Teaching your dog a boundary around your yard or property is a valuable skill. It will not only allow your dog to access more activities and have a greater quality of life but will also give you the peace of mind that he won't run away from home.
July is National Lost Pet Prevention Month and while we'd all like to think it'll never happen to us, runaway and lost pets are a reality that we all must face. Luckily, there is so much that you can do to keep your animal from straying too far from home. For dogs, boundary training can be a highly effective tool. To help you get the process started, we've invited expert Kat Stevens-Stanley to share some of her top tips with us.
Teaching your dog a boundary around your yard or property is a valuable skill. It will not only allow your dog to access more activities and have a greater quality of life, but will also give you the peace of mind that he won't run away from home. If you live in a neighborhood that doesn’t allow for physical fencing, teaching your dog an invisible boundary is a must. It is often thought that if you live in a neighborhood like this, you must resort to using electronic or “invisible” fencing and a shock collar to contain your dog in your yard. However, you can teach your dog a boundary without the use of electronic shocks by using positive reinforcement training, good stimulus proofing, and practicing with distractions. Here are six steps to teaching your dog an invisible boundary using positive reinforcement:
Use flags, cones, or string to mark the physical boundary lines you want your dog to learn (starting in small sections can be helpful). If the area you are teaching your dog to stay within already has an easy-to-see, physically defined boundary, you may be able to do this without the use of cones or string. For example, I am teaching my dog to stay within the boundaries of my front lawn. The line I do not want him to cross is the sidewalk.
Make sure your dog is secured on a long-line leash. You may want to consider using a well-fitted harness to ensure your dog does not escape. If you have a tree or post near your boundary, you can tether your dog there. If you do not have a tree or post and do not want to hold one end yourself, consider having a friend hold the end of your long line. If your dog already has a great recall, you can also allow them to drag the leash.
Allow and encourage your dog to move freely within your boundary. When your dog is close to the edge you have marked, give your dog a treat. You can toss your treat somewhere within your boundary limits, or you can return to your dog and give them the treat directly. If your dog is conditioned to clicker training, you can click and treat your dog for staying within the boundary line. You can walk up and down small sections at a time with your dog and reward him for staying within the line. If your dog should cross the line, do not use punishment. Ask your dog to return to the correct side and reward them for doing so. Make your dog associates this side of the boundary with good things.
PRO TIP: Be careful to only reward your dog for correcting the mistake the first few times. If you reward the corrected mistake each time, your dog may get confused and think exiting and re-entering the area is the skill you are trying to teach.
In dog training, there are three “D”s to consider when teaching a new skill. The DISTANCE between you and the dog, the DURATION of time the dog is performing a skill, and the level of DISTRACTIONS. You’ll want to work on each of these separately when teaching something new. This is especially important when it comes to skills like recall and boundary training.
When your dog is doing great at staying within the boundary, try walking past the line and see if he stops. Make sure to treat him for staying on the correct side. Vary the speed that you move and test your dog further (e.g., walk past line or run past line). You can also try standing on the other side and dropping toys and food outside of the boundary. Be sure to reward heavily when your dog does not cross the line.
When practicing this exercise, be sure to use EXTREMELY HIGH-VALUE REWARDS. Don’t skimp on good treats when it comes to teaching your pet a skill that could be the difference between life and death. Find your dog’s strongest motivator and use it!
Practice and vary the amount of time you can be on the other side of the boundary without your dog crossing, as well as the distance between you and the dog. If your dog is frequently crossing the line, think about what you can do to make the exercise easier. Set your dog up for success!
Because there can be so many environmental factors and so many tempting attractions for your dog, it’s important to take your time practicing this skill. Some dogs may benefit from having regular training with visible flags posted for four to six months. Living in Michigan, our landscape can change drastically with the seasons (think lots of snow!). Take into consideration you may need to revisit your boundary line when seasons change. Even when you think your dog has mastered staying within your defined boundary, never ever leave your dog alone in an unsecured area. If you wouldn’t leave your wallet and credit cards in your front lawn unattended, you shouldn’t leave your dog there either.
What do I do if I have an 'OOPS!' and now my dog is lost?
Always make sure your dog is wearing visible I.D. tags when outdoors and that he is microchipped, should he become separated from his collar. Be sure your most current information is updated on tags and microchips. It is a good idea to inspect your dog’s tags every so often to make sure they are not overly worn or unreadable. Also keep digital copies of current photos of your dog. Most of us nowadays have a camera on our phones, and if you’re anything like me, you’re constantly snapping pics of your dogs. Make sure to have at least one or two good, clear photos of your dog that show his full body. Even having a pre-made “LOST” poster on your computer is a great idea. This way if your dog gets lost, you’ll be able to upload your dog’s information quickly while searching for your dog.
Several local online community groups have been successful in helping people locate their lost pets. I’m happy to have been part of a couple this past summer already! Social media can be a good thing! The Facebook group, For the Love of Louie-Michigan Lost Pet Lookers, seems to be the most active lost pet site in our area. Ferndale keeps a Lost Pet Database active through its Facebook page as well and Madison Heights Animal Control and Hazel Park Animal Control Shelter are constantly sharing photos of FOUND dogs. If you are someone who likes animals, you may want to subscribe to updates from your local city pages so you can be alerted if there is a lost dog in your area.
About the Author
Kat Stevens-Stanley is an Animal Behavior College certified dog trainer, licensed Family Paws Parent Education presenter, Association of Professional Dog Trainers & Pet Professional Guild member, and mother to a toddler-aged daughter and multi-dog household. Kat sees clients for a wide spectrum of dog training and behavioral needs. One of her favorite topics is supporting families with dogs and children. Kat assists individuals and families throughout the Metro Detroit area and northern Oakland County. She can be reached at: www.KatStevensDogTraining.com