labrador retriever standing in a yard

Busting the Myth: Can Electronic Fences Contain Big Dogs?

For dog owners, safety is a top priority. One of the solutions for keeping furry friends within the confines of their property is an electronic fence, also known as an invisible fence.

But do electronic fences work for big dogs?

The answer is yes, electronic fences do work for big dogs, but with several qualifications. And this is not a 100% yes, as they must be deployed correctly and, even then, can be defeated by some dogs.

So, it’s important to understand how they work. We’ll give you the pros and cons, and explain the training involved to ensure the safety and well-being of your large canine companion if you decide an electronic fence is the right solution.

Key Takeaways

  • Electronic fences can be effective for many big dogs when properly installed and used with the right training techniques.
  • But there are some significant qualifications.
  • Understanding the pros and cons of electronic fences is essential before deciding if it’s the best option for your large dog.
  • Comparing electronic fences with traditional fences, in terms of cost and maintenance, is important to make the most informed decision for your pet’s safety and well-being.

Just What Is an Electronic Fence?

Dog shock collar

Electronic fences work by creating an electronic boundary within which you want your dog to stay.

This boundary emits a signal that is received by a special collar worn by your dog. When your dog approaches a boundary line, the collar gives a warning beep, followed by an electric shock if your dog continues towards the boundary.

The intensity of the shock can be adjusted to be lower for smaller dogs and higher for larger dogs.

The downside is it can be hard to determine the right level for your particular dog. It must be strong enough to stop progress toward the perimeter line, but not so strong that it’s painful or traumatizing.

There are three ways to establish the electronic perimeter.

  1. Lay an underground wire around the designated area.
  2. Use a wireless system that can cover a circular area up to a certain distance from the transmitter.
  3. Use a GPS-based model, which can enclose very large and/or irregularly shaped areas.

Installation is very easy, especially when compared to the time, labor, and expense of installing a physical fence.

However, proper training is essential for your dog to understand and respect the electronic fence. With training, over time big dogs can learn to associate the warning beep with the boundary and realize that staying within the safe area helps them avoid the shock.

Thus, electronic fences rely on a combination of training and technology to keep your big dog contained. The mild shock from the receiver collar is not harmful, but it’s enough to teach dogs that passing the invisible boundary is not a good idea.

Should You Just Use a Traditional Electric Fence Instead?

Electric fence


An electric fence is not the same as an electronic fence, although the terms are easily confused. It doesn’t help that some electronic fence brands call them electric fences instead of what they are: and electronic fence.

Electronic fences use a low-level electric shock. Electric (above-the-ground electric wires) fences, on the other hand, have an electric current always running through the above ground wires themselves. This is what delivers the shock.

It’s designed to be painful enough to deter even large animals from touching the fence wire.

There are several reasons why you should not consider an electric fence to contain your dog.

  • The high-voltage shock. This is the number one reason. While this type of shock can be okay for large livestock such as cattle and horses, it’s far too strong for your dog.
  • Risk of entanglement. The typical electric fence uses wires strung between posts. Your big strong dog may decide it can simply push its way through, becoming entangled and unable to escape. The constant electric current can then injure or even cause death.
  • Risk to humans, especially children. An electric fence shouldn’t be used in heavily populated areas, or in any area where there are children. They are even outlawed in many areas.

The bottom line with electric fences is they are designed to be used in rural areas for livestock only. They are dangerous and should never be used to contain your dog.

The Pros and Cons of Electronic Fences – It’s Up to You to Decide.

Pros and Cons

Electronic fences, although popular, can be quite controversial. They have compelling pros as well as cons and it’s important to consider both before deciding as to if this is the best solution for your dog.

Let’s first look at the pros.


  • Convenience. One of the main reasons people choose electronic fences for their dogs is the convenience they provide. Unlike traditional physical fences, electronic fences are much easier and faster to install.
  • Less Expensive. For large areas especially, putting up a six-foot fence (the minimum height you need for a big dog) can run into thousands of dollars for labor alone, not to mention materials. Plus, it’s best for a professional to do the installation.

An electronic fence, however, can be easily installed by the typical homeowner and primarily involves digging a shallow ditch for the cable. No digging post holes and virtually no maintenance.

