Boundary Training: No fence, no problem

A dog with pet insurance knows his boundaries.

By: Judy Luther
Certified Professional Dog Trainer
For Pets Best Insurance

I make no secret of the fact that I am not a fan of electric fences. But many communities and subdivisions do not allow “visible” fences. So while there are many things you can do to protect pet health and safety, like signing them up for pet insurance, what is a dog owner to do if they can’t have a fence?

Boundary training is a great way to keep your dog in its yard without the use of electric fencing or even an actual fence. I also use boundary training to teach dogs to stay out of areas where they should not go, like flower beds and swimming pools. Many pet health insurance companies report injuries or illnesses stemming from dogs getting into areas or things they should stay away from. Boundary training can help keep your dog safe and healthy.

Training your dog to stay inside a boundary is quite simple. To get started you will need to purchase marker flags from your local hardware store. These are generally found in the garden section. You will also need high value treats for your dog. I like to use grilled chicken, roast beef, or cheese cut into very small pieces. Look for a treat your dog will go crazy over, and only use this special treat for boundary training. I prefer to use a clicker as a marker for training this behavior. The clicker is a reward marker communicating to your dog that she did the right thing and will get a reward.

You will start inside your house with your dog. Show your dog the flag, when she touches it with her nose click the clicker and give her a treat. This will teach her that touching the flag is what gets her the reward or treat. Next, place the flag a few feet away from you. Have your dog touch the flag; when she does this again you will click. She should then return to you to get her treat. Move the flag further way and practice having your dog go to the flag, click and give her a treat when she returns to you. By doing this, you will be conditioning your dog to move away from the flag.

Before moving the training outside, I like to work with my dogs for about a week to make sure they understand they are to move away from the flags. Remember to always use a clicker and a treat to reinforce this.

Once your dog understands they get rewarded for moving away from the flags, it is time to take the training outside. Place flags along your boundary line every 8-10 feet.

Using a 15 to 20 foot long line, walk your dog around the boundary of your yard. She should go to the flags and touch them. After this happens you will click and your dog should return to you for her treat. Remember to continue to use your clicker and click and dispense a treat every time she touches the flags. For the best success practice this several times a day.

You are classically conditioning your dog to return to you when she sees the flags. The flag become the cue to return to you, this becomes an involuntary response to the dog.

Practice as often as you can, 8 to 10 weeks of practice will help make this a very solid behavior. The more you practice the more solid the behavior will be.

As your dog gets better at returning to you, increase the length of the long line to 40 or 50 feet. You can also introduce some low level distractions to the training. This increases the difficulty of the behavior so make sure your dog gets a lot of praise and reinforcement for returning to you. Gradually increase the level of the distractions. If your dog is having trouble with this part of the training, make sure your distractions are not too high level.

The last step is working with your dog off-leash. Make sure you are supervising your dog during this part of the training. Reinforce your dog often during the off lead sessions. Be aware of what is going on outside your yard and if you feel the distractions are too much for your dog to handle put her back on the lead.

You will also want to make sure your yard is a fun environment for your dog. The yard should be a place where your dog feels safe and happy.

One last tip; Do not punish your dog if she goes out of her boundary. Simply call her back and praise her when she returns. This will teach her that being inside the boundary is always rewarding and good things happen whenever she is inside the boundary.

In the next blog we will learn how boundary training can keep your dog out of the flower beds, away from the pool, out of specific rooms in your home, etc.


  • Vikki

    While Boundary and Recall training are necessities, PLEASE don’t try boundary training with a sight hound and expect it to work. Sight hounds by definition will chase anything that moves and are on target the whole time. Recall is important, but on a prey they most often will not even hear you. And a boundary will not even be visible to them.

    Know your animal and your breed.

  • hrush

    Thank you for your comment Vikki. The better you know your own animal and the nature of its breed– the more easily you will be able to train your pet and keep it safe.

  • Kevin L.

    Good comment Vikki. And it brings to a point why invisible shock fences have other negative qualities you may not have been told about. Some breeds (your sight hounds included) are so driven by the instinct to chase, they will ignore even the most severe shock to chase that moving object. Once the chase stimulus is removed (the bunny runs into its hole) your dog cannot return to the yard because a shock will be delivered when the dogs tries to re-enter. Leaving your dog on the wrong side of the “fence” and nowhere to go.

  • Amber

    Hmm… I think using flags would be a good idea. We have been trying to teach our puppy (Who is about 5 months old) to stay in the yard since she was 5 weeks old. No luck at all. She is a 1/4 lab, 1/4 German Sheppard, and 1/2 husky. We’ve been trying to teach her to stay in the back yard only and that works – she never goes into the front. The reason we do not want her in the front yard is because we live right next to a busy road. Not a good spot for a dog to be without a leash. The neighbors behind us have a tall fence set up, so there’s one boundary for the puppy. The other is the house. But, along the other two sides there is nothing. She does really well on the left ‘boundary’ but not on the right. She’s constantly running over to these two trees that are right next to the fence. We don’t want her over there because it would be really easy for her to run into the neighbor’s front yard. So, it’s time to start back from the beginning and not let her out without a leash on… Hopefully we will be able to get some boundary flags soon, they would help us a lot I think.

