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.