How to: Teach your dog a boundary cue

As a request  from Ninso, this post is how to teach your dog a boundary cue or a way to keep your dog's in (or out) of any area.  I use the word "wait" but have a completely different definition of it then most people.  My "wait" means the dogs can do whatever they want, they just can't move forward across whatever boundary I set.  This is absolutely not a stay as the dogs are encouraged to move all they want, just not forward!  The easiest "waits" are those with a visual boundary, like a doorway, gate or change in surface, or a height difference like from the car to the ground.  But once the dog is advanced I start using it anytime I don't want the dog moving forward like on walk if I want to tie my shoes or even my agility start line as Lance can stand, sit, or down but I don't want him going forward.

In some contexts I never use the word wait as I want it to be automatic every single time.  So if I want my dog to wait in the lounge I will tell them verbally, but with the backyard gate I never use a word as I want them to automatically wait every single time without cue from me.  This also implies that I must remember this rule and ALWAYS release my dog through the gate.  Every time we leave the house the dogs automatically wait while I go out the gate, without word from me, and remain doing so until i release with an "ok!"  If I stop saying "ok" to allow them through every time then soon the automatic wait would disappear.

Here is how I teach a boundary cue:

1.  Start at a threshold or someplace where there is a very clear boundary that the dog can actually notice.  Differences in height makes this much easier such as a step down to the living room or garage.  The smaller the space the easier as you can easily guard a doorway but will have a harder time using the entire front yard vs. street.  If your dog does not know how to patient while you open a door, then start at a threshold with no door or start with the door already open!

2.  With your dog's attention on you and good treats in hand, step across that boundary and immediately pivot in front of your dog so that your dog is on one side and you on the other.  This should have been easy, so immediately click and toss a treat behind your dog so he has to run away from you to go get it.  Click again while he is still in the other room and hasn't yet raced back to you and throw that treat someplace else.  Throwing the treats encourages your dog to move around and shows him that you are not wanting a formal stay.  Repeat this a few times just to give your dog the idea that the good stuff happens in the other room.  You should still be right across the boundary so your dog should have zero interest in trying to squeeze by you.

3.  Now start moving away from that boundary line, just a few steps, but keep clicking and throwing treats before your dog gets to the boundary.  You simply want to introduce your movement into the picture but are making this extremely easy for your dog to do.



4.  Start delaying the click.  You are still very close to the line, less then 5ft, but you aren't going to be constantly chucking treats into the other room.  This is where your dog is going to start to experiment and will likely cross the threshold.  I then body block the dog back across the line by walking into them.  If you want to you can use your no reward marker, but remember you can't get upset since your dog doesn't yet know what you want.  Just think of yourself as a hockey goalie and your job is to prevent the dog from going forward.  As SOON as your dog starts to think of moving forward, lean your body in to counter act.  Still click and toss the treat behind him for not crossing across the boundary.

If your dog does not seem to be getting the boundary line, find a way to make it more obvious.  A broom lying across the floor, a line of books, anything that can make a clear visual mark will help.

5.  If this is a boundary you eventually want your dog to be invited in, release your dog with an "ok!" (or whatever word you use) and invite him in with your body language.  I usually don't give a treat at this point since I want to be rewarding the actual waiting on the other side rather then the freedom from it.

6.  Once your dog is doing pretty well at this short distance and easy boundary, you can start to add a cue.  I say "wait" and then my hand signal is my index finger held straight up at the heavens.  Since this is a duration behavior you can occasionally repeat it, but I try to avoid that since eventually my dogs do 20 minutes plus waits and I want the responsibility to lie on them without the added reminders.

7.  Make it harder!  Work on the 3 D's: distance, duration, and distractions.  Remember to only work on one thing at a time so if you are starting to drop treats across the boundary, remain very close and reward often.  At any time the dog goes across the boundary, body block him back over.  But if the dog is screws up twice in a row then you need to make things easier.

Here are distractions I work on:  food dropping, playing with another dog, training another dog, dogs walking by, people walking by, and the door bell.   And of course I slowly add in distance to being out of sight and time until about 20 minutes. 

8.  Generalize.  If you have only been practicing from the kitchen to the living room, then take this cue on the road!  Work it in different rooms, at the pet store, outside on walks, your front yard (use a long rope for safety) etc.  Be prepared that with each new location you will need to restart from step 1, although training should progress quickly.

Also try to do it randomly without any of the normal context.  Can you get your dog to suddenly wait while you are carrying up laundry from the basement?

