How to Teach Boundaries to Your Dog

Boundary training can result in many wonderful benefits, but only if you maintain a consistent level of expectation for your dog.

Even a dog who appears to be fully boundary trained can never be considered 100% reliable. There is always the possibility that something or someone may come along and prove too tempting to the dog, thereby endangering your pet and/or other people or animals.

Developing a Pattern

The following is a good way to follow through with boundary training dogs outdoors. Remember that the outside world can be incredibly distracting for your dog. Boundary flags and clicker training may prove beneficial and can help build up your dog’s understanding of what you are trying to do during each training session.

Retreat Pattern:  Days 1, 2, 3

  • Walk the dog on a 5 to 6-foot leash around the perimeter of your property several times a day.
  • Do not let the dog roam freely outside.
  • Approach the fence line at least twice a day with the dog on a leash.
  • Each time she begins to wander over your property line, turn quickly INTO the yard, give a little jerk on the leash, and walk her back inside the line.
  • Continue this process several times a day.
  • When the dog begins to follow, PRAISE!! with plenty of positive reinforcements (treats, pats, verbal praise) to reward the dog for coming when called or staying when told.
  • Repeat this procedure at multiple points throughout the yard for 3 days.
  • When your dog returns into your yard with no prompt from you and will not approach the boundary, you may move on to the next step.

Consequences for their Actions

Correction:  1st session on the 4th day:

The handler holds the leash.  Have another family member walk through the boundary while the leash handler allows the dog enough slack to try and follow.

DO NOT LOOK AT OR CALL TO THE DOG TO FOLLOW YOU! 

If the dog chooses to follow, it should receive a correction.

PRAISE the dog if it turns back into the yard to return to the handler.

Repeat.

Be sure to move to different areas of the boundary line.

If the dog avoids the boundary, you may move on to distractions.

Proofing the Training

Distractions: Days 4, 5, 6, 7:

  • The dog is on a leash for the proofing stage.
  • NEVER pull or call the dog into the boundary while practicing with distractions!!
  • Set up different types of distractions at different points of the boundary.
  • Be sure to practice with lots of different types of distractions.  Dogs cannot generalize, so just because they don’t follow a ball through the boundary doesn’t mean they won’t follow a cat, or a child, etc.
  • PRAISE if your dog returns to you.

When you are trying to proof him with the perimeter training, it is fair to tempt him to come into the street with anything you can think of EXCEPT any formal commands. If you did this, you would be confusing your dog and not being fair. i.e., you’ve issued a command and then corrected him for obeying you.

I’m afraid that’s not right.

You can say, “Do you want to go in the street?” and still correct the dog if he walks in the street because THE ONLY time he should walk in the street is if you give him the release command.

In addition, you do not want to mistakenly say, “LOUIE Do you want to go in the street?” because the dog’s name is basically an informal come command. We don’t ever want to associate the dog’s name with something negative.

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Adding a Long Line

Long Lead w/SUPERVISION: 1 Week:

  • Be sure you keep your dog on a long line during this phase of training.
  • Approach the fence line at least twice a day with the dog on a leash.  When you are close enough that the dog can cross the boundary, turn quickly INTO the yard.
  • When the dog begins to follow, PRAISE!!  Repeat this procedure at multiple points throughout the yard for 7 days.
  • When your dog returns into your yard with no prompt from you and will not approach the boundary with distractions, you may move on to the next step.
  • Keep your dog on the property as much as possible during the first month of training.  This will make it easier for the dog to understand the boundary.
  • If you must remove the dog, place the dog in the car, and drive out of the boundary.

You may also use a remote collar to train your dog.  The point of using either the long line or the remote collar is to make it easier to teach the dog that he cannot cross the perimeter regardless of where he is or what distractions may be in his way… until he gets conditioned to respond.

If you can just run fast, you don’t need ANY long line or e-collar. The equipment you choose to use makes it easier for YOU and the environment you’re training.

For example, if I’m teaching the dog to retrieve birds and he needs to run into heavy brush, then obviously, a remote e-collar will work best for my needs. But if I’m training in a regular grassy park without many obstacles, then a long line will work best.

If it’s just in my backyard, I know that I can go to the dog and make him come… without ANY equipment on… and he’ll learn the same lesson because he cannot get away from me.

If you have reached the limits of positive reinforcement, you may feel it is necessary to use a shock collar. However, if it comes to this, you want to first consult with your veterinarian or a professional dog trainer. A shock collar is considered more of a punishment-based training tool. Humane training, as we describe here, has proven to be much more effective.

