Are Electric Dog Fences Cruel? (Includes Humane Alternatives)

April 6, 2021

Many dog owners invest in electric fences to restrict their pets’ movements and don’t think twice about it. They see it as an effective way to ensure their dog doesn’t wander off.

Although the intent may be good – you have to ask yourself whether the practice of using electricity to restrict an animal’s movements isn’t cruel and inhumane.

Are Electric Dog Fences Cruel?

Electric dog fences are cruel as they deliver a painful shock to a dog when it goes beyond a buried wire. Beyond the physical pain and fear, electric fences may also cause physical injuries like burns. Finally, the dog may also experience psychological problems like anxiety and displaced aggression.

Dogs are playful, energetic, and curious by nature. So, if you leave them unattended – they’re likely to wander off. If this happens to you and you’re considering investing in an electric fence – it may not be the best decision for your furry friend.

Before you pull out your wallet – here’s what you need to know about how the fences work and how they affect your pet.

What is an Electric Fence?

The term “electric fence” is a red herring.

You see, electric fences for dogs are not actual electric fences. It’s an electronic device that uses a central transmitter linked to a boundary cable and a computer collar that’s placed around the pet’s neck. These devices come in two forms – wireless and wired electric fences.

A wired electric fence features a physical perimeter created around the area you want to be restricted. The route is often determined by the company that’s responsible for the installation. The wire is supposed to be buried a few inches into the ground to avoid damage. The cable must also start and end at the base station to complete a circuit.

On the other hand, wireless electric fences lack a physical perimeter. Instead, you have a centrally located transmitter that sets your “safety zone” and sends signals to the pet collar each time the pet moves out of the safety zone. For this reason, their flexibility is limited. They mainly function in flat and open properties.

How Electric Fences Work

In a wired fence, the boundary wire acts as the antenna carrying a radio signal around the boundary. It comes with a pet collar which you should put around your cat or dog’s neck. Next, a “no-go zone” is set around the boundary. When the pet approaches the no-go zone, the collar activates and beeps to send them a warning.

If the pet ignores the warning and continues approaching the boundary, the collar sends a static impulse set by the dog owner. Often, the settings are selected based on the pet’s personality, breed, and age. Wireless fences work the same. The only difference is that the boundary is set using a centrally located transmitter.

Are Electric Fences Humane?

It makes sense to restrict your pets’ movements. After all, they may wander off into dangerous territory and get hurt in the process. Besides, it makes your work easier because you don’t have to watch your pet’s every move when you’ve left them to play outside. But is it humane?

Some people encourage the use of electric fences. They justify their stand using the following statements:

  • The electric shock is more of a controlled “sting”: Most people in favor of using electric fences believe the pet isn’t in excruciating pain because the collar only sends a “stinging” sensation that’s often controlled.
  • It’s effective for training dogs: They also believe that since dogs are fast learners, a few shocks here and there will teach them that going outside the boundary is a bad thing. As a result, they’ll be more unlikely to do it in the future.
  • It’s affordable: Electric fences are more affordable than putting up physical barriers to keep pets within the property's boundaries.

Why Electric Fences are Cruel

Not everyone agrees that shocking animals is inhumane. However, to understand why this practice is cruel, you need to consider all aspects involved, not just the electric shock. Using electric fences to restrict pets’ movement is deemed to be inhumane for the following reasons:

It Doesn’t Protect the Animal from Predators

An invisible electric fence does nothing to protect your pet from coyotes, critters, other dogs, and predators. Unless you’re going to get a collar for the rest of the predators as well, you’re doing your pet a great injustice.

Think about it. What happens if strays or feral animals come into your yard and want to harm your pet? Your cat or dog will probably sustain many injuries because they can’t move out of the boundary, which renders them helpless.

Lack of Training Before Using the System

Most people who support electric fences assume that everyone trains their dog before using the system, and this couldn’t be further from the truth. Most people invest in electric fences without putting their dog through sufficient training.

As a result, you’ll find that the dog has to be shocked multiple times to restrict their movements. What’s even worse is that the pet doesn’t understand what’s happening. Therefore, they may start associating the pain with their environment or other animals there, which can cause neurotic and physical problems in the long run.

Finally, when the dog doesn’t understand that the shock is done to keep them from going outside the property, they may avoid going there to prevent the pain. The dog may also attack humans and other animals that get close to the perimeter.

Even using a slip lead can be considered cruel when trying to control your dog’s movements, especially when they haven’t been trained properly. So if you’re thinking about getting one – read this first: Are Slip Leads Cruel?

Electric Fences Don’t Work for 30% of Dogs

Electric fences are also not practical for all dogs. Without proper training on what the collar and fence mean, some dogs get accustomed to the shocks. After too many shocks and being able to withstand it, some dogs learn that if they can tolerate the shock long enough, they can escape the “no go zone.”

At this point, most dog owners result to increasing the shock to teach the dog a lesson. However, for a dog that has become accustomed to the shocks, they seem like a reward. The cycle continues, and it may end up causing physical and psychological harm to the dog.

They Increase Stress and Reduce Quality of Life

Studies also show that the use of shock collars and electric fences can increase stress and reduce a dog’s quality of life. The research showed increased stress levels after using shock collars for a period of only seven days.

And because dogs associate the shock with the environment they’re in; they can start being aggressive and anxious or avoid the environment as much as possible. This affects their quality of life and restricts them from moving and playing around – something natural for dogs and cats.

Alternatives to Electric Fences

When you get a dog, it is your responsibility to train it and ensure it stays safe. But it doesn’t have to be done in such a harsh and dangerous way. Here are some recommendations:

Put a physical fence in place.

We might be stating the obvious here – but it needs to be mentioned. You don’t need to install an enormous, intimidating wire fence. Something as simple as a wooden picket fence will look great and stop your dog from running away without causing it any pain at all.

If you have a small dog,  you can even buy a doggie playpen where it can stay if you plan to keep it outside for a short while. Just remember to throw in a whole bunch of toys to make that time interactive and fun for your pooch.

Do Behavioral Training.

This takes a whole lot more effort than putting a fence up – but it’s also a lot more rewarding. Two of the most popular forms of behavioral training that you will definitely need to cover include recall training and boundary training.

Here’s an awesome video that shows you how to train your dog at home:


There’s no doubt that electric fences are affordable and convenient. But as you have seen, they are cruel to dogs and cats. Even with training, electric fences can affect your pet’s physical and psychological well-being. Therefore, it’s best to rely on safer alternatives to keep your pet from wandering off.

Consider traditional fences which your pet can’t easily climb over. This way, they can run and play around without any restrictions. Beyond that, try and do some behavioral training which will not only help your dog stay within your home’s perimeters – it will teach them to listen to commands and respect their boundaries no matter where you go.

It may cost you a bit more than an electric fence, but it will be worth every dime for you and your furry friend!

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