How to train a dog to stay in an unfenced yard
Don’t fence me in! Educate your dog to stay within their natural boundaries, willingly. All dogs need boundaries and being naturally territorial will stake out their own.
Use a dog’s natural territorial instinct to educate to where boundaries begin and end. This is a critical part of the process on how to train a dog to stay in an unfenced yard. All dogs in my household learn this from puppyhood on.
Dogs who are prey driven, have a history of wandering, or aggressive/reactive dogs are best behind fences, as they are not reliable nor trustworty. Behavioral training and increased skills training will be more important for these dogs.
Puppies learn the steps quickly versus a rescue dog who might be an escape artist and wanderer. Six weeks from now, your dog can have solid instruction on how to stay in an unfenced yard.
Boundary basic training — two weeks
In the first 48 hours establish clear boundary lines. Be very clear with all family members where the boundary lines end around the entire property.
Day one. Walk the perimeter eight times. Make this walk one of clarity. Without speaking point with right hand (dog on left) and swing arm back and forth while dog is watching. Dogs orient visually. Point and swing at a boundary tape from tied from stake to stake OR orange surveyor flags OR simple orange cones found in any toy store or department store. Dogs remember topography. Point and wave allows dog to watch, learn and follow.
In day two walk around the perimeter six times.
How do you know you are ready to go to the next step?
The dog will be walking out to the boundary and automatically STOP.
NOTE: Some dogs may need more than two days of perimeter walking.
Days six through nine:
- Add periodic sits at or near the boundary line while walking the perimeter.
- Add stay cues. These are done at or near the boundary as you walk the perimeter. Ask for a stay. Walk away from the dog. Come back and treat. Do circles around the dog with the object being the dog stays and does not cross the boundary.
- Increase stay criteria. Periodically stop, ask for a sit and a stay. Now, step over the boundary, palm up and facing dog restating stay cue. Then step back over boundary (make these steps dramatic) and praise and treat the dog’s stay.
- TROUBLESHOOTING: If the dog moves continue teaching the stay cue. They aren’t ready to go further until stay is solid. Boundary training requires a strong cue of stay. Eventually, stay will include down and stand positions. Take it slow and train it well. Just work with sit/stay for the first two weeks.
- The start of distraction training. The cue «leave it» is a part of impulse control training and a BIG part of boundary training. Toss a treat beyond, but close to the boundary. Cue ‘leave it’. Use a clicker and click for staying inside the boundary. Reward with a treat from hand or bait bag. Recover treat tossed BUT DO NOT give it to dog.
Continue in days ten through fourteen strengthening responses. Using a clicker to mark the correct behavior of staying on the property helps accelerate the training. Always follow the click with a reward.
By now, you have established very clear guidelines of where the boundaries end. Through the process of clicking for the ACTION of staying «inside» the boundary the behavior you want is strengthened.
Intermediate boundary training — four weeks
In the first six weeks, drive dog to walk/hikes. Stepping outside the boundary will create confusion in training.
Week Three — Call away game
A call away is a prompt cue, a type of recall. This week you’ll add the cue ‘come away’.
- Walk toward boundary line (in several places) and then run backwards calling dog enthusiastically to «come away!» Click when dog is on their way to you — marking the action of moving away from the boundary. Reward highly. This is all done on lead. Repeat.
- Goal: Automatic boundary recognition. This becomes apparent when the dog stops and/or turns away before getting to the designated boundary no matter where they are on the property. Example: my own dog Chancellor was playing ball on the driveway slope. Washing the car, I didn’t see the ball roll into the road and across the street. When I turned around, there was Chancellor lieing at the base of the boundary looking at the ball across the street. Pretty good for a ball motivated dog. This is the proofing needed to assure a solid understanding of the boundary.
Week Four — The leash drag
Four weeks have gone by and the stay cue should be very solid.
- Start this week by putting the dog on a stay near the boundary. Walk past and over the boundary. Repeat the stay cue.
- Turn away. Stop a foot or two beyond the boundary. The dog is staying, right? If so, click and toss a treat over the dog’s head and body so they have to turn away from the boundary to get the treat.
- Walk back over the boundary and click and treat again. The dog is standing.
Practice makes perfect, so take one step further each time, no further than what the dog can complete successfully within the boundary.
Week Five — practice week four three times per day .
Week Six — Increase distractions
Start with a toy or ball and toss it over the boundary.
- Say «stay»
- Say «leave it»
- Step over the boundary and pick up the toy or ball while the dog is on a stay.
- When you pick it up, click and reward by tossing a treat over your dog’s head or returning to deliver the treat inside the boundary
Other distractions can include people, a bowl of food, people jogging or walking past one at a time. What will the dog encounter outside of the boundary. Train it. The bigger the distraction, the better the reward.
PROOF: Before moving to advanced work, proof progress by walking over the boundary without saying stay. If the dog doesn’t follow, click and deliver five to 10 treats one at a time — a jackpot.
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