    Also, she only comes to certain people… Well really there’s only one person she will come to no matter what because of his deep voice… I was thinking that whistle training would be a good idea because with a whistle she wouldn’t know who was blowing it. Any tips?

  • Paula Deason

    I was thinking the same thing about our Great Pyrenees that Vikki said. They work the yard, I believe that my only solution is to fence their boundary in. It is pretty darn sad in America when humans resort to bullying innocent animals.

  • Diane

    I’ve found training is only as effective as the amount of time you put into it and it is not a one time deal. It is always continuous and ongoing throughout the lifetime of my dog. Conditioning needs constant reinforcement and nothing except a leash or a good fence is 100%. High prey drive is difficult to overcome. You need to know your dog extremely well and be very observant for changes in behavior and environment. It is not unusual for dogs to actually run into cars because they are so focused on their prey. Know what pushes your dog’s buttons.

  • Becky

    I’m looking forward to the next blog about how to train your dog not to go in a specific room. We want our living room to be a no-dog room, but we have no physical way to keep her out. (The door opening is too wide for a gate.)

  • Jillian

    I did something similar with my dog, only inside. My dog has a bad habit of lying on the floor right where we walk (one of her nicknames is “Speedbump”), and when my granddad has a plate of food in his hand, the results can be disastrous. So I placed a piece of tape on the floor, and started only giving her treats while she was on the “other” side of the tape. It took 2 days, and now she knows “out” and a finger point means “get on the other side of the tape” (which originally was used for getting out of the kitchen; much easier, since the boundary is the different texture of the floor between the tile in the kitchen and the carpet in the dining room) … although she still shows her rebellious streak by putting her toes right on the boundary line … but not over it :)

  • Sue

    I support this method, and would add that as you set out the boundary flags, put them near some permanent things that mark the boundary as well. I’m a big believer in long lines, and also use a drag line- a 3/8″ slippery line about 30′ long. It trails behind the dog, giving me a “handle if I need it. The slick line doesn’t tangle. I have to do refresher training every spring… Too many new smells revealed when the snow melts.

  • Scott

    Can’t imagine this working on a 6-acre property that includes bluffs and wooded areas, 6 buildings on the property, and traffic that’s in and out all day long 6 days a week, going to and from a retail business that’s in one of the 6 buildings. There are also many things on and within the 6 acres that are unsafe for the dog, including, at times, moose, foxes and other wildlife.

  • gwoof!

    Hi Scott,
    We have 10 acres with about a 2 acre diameter semi-cleared before the woods get thick. We have a Welsh Corgi, Choc.Lab, Red Heeler, and recently a Catahoula rescue in the teenage phase. The wind blows like hell here so often a verbal recall is ineffective. I use a Dogtra IQ collar with a vibration pager. All my dogs are positively conditioned to respond to the pager first. We have deer, wild turkeys (love to roll in that turkey poop) and some coyotes. As a last resort when one of the dogs spot a deer there is no stopping them unless I use the ‘nick’ stim button. The different dogs require different levels of stim to break the trance they are in. Around here people shoot dogs who chase deer. The ‘nick stim’ is one two hundredths of a second. So you’d have to stim your dog 200 times to equal 2 seconds. If you want to use this approach DO your homework about e-collars. Try it on your own arm or neck first. When my dogs are outside I am outside, this is a must. The corgi and the cattle dog no longer need the collar at all. They are happy health dogs. Cattle dogs can be very instintively stubborn, with no sheep to herd they will chase and bite any wheel that moves. One episode of The Dog Whisper took Cesar to Kansas where a farmer’s red heeler sustained first a broken jaw and later had an eye poke out by chasing farm machinery. Cesar cure to the dog in two five minute sessions using an e-collar. No doubt he saved the dog’s life. Once again the use of such a device is not to be taken lightly, train yourself before you train your dog. Watch out there are some bad training videos out there. And on the other side there are ignorant people who will curse for using an e-collar. In the end we all want happy, health, and safe dogs.

    best of luck, gwoof!

  • Everett Draper

    : I found this approach very effective with my Belgian Sheepdog, “Shadow”. He learned the boundaries of the property and only rarely in his early training did he not recognize the boundary. A wireless fence was not necessary but may have been helpful in the beginning. However, my goal would have been to not use the fence at all once he was boundary trained.

  • Alyssa Carnes

    my dog is a 2 year old germna shepard pitbull mix andshes pulls me every where she goes fine beside our fence on the right side but as soon as we get to the middle of the yard she taked off for my neighbors yard we live buy a highway and all my neighbors have dogs what should i do im 2 yeats old and dont have a clicker is there anything else i can use instead of a clicker


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