not aesthetically invasive and still provide protection against your dog running away. When combined with training, actual fences are a powerful and effective alternative to the less humane electric ones.

You can even try some of the larger outdoor playpens for dogs, if you don't intend to keep your dog outside alone for too long. A good example would be Allmax Metal Pet Fence, Black, a popular choice on Amazon.

Those pet pens are definitely a great non-harmful alternative to electric dog fences, and if you provide your pooch with enough toys and things to do inside of it, your canine won't mind waiting for you for a couple of hours in a guarded area. Unfortunately, dog playpens are usually not something most dog owners will want, but it's still worth considering.

Best Non-Harmful Alternatives to Electric Dog Fences
Photo: WamBam / Amazon
2. A second and more labor-intensive, yet extremely rewarding, option is behavioral training. Creating invisible barriers without electrocution is possible. There are many methods and ways to train your dog not to run away without strapping a shock collar to him.

For example, you can keep your dog on a leash and then slowly practice putting it down and giving clear, simple commands to let your dog know that although the leash is down, they cannot run off. If they stay, give them a treat. Both the electric fence and behavioral training have psychological effects— the latter is just more humane and lasting than the former.

RELATED: 21 must-know dog training tips

A part of this behavioral training could include something called recall training; training your dog to come back to you at the sound of a call or whistle. This is a way to allow him freedom in the yard or even to go past the boundary, while still being able to return when he hears the call or whistle. As with the boundary training, there are a variety of methods you can use to teach your dog the recall skill.

Best Non-Harmful Alternatives to Electric Dog Fences
Photo: airwaves1

You have to first make sure that your dog has incentive to come back by giving them positive reinforcement. By rewarding your dog with a treat every time he returns to you, you will be able to ensure that he always associates obeying the whistle or call with something positive.

Obviously, this isn’t foolproof. Sometimes dogs are just not going to obey. But by keeping training clear and, above all, consistent, the percentage of times that dogs do listen will greatly outnumber the percentage of times that they don’t.


3. A third, more high-tech option is a non-electric Friendly Fence. Similar to electric dog fences, a Friendly Fence provides the invisibility of electric fencing without the nasty shock. The high-tech material used in these dog fences is a polypropylene plastic mesh that is resistant to ultraviolet rays and nearly impossible to see from a distance.

You can find plenty of retailers selling this simple yet effective non-harmful alternative to electric pet fences. The quickest way to get one of these for yourself is visit your local Home Depot or drop by Amazon – Tenax Select Pet Fence.

It is not physically possible for your dog to run through the fence, and it is also impossible for other animals to get through it and potentially harm him. If you live in a suburban neighborhood where they have rules about putting up visible fences (some home-owners associations can be sticklers about it), you should check the regulations first.

This type of wireless fence is aesthetically appealing and non-harmful to your pet.

DO NOT chain your dog outside, even as a last resort!

Best Non-Harmful Alternatives to Electric Dog Fences
Photo: Jon Hanson

Chaining your dog outside for long periods of time should never be an option! As pack animals, dogs have a natural desire to be with others.

A dog that is usually happy and friendly often becomes unhappy, neurotic, aggressive, and anxious when kept continually chained and isolated. Studies have shown that chained dogs are much more likely to bite than unchained dogs.

Chaining your dog could also be extremely harmful to him physically. It is not uncommon for dogs to unintentionally hang themselves while chained too close to objects including other trees and fences. Likewise, it would be almost impossible for your dog to escape if another animal or a cruel human came into your yard looking for trouble.

Electric fences are commonly used and popular among many dog owners, but while they do have their advantages, they also have some pretty alarming consequences and negative effects that shouldn’t be overlooked.

To wrap up the article, please look through some of these articles and studies on why electric fences for dogs and training shock collars are not really advisable:

  1. Why electric shock is not behavior modification
  2. Simply Shocking (Whole Dog Journal)
  3. Can Aggression in Dogs Be Elicited Through the Use of EPCS? (PDF)
  4. Alleviation of learned helplessness in dogs (PDF)
  5. The use of electronic collars for training domestic dogs
  6. Effect of remote static pulse systems on the welfare of domestic dogs
  7. Clinical signs caused by the use of electric training collars on dogs

In the end, every owner wants the same result: a happy dog that doesn’t leave the yard and is kept safe. The variety of non-harmful alternatives to electric dog fences that are available can provide every dog owner with a way to train their pet while also allowing them some freedom to roam.

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