Wouldn’t it be nice to be 100% confident that your dog will stay in your yard even without a fence or leash (ok, 95%)? Is there a room in your house your dog must remain out of, such as baby’s room, your formal dining room, or your business office? Are you frustrated with your dog trampling your flowers in the garden you worked so hard on?
There are many ways to contain or control a dog including fences (visible or electronic), chains or tie-outs, pens, leashes, gates, etc. However, none are fool-proof and none truly provide your dog with freedom and a happy life, nor do they teach them anything, only contain them.
Boundary training is an easy and much more reliable alternative. It involves teaching your dog where a boundary line is and that he is not allowed to cross that line, EVER. It’s not as hard as it sounds, just takes a little time and consistency. Fifteen or more minutes a day, every day, for a few weeks, and consistent reinforcement after that. Here’s how to do it.
Prerequisites: It helps if your dog understands basic commands such as “Stay”, “No”, “Leave it”, “Come” and will heel on leash. Be aware that this method of training may not work on every dog. It is best to start with a puppy or young dog. Adults can also learn but it may take a bit longer depending on the dog. Only you know your own dog and how easily trainable they are. Most dogs can easily learn a boundary or “territory”, and most are more than willing to do so. A neutered dog is less likely to want to roam.
For the sake of this article we will use the yard as an example; creating indoor boundaries such as a doorway should be easier to accomplish in a shorter amount of time using the same basic concepts.
1. Take time to decide where the boundary line is. Walk the perimeter without your dog. You can buy little flags to put in the ground temporarily or simply use natural landmarks like trees, driveway, sidewalks, garden edges, etc. Dogs have an uncanny ability to remember visual markers and also incorporate their sense of smell. It is best to keep the boundary line a minimum of 2-3 feet (or more) back from the “real” boundary. In other words, 2-3 feet back from the street or sidewalk, etc. Involve your spouse or other family members so that you all agree on and understand the boundary lines.
2. Once you’ve defined the boundary, begin to walk your dog along the boundary on a leash (even if you are creating an indoor boundary). Walk the dog around 4-6 times a day for 2-3 days. Let them sniff. Do not allow your dog to cross or step over the imaginary boundary line, even an inch. If she does, a simple pop of the leash and a “No” or “Ah-ah” command is all that is necessary.
3. By about the third day continue walking the boundary every day but begin having your dog walk up to the line and stop. If your dog understands the “Wait” or “Stop” command, this is the time to use it. Work on this for 2-3 more days, reinforcing that they are to stop at that boundary. A simple “Ah-ah” also works.
4. After a week or so YOU can begin crossing the boundary yourself while your dog stays behind it. Use the command “Stay”. Step over the boundary a foot or two, turn and face your dog and make them stay. Return to your dog and treat and praise. Begin to toss a treat or favorite toy just a foot or two over the boundary. Here is where the “Leave It” command becomes important. Your dog will learn that ANYTHING outside the boundary line is off limits and they must “leave it”. Use a separate treat and lots of praise when they obey. If your dog looks at you when you toss the treat over the line, it’s party time! Huge reward and praise for that! He is beginning to learn to respect the “leave it zone” and give you his attention instead!!
5. Continue this exercise in different locations along the boundary line. Consistency is a must. He is NEVER to cross the boundary line without your permission. If you are going to take him for a walk you can use a key phrase like “Ok, Let’s go for a walk”, or something similar that is only used at that time, that is your release/permission phrase and that is the ONLY time he is allowed outside the boundary. Determine your release or permission phrase ahead of time. It might be something like “Free Dog!”. Later on when he is advanced simply presenting the leash might serve as his permission cue.
6. After a couple of weeks of reinforcing the boundary over and over every day, your dog should be catching on. It is time to drop the leash and let it drag. Repeat Step 4 but without holding the leash (or you can use a long line if that is more comfortable at this point). Now it is up to your dog to show you what they’ve learned on their own. Use lots of treats and praise when they remain inside the boundary or ignore items tossed over. Be sure to give treats INSIDE the boundary line so you are not tempting them to cross.
7. Once your dog is consistently respecting the boundary line and ignoring treats, toys, etc., raise the stakes. Begin to incorporate more tempting distractions. Have family members or friends walk outside the boundary, ask the kids to toss a ball or act goofy on the other side of the boundary, ask a neighbor to help. Have someone jog by. For a real test, have the neighbor bring their dog out on leash and walk by. Or walk over to your neighbor’s yard and have a conversation for a couple minutes while your dog waits behind the boundary. These are advanced steps, work up to it gradually, stepping up the temptations as your dog shows he is ready.
8. When she makes a mistake, always go back a step or two and start over. The rules must be consistently and continually reinforced. The key to this training is to NEVER break the rules without your specific permission word or phrase. If she is allowed to cross the boundary one day and not the next it will only confuse her. Do not punish harshly when mistakes are made, just go back a few steps and help her to re-learn.
9. Practice walking toward the boundary as you FOLLOW your dog, walking behind him. The goal is for him to stop at the line on his own. You can use the “Stop” command if necessary. It is a good command for your dog to learn anyway, especially for this training. Call him to “Come” to you, away from the boundary. Remember to use lots and lots of praise and treats when he obeys.
10. Get creative on how you work with your dog to reinforce the boundary. Incorporate different types of temptations, with you standing at different places. But it is crucial that steps 1-5 are accomplished solidly first, no matter how long that takes. Play fetch with your dog and every now and then purposely toss the ball beyond the boundary. If she stops and does not go after it, praise her like there is no tomorrow, that is a huge accomplishment! Run alongside her and purposely cross the boundary, the goal is for her to stop as you continue on. Whenever you and your dog are outside incorporate little tests and reinforcements. This training is something you continually reinforce over and over for the lifetime of your dog. You want it to become so ingrained into her that it is a natural behavior. Getting her to cross the boundary will become nearly impossible if this training is accomplished successfully.
Devoting a few months to this training will result in one of the most well trained dogs you could imagine. Your dog can enjoy the freedom of running loose in your yard, even if there is no fence, and you will have complete peace of mind knowing he will not run into the street, dash off to visit the neighbor’s dog, or run away.
I suggest boundary training even if you have an invisible fence or other containment method, as those are strictly “containment” methods, they do not “teach” the dog about boundaries, and if the dog is determined or smart enough, they can outwit any “containment” method, as some of you may have experienced. Also, tying a dog up or keeping them kenneled only makes them want their freedom more, ultimately creating an unhappy, frustrated dog with even more desire to escape.
Most dogs are more than happy to do what is expected of them once they are taught what that is. Containment methods never teach a dog anything, and so they will think it is ok to run off if they can find a way out. Your goal should be to teach, not just restrict your dog. A solidly trained dog will not leave your yard or enter off-limit areas, without your permission. To me, that is the ultimate form of containment. And what a gift to give your dog – freedom from chains, cages or shock devices. Your dog will thank you!
A word of caution… You should never leave your dog unattended in your unfenced yard (i.e. when you leave the house), no matter how well trained. You are ultimately responsible for your dog’s safety at all times.