You can even buy a wireless electronic fence, which requires no installation effort at all! It doesn’t get any easier than this.

  • Reliability. An electronic fence may be more reliable at containing big dogs that may be capable of climbing, digging, or chewing through a traditional wooden fence. But be aware that reliability when it comes to big dogs can also be a con, as explained below.
  • Invisibility. This can be a particular advantage if your lot has excellent views, and you don’t want to block them off with a six-foot (or higher!) fence.
  • Portability. A wireless electronic fence can be quickly and easily moved to any location you desire. Whether you move to a new house, visit a friend’s house, or even when you go camping in the woods, your invisible field of protection can be there.


There are equally convincing cons, perhaps even more so. Here are the strongest ones.

  • Reliance on the collar. What happens if the battery in the collar runs out, or if the collar comes off? The electronic fence will no longer work. If either occurs without you knowing it, your dog could be long gone.
  • Some dogs can overcome the shock. This is particularly true with some of the larger and more hardy breeds. They may become accustomed to the shock, or simply decide that the lure of getting out of the yard is worth it.

Some even learn that running full speed before crossing the “line” can even prevent the shock from occurring. There can be about a two-second delay between the warning and the shock, and some breeds may be fast enough to get out of range before the shock occurs.

  • Not suitable for all dogs. First of all, dogs that are fearful or sensitive can become even more scared or anxious when corrected with a shock. They are more likely to consider this a punishment rather than a correction. This can lead to behavioral problems and a lower quality of life for your dog.

As for large or highly stubborn dogs, the shock may not be strong enough to stop them, even at its highest setting. A 150-pound Cane Corso may not be at all deterred by a shock and will run right through it, while a 12-pound Chihuahua will stop dead in its tracks.

  • Other animals can come in. Electronic fences are one way only – your dog can’t get out, but other dogs and animals can come right in. This can be a real problem if you live in a rural area with a lot of wildlife.

Even in populated areas, other dogs, stray animals, and human predators can come and go as they please, creating possible confrontations with your dog. Coyotes present a particularly dangerous situation, even in urban or suburban areas.

  • Electronic devices can fail. Any electronic device can have bugs or fail for a variety of reasons, sometimes unexpectedly. With a physical fence, you can visually see any problems and correct them yourself.
  • Training is required. You can’t just buy an electronic fence, turn it on, and expect your dog to know what the warning and subsequent shock mean. Your dog must be trained before an electronic fence will work.

This is called “boundary training”. Without it, your dog will likely ignore the shock, as it won’t be able to relate it to any sort of behavior on its part.

  • Let’s face it: you’re shocking your dog. Many people are appalled at the use of an electric shock to teach your dog to stay in the yard. Many electronic fence brands say they use a “static correction” to discourage your dog from crossing the boundary, but let’s call it what it is: it’s an electric shock.

While harmless if set correctly, it can still be stressful, even painful, and can lead to aggression and other undesirable consequences for some dogs. The dog owner’s world is very much divided about this method.

Okay, So Are Electronic Fences Effective for Big Dogs?

Yes, electronic fences can work well for large dogs. They can keep them in their yard while letting them move freely.

But it’s important to understand that the right training is needed for big dogs to learn to respect the boundaries and stay inside the area. It’s also important to realize that the stronger big dogs can withstand the shock and go past the boundary without stopping.

For these more powerful breeds, you’re better off with a tall, strong physical fence.

And before you ask, we consider Pitbulls to be one of the breeds for which an electronic fence is not the best solution!

While it’s true that Pitbulls and other strong dogs can be trained to respect the boundaries of an electronic fence, their prey instinct can be strong. This means they may not be able to resist if they see something like a wild rabbit. And they are tough enough that the shock will not stop them.

Are there specific electronic fences for bigger breeds?

Unfortunately, there are no fences designed only for big dogs, but some systems work better for them.

Look for fences with adjustable collar strength and a strong boundary-wire system. These systems make it more likely that the fence will be effective.

You Gotta Train Your Dog or It Won’t Work!

