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Boundary Training Your Dog

By May 17, 2016Dog Blog

1. Carefully consider where you want the boundary line to be and don’t change it once you have decided. Walk the perimeter without your dog and make sure the area inside is safe. It is helpful to use visual markers like small flags (I suggest you get the ones with metal stakes rather than plastic). If you have a dense tree line around the boundary, or shrub line, you can use those natural landmarks. If you want your dog to stay out of certain areas like gardens, flower beds, etc., put the flags around those as well. Dogs are extremely visual and have a remarkable ability to remember visual markers. Be sure to incorporate their sense of smell. For safety purposes are sure to keep the boundary line two or three feet back from the “real” boundary. This is especially important if the real boundary is at the edge of a street or sidewalk. Everyone in the household needs to be involved and be consistent! I cannot stress that enough.
2. After the boundary is established, start walking your dog along the boundary line on leash. Do this at least four to six times a day for 3 days to a week (depending on the dog). Be sure to encourage them to sniff along the line. Never let them cross the invisible line with a paw or even a nose – not even an inch. If they do, give them a verbal correction like “EH EH” or “TOO FAR!” and if necessary use a quick leash correction. You can use “No” which is the universal human-to-dog correction word if your dog knows that word and responds to it for any behavior you do not want.
3. When your dog is no longer attempting to investigate anything outside the imaginary line, begin walking him up to it and stopping. It is beneficial to teach your dog “wait” “stay” and “stop” for many reasons but particularly useful for this training. Don’t forget to continue walking your dog around the boundary line every day while advancing the training! Work on this every day until your dog is consistently stopping at the line.
4. Usually within a week you are ready to cross the boundary line while instructing your dog to stay behind the line and knowing he will do just that.  Step over the line just a few feet at first after giving the “stay” command. How consistent your dog is with “stay” will determine how long you wait before returning to your dog, giving them their release word or phrase to let him know he can break the stay and then praising and treating. Remember, stay isn’t finished until you have released your dog and he has broken position. Just like with training “stay” you will want to begin to “proof” your dog’s understanding of the boundary and ability to respect it no matter what is going on beyond the mystical, invisible barrier. You can begin by tossing treats or a favorite toy or ball just a few feet over the boundary. Hopefully, you have taught your dog the “leave it” command and he is solid with that one! If you have, it will aid in helping him understand that anything outside the line is off limits! If he looks at you rather than trying to get the treat or toy or whatever you have tossed IT’S PUPPY PARTY TIME! Use a DIFFERENT treat or toy reward and lots of praise!
5. It is imperative that you are consistent and that he is never allowed to cross the boundary line without your permission (using his release word or phrase or a separate one just for the boundary line like “Lets go walking” and only use that one when you are taking him outside of the boundary at the ONE designated spot that you have predetermined. If you want to use his leash, start early so his advanced cue can be simply presenting the leash. It is imperative that he only learns egress and ingress from ONE spot, so determine that spot early on.
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. In fact, I suggest making yourself a very light weight lead (strong enough to stop your dog if you have to step on it of course) so he feels “free.” Using the lightweight long lead, repeat Step 4 and let him impress you with what he has learned.  Use lots of treats or whatever rewards motivate your dog most and praise when they remain inside the boundary or ignore items tossed over. Be sure to reward ONLY 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, like a neighbor or friend walking outside the boundary line, having someone (kids if possible) tossing balls and playing outside the boundary, someone riding a bike, etc. When you think your dog is ready for the “ultimate test” have someone walk their dog on leash outside the line. It is also good to leave your dog inside the boundary line while you walk past it, i.e. into a neighbor’s yard, and have a conversation while your dog waits for you inside the line. Don’t ruse the advanced steps! Remember set your pooch up for success by making each goal attainable!
8. If your dog struggles or makes a mistake at any point along the way, don’t get frustrated, just simply go back a step or two and continue to consistently reinforce the rules. You must lead by example when teaching your dog. In other words, you must make sure you are always, without fail, consistent. Never harshly punish them for making a mistake; just go back a little and reinforce from the point your dog was successful.
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 your dog returns to you on command. This command can save your dog’s life and should be reinforced for their lifetime.
10. Make it fun and be creative with your temptations to cross the line and be sure to work at different areas along the boundary line. This training is something you must reinforce over and over throughout your dog’s lifetime if you want it to become so deeply ingrained that it is a natural behavior and nothing in the world besides your permission cue will get them across that line.
Solid boundary training can take a few MONTHS so please do not rush it! Have fun with it and celebrate each victory, as you should when training your dog any new behavior. Once it is successfully and fully trained, your dog can run around outside without a physical boundary and you can feel safe knowing he will stay inside the “safe zone” you have created with your dog.
Boundary training is important even if you have a real fence or an invisible electric fence. Those types of containment methods do not teach dog boundaries. They simply confine them and many a dog has learned to escape those containment barriers. If your dog understands boundaries and respects the boundaries you have determined and taught him, he will be happier and have much less desire to “break free” so to speak.
NEVER, EVER, EVER, EVER tie or chain your dog to ANYTHING as a means to contain your dog. This only creates a stronger desire to break free. This is largely because they are forced into a situation of being a sitting duck and they absolutely know that if any danger approaches they have no ability to flee to safety and that is cruel beyond words. Your goal should be to teach, not just restrict your dog.
Remember, boundary training does not keep unwanted visitors – whether it is animal or human – outside of the boundary so never leave your dog outside when you are away.
Also, remember that some dogs can become more territorial of the space inside the boundary line so be sure to invite friends, neighbors, family and friendly dogs (with their human guardians of course) into the space while working on the boundary training. 