Now it’s time to work with your dog Off-leash

Off Lead w/SUPERVISION: 2 Weeks:

  • Be sure you STAY WITH THE DOG during this training phase and keep him tied when you are not supervising him.
  • During this training time, approach the fence line at least twice a day with the dog.
  • When you are close enough that the dog can cross the boundary, turn quickly into the yard.
  • When the dog begins to follow, PRAISE!!
  • Repeat this procedure at multiple points throughout the yard for 14 days.
  • When your dog returns into your yard with no prompt from you and will not approach the boundary with distractions, you may move on to the next step.
  • Make the distance short at first, and slowly increase the distance between you and your dog.
  • When your dog first is untied, give her some ‘fun time,’ and also, before she comes back inside, play with her.
  • Make your dog understand that the yard is a FUN place to be!!!

Off Lead UNSUPERVISED: 2 Weeks:

  • During the time, be sure you observe your dog from within your house or from a distance.
  • Make the unsupervised time outside brief at first, and slowly increase the time.
  • Be sure you frequently check on your dog.
  • When your dog first is unsupervised, tie him up between unsupervised sessions.

Remove Flags

After two weeks of SUCCESSFUL unsupervised containment, you can begin removing the flags if you are using flags.

Remove ½ of the flags each day until they are all down.

OBSERVE to make sure that your dog still retreats at the boundary lines when the flags are removed.

From the dog’s point of view, each perimeter is like an invisible fence. Once he comes up with every new boundary, he will wait for your release command to let him know that it’s okay to pass through.

For example, if he’s standing inside your front door and you give him the release command, he will then run out the front door but stop when he comes to the edge of the yard and again wait for you to issue the release command.

Think of the release command as being analogous with telling your dog, “Exercise finished.” So, regardless of what exercise the dog may be doing, you always release him with the same phrase.

Boundary Training Indoors

Like with outdoor boundary training, you will want to have your dog’s leash and some of his favorite treats when boundary training indoors. You are ultimately teaching your dog that some places in the home are worth staying out of rather than going into. You do this by rewarding your dog with treats and positive reinforcement when training.

  1. Start by moving toward the room that is off-limits and stop right before actually going inside. When doing this, make sure you keep your dog’s leash short so they stop when you do.
  2. If your dog stops when you do, it is time to reward them with a treat. Once this is done, turn around and begin walking away from the doorway of the room that is off-limits. You need to repeat this process until your dog understands what is expected.
  3. Once your dog shows an understanding, take one step inside the room. If your dog truly understands, he will stop right outside the doorway as he did during your training. If not, block them from entering the room. You will then need to go back to the previous repetitions before moving on to the next steps.
  4. Step further into the room. If your dog stays put as he is supposed to, leave the room and reward him with a treat. Once you have accomplished these steps of the boundary training indoors, you can start to introduce distractions. When doing this, only introduce one distraction at a time so you don’t overwhelm your dog.

Building up training in distance, duration, and distraction can take several weeks.

For management during the indoor dog boundary training session, you can use baby gates as a containment system to help manage your dog’s behavior until the training is complete. Baby gates are a good way to block off doorways and hallways in the home.

Dog Boundary Games

When training, dog boundary games can prove to be fundamental. Dog boundary games help teach your dog when they should be staying in a designated area until they are released. These games promote and develop muscle control, help you work with reactivity, increase your dog’s boost motivation, decrease arousal, and promote feelings of calmness.

The fun with dog boundary games comes when you start to introduce distractions. When testing boundaries, drop a toy or food and see if it distracts your dog. If there is no reaction, then reinforce this behavior. The ultimate goal here is to have no reaction and a sense of calmness.

You can also use words of excitement to distract your dog, like shouting “Ready!” Doing this allows you to emphasize self-control.

Why Use Boundary Training With Your Dog?

Dog boundary training and teaching basic commands are essential because it all helps keep your dog in its yard without having to use an electric or invisible fence or a physical fence. It teaches dogs to stay out of forbidden areas and helps keep them safe. Establishing boundaries helps solve other canine behavior issues as well and can help with other problems you may be having, like begging for food at the dinner table or making a run for it every time the door is opened.

Summary

Follow the instructions to the letter. When training, take the dog to the boundary.  If the dog goes over “boundary,” give snap correction with verbal NO.  Also, use a visual boundary to provide a visual cue in the first week or two on-leash training.

You will need to train boundaries 3 to 4 times a day.   Your firm “No” and gentle leash tug will correct your dog until it graduates to off-leash training and learns the boundary itself will cause a correction by you squirting the dog without it seeing you do it.

Use this method to reinforce—not replace—good training and obedience. Otherwise, you have a false sense of security.

Supervise your unleashed dog at all times. If your dog goes over the boundary without correction, it will take longer to train the boundaries.

NOTE: Even a dog who appears to be fully boundary trained can never be considered 100% reliable. There is always the possibility that something or someone may come along and prove too tempting to the dog, thereby endangering your pet and/or other people or animals.

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