Dog with trainer

Until your dog is properly trained, an electronic fence is useless. Your dog won’t know what the warning and shock means and will likely become frustrated and confused.

This doesn’t have to be a difficult and prolonged task, but you will need to work on it consistently until your dog gets it. Here are the steps to follow.

  1. Fit your dog with the receiving collar. It should be snug but not too tight, the same as you would do with any collar. Be sure to do this in a familiar area where your dog feels comfortable.
  2. Place flags around the boundary you set, to give your dog visual cues. This will help your dog to understand the boundaries of the fence.
  3. Start your training program using only the warning beep. When your dog approaches the boundary and the collar emits a beep, return it to the safe area and give it a treat.
  4. Gradually take your dog past the warning point until a shock occurs. Then take it back to the safe area and again give it a treat. You may need to increase the shock level for larger or more stubborn dogs but never use a high shock for a prolonged period. The goal is for your dog to associate the warning beep and mild shock with the boundaries.

As your dog gets used to the warning beep and shock, gradually remove the flags.

    Please remember to be patient and consistent. Some dogs learn very quickly, while others may need more time.

    Frequent praise and rewards can help speed the learning process along. You should expect it to take up to two weeks for your dog to learn the boundaries and to avoid them.

    The Arguments Continue: Electronic Fence or Traditional Fence for Your Big Dog?

    Every dog owner wants to keep their best friend safe and one of the best ways to do that is to keep them on your property.

    To do so, you have two basic options: a traditional physical fence or an electronic fence. Each has advantages and disadvantages, so compare and contrast the two so you can better decide which is best for your big pup.

    Electronic fences

    As we’ve explained, these fences define your property electronically, either by a wire or wireless, with an invisible barrier. Your dog wears a special collar that sends a mild electric shock or vibration when it gets close to the boundary.

    Many electronic fences are waterproof and don’t obstruct views or alter the appearance of your landscaping. They are also considerably less expensive than a physical fence, depending on the size of the area you want to protect.

    However, since they are electronic, they can be subject to malfunctions or dead batteries. In addition, some of the larger and tougher or more stubborn breeds may ignore the shock and cross the boundary anyway.

    Plus, they may keep your dog in, but won’t keep other dogs or animals out. It’s a dead-end street in only one direction.

    Traditional fences

    Wood fence

    Traditional fences, on the other hand, provide a physical barrier for dogs. The most commonly used materials are wood, brick, and metal.

    A big benefit is that they can block other animals (and humans) from entering your yard. For dogs with strong prey drives, a physical fence prevents them from seeing objects or animals they may want to chase, such as squirrels, cats, and other dogs.

    Enough already! So, which is best?

    This is a question that only you can answer, based on your unique circumstances and desires.

    When you have a big dog, probably the most important consideration is the level of containment provided by whatever fence you choose.

    Electronic fences work well for many dogs, but not all. Some dogs, especially larger breeds, can shake off the shock and go on their merry way.

    If you want maximum convenience and lower cost, an electronic fence may meet your needs.

    A physical fence, when high enough and strong enough, will stop all dogs. That said, they can still be climbed over if not tall enough or dug under if not properly reinforced.

    We’ve even seen cases where dogs with powerful jaws have actually chewed down the top of a fence enough to escape!

    Thus, our advice is to be sure to make it tall enough. Some of the giant breeds are over seven feet tall when standing up, which means a six-foot fence may not be tall enough.

    If you want maximum containment and protection for your dog, a physical fence is probably the best choice.

    However, physical fences tend to be more expensive and far more difficult and time-consuming to install.

    Are Electronic Fences Expensive?

    Picture of money

    We’ve mentioned several times that there is a big difference in cost between an electronic fence and a traditional physical fence. The bottom line is that an electronic fence will almost always be less expensive, especially for larger yards.

    Electronic Fences

    The average cost of an electronic fence is between $200 and $1400. Wireless fences are on the higher end of the price range, as they involve extra equipment to transmit the signal.

    In addition, there are ongoing costs for replacing batteries, and larger yards can require multiple transmitters or even satellite service for multiple acres.

    Physical Fences

    For physical fences, a six-foot-high cedar fence is the most common type used in residential housing. The nationwide average cost to install this type of fence ranges from $15 to $35 per running foot.

