Michael is an avid pet-lover and content writer on topical themes related to dog care, training and behavioral development.
The Discipline of Boundary Training
Boundaries are invisible barriers that separate restricted areas from unrestricted areas. Their enforcement protects a pet from harm and prevents items in a prohibited area from getting damaged. It is not always possible to erect physical barriers indoors or outdoors for containment purposes. This is where the discipline of boundary training comes in.
Among other things, boundary training helps your pet to learn that as a domestic animal, there are certain limits to its independence and whether it is leashed or not, you are still in authority. This discipline is especially important during these times when working from home has become the norm in many residences.
Several problems can occur when pets are not boundary trained. Having escaped a safety zone, a dog can be completely lost in the attempt to distance itself from unfamiliar sights and sounds. It may also lose its way by following distractions or chasing other animals. A stranger coming upon such a dog could carry it off with him on the pretext of ‘rescuing a stray animal’, and a pet that has been stolen can be difficult to locate.
Also, if a pet escapes, the owner is held liable and can be prosecuted if something illegal happens. There are councils that penalize owners whose dogs are found wandering because pets are not allowed to roam freely by themselves. I once watched a court proceeding where a defendant was being sued because their dog had crossed boundaries and ended up impregnating the plaintiff’s dog, resulting in a litter and vet bills that had to be taken care of.
If you are a pet owner who would like to stop your dog from jumping onto furniture, escaping through the door, or even simply playing in the garden instead of the yard, boundary training is essential. Here is how to go about it.
- The retreat method
- The restraint method
- The principal agency
- The place of authority
1. The Retreat Method
Once you have identified a boundary that your pet is not supposed to cross, the first step is to move away and give it the freedom to do as it pleases. As soon as it steps over the line, walk directly toward it such that it has to back away from you. Once it has retreated into the permitted area, reward it with a treat. If you want, you could use a clicker when offering the treat to help the dog associate the sound with the reward.
Step away again and give the dog space. If your dog takes some steps forward, but sits or settles behind the boundary, offer it a treat again. If it moves forward and crosses the line into the off-limit area, walk toward it again and backing it up until it returns to the original position. Offer a treat again and then move out of its way. Within a short time, it will be clear to the dog that crossing the boundary line equates to no reward.
After your dog has mastered this lesson, try making the prospect of crossing the boundary more attractive. One way to do this is to toss the dog’s favorite toy in the off-limit area. You may also arrange for another family member to pass by the prohibited area with something captivating to the dog. They may use chase or chew toys, bounce a ball, ride a bicycle, or just jog back and forth. Whatever the distraction, the procedure should always be the same. If the dog steps over the line, it is backed into a retreat and rewarded when it resettles in the permitted area.
Another way of distracting is by having someone else walk past the dog and cross over the line into the restricted area. This should be someone the dog is already familiar with, but he or she should not communicate at all with the pet. If the dog obediently stays put, reward it and then bring the training to the next level by letting that person engage it in play just before they walk across to the prohibited area.
The more you practice with various distractions the more deeply ingrained the training will be. If the aim is to ensure the dog never goes past the entrance of the house without permission, then the training should be such that it is conditioned to obey irrespective of the activities it sees taking place outdoors.
If the area of concern has multiple sides to it, for example, a triangular or square area, then the same training procedure needs to be done for each side of that space. With patience and consistency, your dog will learn its place from the routine you have established and obey without the need for any incentive.
2. The Restraint Method
When training your dog in the yard, you could use long leads like LeashBoss which goes up to 50 feet and helps your dog learn how to remain within invisible boundaries. Alternatively, you could find a post, tree, or other structure on which to tether the dog. When doing so, ensure that the object is immovable and that your pet is firmly secured. Your dog will have the freedom to move about at will, but immediately it crosses the line, issue a stern ‘No!’ and pull back the leash. Reward the dog when it cooperates and stays within the permitted area.
If you are training your dog to respect boundaries in the yard, avoid leaving it there for long periods of time, otherwise, it may start giving itself liberties beyond what is allowed. Loneliness is one reason a dog may seek to leave the immediate precinct in search of company, preferably other dogs.
You may also want to block off certain parts of the house to keep your pet out, like the kitchen when you are preparing meals. One way to do this is to place a mobile barrier between the permitted area and the off-limits area. Remove this barrier in the presence of the dog and then command it to stay. If it obeys you, offer it a treat as a reward. If it does not cooperate, bring it back to the permitted area and repeat the exercise.
