Boundaries are beneficial for all dogs in training and day to day life. What do we mean by boundaries? They can be any physical location that grounds your dog to a specific spot. Examples of boundaries include a crate, a soft bed, a raised bed, a mat, a piece of furniture, a threshold, your car, a natural structure, a manmade structure, the space between your legs, under your chair or table. You can find boundaries anywhere and everywhere. These boundaries can be associated with position like a sit, down, or a stand. When your dog learns that these boundaries have value, they will gravitate towards them as if they were a strong magnet. Boundaries ground our dog in a space where distractions could tempt them. Your dog will choose their boundary over jumping on guests, counter surfing, greeting people and other dogs, visiting someone else’s picnic, or darting out of a doorway or car. They promote calmness and focus on us and allows them to experience the world around them in safe and socially appropriate ways.
How do we train boundaries to be magnets? We start at home, in a quiet place with few distractions and your dog’s daily food allowance, whether that is their dinner or treats. Reward any interaction with the boundary by placing the reward on the boundary itself. Soon your dog will be hanging out in the reinforcement zone of that boundary. If they leave the zone, stop the treats. When they return, the party starts again. When they don’t want to leave party central, you can add a release cue. Wait to see what they offer next. I bet they are going to hop back on their boundary for the opportunity to play again. Gradually add distractions and taking your boundary out to new locations if it portable. Try generalizing their love of boundaries to new items and obstacles so you will always have options wherever you go. You are now on your way to awesome boundaries and a more well behaved dog.
I bet you are asking “Will I always have to reward my dog with food for staying on their boundary?” The answer is NO! The opportunity to be on the boundary is reward for most dogs. Being on a boundary has become a habit, something that is now apart of what they do. But topping it up with treats or other highly valued reinforcer now and again will strengthen the behavior in the face of those hard distractions in the future.
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