    The nationwide average yard perimeter requiring fencing is 150 running feet, so a six-foot cedar fence would cost between $2,250 and $5,250. This can of course increase rapidly for large yards.

    This cost can be considerably larger if using more expensive material such as stone or brick, or considerably smaller for chain link fencing.

    Using cost as your only factor, an electronic fence is the logical choice. The trade-off is less certainty that it will work for your dog and less protection from incoming threats.

    And, of course, you also must be comfortable with the use of an electric shock to correct your dog.

    Who is for or Against the Use of Electronic Fences?

    If you’ve read this far, you’ve probably already sniffed out the fact that here at Large Breed Dog World, we are not in favor of electronic fences. We simply don’t believe in the use of pain and negative reinforcement as a training method.

    However, what we think doesn’t matter. What matters is what you, the dog owner, think.

    But we also recognize that most people are interested in what the experts think, so we did research (so you don’t have to) and this is what we found.

    What The Vets Think About Electronic Fences

    As is true of dog owners, we found there is a range of opinions among veterinarians when it comes to using electronic fences for dogs, big or small.

    Many veterinarians are dead set against them, while others can see a need for them in certain circumstances.

    Veterinarians who support electronic fences argue that they can be an effective and safe way to keep big dogs within a designated area and prevent them from getting lost or exposed to dangers such as automobiles.

    They also see these fences as a solution if you’re unable to install a traditional fence. This can be due to cost considerations (electronic fences are less expensive) or situations such as a neighborhood that prohibits traditional fences.

    In other words, they see them as better than nothing.

    For veterinarians who are against the use of electronic fences, their primary concern is that the “static correction” (i.e., electric shock!) that a dog receives when crossing the invisible boundary may be distressing for the animal.

    Moreover, some dogs can develop anxiety and fear about the unexpected shock they experience when accidentally crossing the boundary.

    Another concern is that electronic fences don’t prevent other animals or people from entering the property. They have seen cases where coyotes, who will frequently attack in pairs, have crossed the barrier to attack even a big dog, who now has nowhere to go.

    To be fair, here in one article by a veterinarian very much against electronic fences and one from a veterinarian who supports them for certain situations.

    We were unable to find any detailed and completely positive reviews by veterinarians unless they were endorsing a specific brand. We suspect these were paid endorsements.

    At best, some support the use of an electronic fence in extraordinary situations where there are no other options for keeping your dog confined.

    Vets are Important, But What Do Other Organizations Think About Electronic Fences?

    We were unable to find any professional canine organizations that fully support the use of electronic fences (perhaps you can!). What we found was that many organizations are against them.

    Here are a few of the organizations that have published position statements advising against the use of electronic collars:

    • People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA)
    • American Veterinary Society of Animal Behavior (AVSAB)
    • Association of Pet Dog Trainers (APDT)
    • Pet Professionals Guild (PPG)
    • The Humane Society of the United States

    In addition, shock collars have been banned by many countries, including:

    • England
    • Austria
    • Denmark
    • Germany
    • Norway
    • Portugal
    • Slovenia
    • Sweden
    • Switzerland
    • Wales
    • Australia
    • Canada (some provinces)

    As far as the U.S. is concerned, only New York currently has a complete bad on the sale or distribution of electric shock collars, although they are being actively debated in several other states, including California.

    Final Word

    As we’ve said, the final decision as to choosing an electronic fence or a traditional physical fence is entirely up to you. Only you can decide which is best given your particular circumstances. Hopefully, we’ve given you enough information to make an educated decision.

    To summarize:

    Yes, electronic fences work for big dogs, but not always, and not for all big dogs. Their biggest advantage in our opinion is cost. They are considerably less expensive than most physical fences.

    The trade-off is that they are not 100% effective, and they don’t protect your dog from outsiders coming into the yard.

    Physical fences, so long as they are tall enough and designed to prevent digging under them, can be a 100% effective solution for containing your dog and keeping it safe. The biggest downside is cost.

    Other considerations are that the terrain in your yard may make it difficult to install a physical fence, plus they do block the view and may conflict with your landscaping.

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