Places I regularly use my boundary cue:  front door, yard gate, my office cubicle, kitchen (out while I prepare food!), car door, lounge at work (no door), stair way at my parent's house, and the training rings at the obedience club if I forget to bring something in the ring.

Observations:
It takes awhile for some dogs to get that this is not a stay command.  Almost every dog very quickly gets the concept of observing a boundary, but those dogs who have had a lot of previous training on stays have a hard time of realizing that they can move during this.  I feel that tossing the treats gets this message across clearer then anything else.  If you feel that your dog will have a hard time learning the stay vs wait part, then try spending more time on the very early steps and avoid clicking when he stops at the boundary line or you will be reinforcing the habit of hanging out at that line.

If you want them to wait every single time, then I find it easiest to not ever use a cue.  But think hard where you really want it EVERY single time.  Even if I am in a hurry I do not let my dogs go out of the gate until I verbally release them and will put them back if they were to try.  I don't tell them to "wait" at the gate, it's just become a part of their life rules that the gate means do not cross unless invited. 

There will be sometimes that you want the dog to remain in the area while you are there.  I don't use the wait cue for this but treat it similar.  I just patiently keep calling the dog back whenever he approaches the boundary and will body block if I need to.  Just don't get in the habit of calling your dog back and treating right away as the smart ones will figure out that they can make you give them a treat by crossing the boundary!

One of my biggest pet peeves is people telling their dog "stay" when it's really not what they want or what they expect the dog to do.  If you go to work and are shouting "stay!" as you close the door behind you, then congratulations you just taught your dog that getting up is fine as soon as you are out of sight.  Unless of course you really want, and will reinforce your dog for staying in one spot for 8 hours!  When I tell my dogs to stay I expect them to freeze up in that position and not move until released.  I am very careful that I must always enforce it no matter what I am doing.  The nice thing about a boundary cue is that even if you just want your dog to not follow you while you go out the door, the door can do all the enforcing for you.  Your dog can't possibly break his "wait" if a door is between him and the other room/outside!

Update Note on taking this outside:
Some people have wondered if the same technique can be used to teach dogs to remain in their yard.  My answer is yes, but with very heavy warnings not to.  No matter how well trained your dog is you should never leave your dog unattended and loose in an unfenced yard (and even a fenced yard can be dangerous).  There are also many who would warn to not even leave your dog loose with you there; I am fine with "loose" dogs with supervision but want an impeccable recall even with distractions and am aware that there is always a risk.

The training is basically the same but as a prerequisite you need a very very good recall and
some type of visual boundary for your dog.  Your dog cannot see the property lines that we make so you will need to put up flags at first or some other very easy to see cue.  Keep your dog on a long line throughout and my first training would be to walk the perimeter with my dog and occasionally step across the boundary asking my dog to wait.  When the dog starts stopping on his own as you go across without him, start adding in purposeful distractions such as thrown toys, balls, people, and dogs.  The next criteria you need to work on (still with your dog on a long line) is to stay in the yard yourself and call him whenever he gets close to the boundary line.  I might use a warning cue such as "easy" or even "wait" when the dog gets close and before I call him so that he can learn to stop all on his own.

Ninso  – ( January 22, 2010 at 1:58 PM )  

Awesome!! Great post, thanks! The throwing treats back into the other room part was the main missing piece for me, as I've always rewarded at the boundary line. I'm gonna have to come up with a cue other than "wait" though, since I've always used and abused that. I'm guilty of the false stay command also. :(

Muttsandaklutz  – ( January 22, 2010 at 7:09 PM )  

Interesting post! I never thought to train a boundary command but can definitely see its usefulness.

Mango  – ( January 23, 2010 at 7:15 AM )  

We need to work on that with the door for sure. Way too much crowding and bumping.

Slobbers,
Mango

Honey the Great Dane  – ( January 24, 2010 at 3:04 AM )  

I agree with your pet peeve - I see lots of people do it and I always think "But you're teaching your dog to break a Stay!"

We have a couple of different commands to means different things - STAY is the strictest and means remain in that position until I come back to you and give oyu the release word. WAIT means pause/freeze and wait for the next command - I also have a slight variation "WAIT THERE" which is more like your Wait (boundary) command which means remain in that Honey can move about as long as she remains within a designated area. We also have an "OUT" command which I guess is our boundary cue - the only different is that with OUT, it's a permanent reference so she has to always stay out of the marked area (eg. kitchen) whereas with "WAIT THERE" - it is temporary and fluid and she can cross the boundary if given permission - like say at the front door. It sounds a bit complicated but it seems to work for us! :-)

Hsin-Yi

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