A similar rule applies if your dog has a habit of jumping onto furniture like sofas, beds, and tables and you wish to discourage it from doing so. Grab your pet by the collar when it does that and put it back on the floor with a stern ‘No!’. Repeat this routine whenever the behavior occurs. In the course of time, your dog will understand that overstepping boundaries is not tolerated.
Bear in mind that the antics and movements of a pet need to be controlled when they are still young. It is important for a puppy to have space and freedom, but being a domestic animal is not the same as living out wild in the woods. The area occupied by a typical home is quite limited, hence the need to start managing the movements of a pet as early as possible. It can be a challenge to impose strict rules on a fully matured adult dog that was allowed to dash everywhere as a puppy and to play with minimal restrictions.
There is an unwritten code among canines. It is the leader of the pack who goes through entrances first. The rest of the pack follows after they receive his permission.
3. The Principal Agency
Some owners use deterrents such as electric fences and shock collars to keep their pets away from the areas they shouldn’t be. However, such methods use the element of inflicting punishment, which is negative rather than positive reinforcement.
If a dog is already suffering from fear, anxiety, or nervousness, these techniques will aggravate the problem. Physical punishment, abuse, or inhumane treatment should never be seen as an alternative to proper behavioral development.
Because pet training is considered a chore in our fast-paced modern lives, there are plenty of quick-fixes on the market that are designed to bring in neat profits for sellers.
On the other hand, taking time to provide proper training is a great opportunity for a pet to really bond with its owner. It cements the authority structure in the life of the pet. This is the process by which your pet comes to understand that no matter what the situation is, you are always going to the leader of the pack and the one who the dog must always look up to.
In addition, not all dogs are deterred by shocks or loud beeps. They can become accustomed to them and even learn ways of getting around them, especially where there is no proper supervision. Eventually, these will still get to where they want to go.
Over time, they will learn that these gadgets make them uncomfortable for a short time, but they are not injurious in any way. If the dog gets used to the discomfort (which it shouldn’t), the intensity of the shock may need to be increased in order to achieve the desired results. Such experiences lower the dog’s overall quality of life.
Moreover, invisible fence systems, otherwise known as underground containment systems are not entirely foolproof. They can malfunction and subject the dog to prolonged pain by triggering continuous shocks. If this happens when the family members are away, the dog will be in non-stop distress until someone comes home. This is unless the problem can be identified and rectified remotely.
It is always best to take time and properly train a dog to understand boundaries. The principal technique in achieving this should be positive and constructive. Aside from the above-mentioned, curiosity and inactivity are two factors that cause dogs to overstep limits both at home and outdoors.
If your dog is sufficiently exposed to social interactions, interesting and constructive activities, it will be less inclined to find out what is happening elsewhere. To discourage wandering or digging under the fence, engage the dog in extended walks during which it enjoys ample opportunities to explore the surroundings, experience new things, and satisfy its curiosity.
4. The Place of Authority
There is an unwritten code among canines. It is the leader of the pack who goes through entrances first. The rest of the pack follows after receiving his permission. So if a dog tends to bolt out through the door or gate immediately it is opened, it will begin making an assumption. It will start viewing itself as the leader, because after all, it sets the trend and then the humans follow. The dog needs to understand that it is the owner who establishes the rules and sets the boundaries, not the other way around.
If your dog has a habit of dashing off as soon as a door is open, without waiting for instructions, there is a need for coaching so that it knows it cannot leave without your expressed consent. This is especially important if the entrance is frequently used to let members of the household or other visitors in and out. There are plenty of dangers it can fall prey to if its movements are not quickly restricted.
So how can this problem be addressed? By exercising your authority as the leader. Whenever the dog tries to bolt through the door, shut it immediately and then turn to the dog and command it to go back and sit in its position. After it has settled down, return calmly and open the door. If the dog stays put, it receives a reward. If it doesn’t, it receives a stern ‘No!’ and the door closes. Eventually, your pet will learn that the only way to get out is by ceasing to rush past you.
It is essential to exercise consideration when training your pet. Establishing boundaries and teaching your dog to respect them does not come automatically. It requires both patience and consistency. Once they have been set and agreed upon, these boundary rules need to be upheld by all family members without exception. The dog is like a human child who needs to be instructed to differentiate between what they should and should not do. Inconsistency is what works against the process and leads to misbehavior. So remember to always stay on track.
This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. It is not meant to substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, or formal and individualized advice from a veterinary medical professional. Animals exhibiting signs and symptoms of distress should be seen by a veterinarian immediately.