Clicking With Canines

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Boundary Training

Clicking With Canines

Steve Benjamin, KPACTP, KPA Faculty


Would you like to train your dog to stay in your yard without resorting to electrical shock?  There is a way to do it that is inexpensive, takes about the same amount of time, and is just as reliable as the electronic containment systems commercially available.


There are serious problems (that most companies that sell these products will not divulge to clients) with containment systems that rely on electrical shock to punish a dog for crossing a boundary:


1)  They can create phobias in dogs:  There is no way to control or determine what the dog is focusing on when it receives the shock.  The dog could be looking at the tree across the boundary that a squirrel ran up, it could be watching the next door neighbor, or the neighbor's dog, or even the neighbor's young child.  It is possible, and very probable, that whatever the dog is focused on when it receives the aversice (shock), is what the dog will associate it with.  So the next time the dog sees the child, or looks at the tree, or sees the neighbor, it growls, barks, lunges, or if close enough...BITES.


This is simply classical conditioning at work and the resulting behavior is referred to as a CER:  a conditioned emotional response.  They happen all the time, even to us.  Ever eat something at a restaurnat and end up with food poisoning?  Many who do either won't ever eat the food again and some won't even return to the restaurant...FOR YEARS, if ever.  These people developed a CER towards that food and/or restaurant.  And yes, it can happen (and usually does) after experiencing a single punishing event.  This is a principle way some dogs develop agggressive behavior through the use of electronic containment systems.


2)  Or, depending upon the individual personality of the dog, the results can be the opposite of developing aggressvie behavior.  Some dogs just shut down.  They become highly stressed.  Some won't leave the porch or deck, some won't even leave the house.  These dogs just assume that anything they do outside may lead to getting shocked.  These dogs live really miserable lives and its very sad to see.


3)  Electronic containments systems are easily beaten by many dogs.  There are two types of systems.  One type gives an audio beep as the dog approaches the boundary.  If the dog continues forward it then receives the shock.  For this type of system some dogs habituate (become use to) the audio beep since the beep doesn't harm them in any way.  They hear the beep, stop their forward motion...then after a few seconds the beep stops (the collars must reset).  Once the beep stops the dog continues forward and crosses the boundary before the collar resets and can deliver the shock.  Once the dog learns this, the electronic fence is totally ineffective.  Nearly all electronic containments systems sold in stores for self-installment work this way.


The other type of system works a little differently.  Once the dog enters the boundary zone the collar beeps just like the first type.  The difference is that after a few seconds (2 or 3 seconds is a common) of beeping the collar will deliver a shock if the dog is still within the boudary zone.  It doesn't have to move forward to get shocked, but it must learn to back out of the zone to avoid the shock.  These are also easily beaten by many dogs.


The way it usually happens is the dog is in the yard and suddenly sees some high level distraction across the yard and outside the boundary.  It could be a squirrel, deer, gound hog, or another dog.  The dog takes off at a full run, focused solely on the distraction.  Even dogs that have been properly trained to the electronic fence will sooner later succumb to any high-level distraction that wasn't included in their training on how to avoid being shocked.


The dog runs right across the boundary zone (usually about 8 - 10 ft.) and guess what?...NO shock.  Why?...because the dog was running too fast for the colar to respond (remember, it beeps for a bout two seconds and then delivers the shock...any dog at full speed can cover a lot of ground in 2 seconds). 


The dog has learned that if it runs fast enough, it can go wherever it wants and avoid the shock.  Many of these dogs learn to "bolt" as soon as they are let outside.  Just like the other type of fences, once this happens the fence it totally ineffective.


4)  When a dog does run accross the boundary (and gets shocked or not) they are stuck.  Dogs RUN out of the yard, but they WALK back.  Even if they avoided being shocked leaving, they usually don't understand that the same strategy must be utilized to come back.  So your dog doesn't come home.


5)  Electronic containment systems are expensive even for small areas.  Not to mention the time and effort to install them.  Maybe worth cost IF they worked and there was no possibility of lasting harm to your dog...but this isn't the case.


Below is an effective protocol to positively teach your dog a boundary for it to stay within.  Dogs are, by nature, territorial creatures.  Its natural for them to have a "space" they consider "theirs" and feel comfortable remaining in as a default.  The key is to teach them what that area is. 




1)  It will not GUARANTEE your dog will always stay within the boundary.  No system or trianing protocol can guarantee this.  Principally becuase you cannot determine ahead of time every conceivable distraction your dog may encounter, not to mention the difficulties involved in asking a squirrel, rabbit, ground hog, or deer to stand calmly on the other side of the boundary while you reinforce your dog for staying within the yard.  Sorry, but it just isn't going to happen.  However, you will be far ahead of the shock systems becuase if your dog does go can (and most probably will) return to its home turf.


2)  NEVER (NEVER!!!) should a dog, any dog, no matter how well trained, be left alone outside.  Even if constrained (dogs tied outside can develop very bad behaviors).  Even the shock fence companies include this as a warning..  Even if your dog is as near 100% trained to stay within its boundary as possible, it doesn't provide the dog ANY defense for something (or someone) coming into the boundary area.


3)  At the same time you are training this protocol, also work on training a reliable recall (see Training Tips page:  RECALL).  When the day comes (and it always does) that the rabbit or squirrel sits on the other side of the trained boundary and taunts your dog ("nah nah nah nah hahhhh...can't catch me!!!''  Your recall, if sufficiently trained, will your dog back quickly.


4)  The best, and most reliable, containment system is a good old-fashioned physical fence boundary that your dog cannot go over, under, around or through.  If you must leave your dog unattended outside, this is the ONLY way that's safe and foolproof (outside of another human trespassing, of course).




1)  Start indoors and teach the dog to target a flag (a white strip of cloth on a dowel rod will work).  Dog gets a click/treat (C/T) for touching its nose to the flag.  Dog goes to flag, click, then returns to owner for its treat.  Have this completely fluent with as much distance that can be accomplished inside the home.  I recommend at least a week or more of practice.


2)  Place the flags at intervals of 8-10 feet around the yard/boundary.


3)  Now, practice walking the dog on a 15 ft. lead (even longer is ok) around the boundary/yard.  The dog should run up to the flags to target them for a C/T.  Dog should already be conditioned, from the inside training, to return to the owner for a treat (use higher value treats outside...I recommend real MEAT (Roast Beef, Turkey, Chicken, etc.) or whatever the dog simply goes crazy over and only gets for this boundary training).


The dog will learn to associate the flags as cues to come back from the boundary.  You are reinforcing the RETURN from the boundary.  Dogs are, by nature, territorial and you are also heavily reinforcing the dog to be and remain in its territory, defined by the position of the flags.


Practice, practice, practice.  I recommend a minimum of two boundary walks a day (the more the better) over a period of at least 8 weeks.  You want the act of coming back from the boundary classically conditioned so that it is an involuntary response (presence of the flags become the cue to return).


Do NOT punish the dog if he goes over the boundary.  If he does (you walked him to close to the boundary and/or there was a high level distraction on the other side, simply reward his RETURN.


4) Practice this as often as you can until your dog routinely comes back from the boundary on a long lead.  Increase the lead as you practice.  A 50 ft. 3/8 in. nylon rope tied to the lead is a good option.  If possible, begin introducing low level distractions on the other side of the boundary.  Reinforce for returning from the boundary when distractions are in sight.  Over time, increase the level of the distractions.


6) Begin allowing the dog off leash in the yard.  NEVER, ever, leave the dog alone in the yard.  Have lots of fun and interesting interactions with the dog WELL WITHIN the boundary area.  If distractions (on the other side of the boundary) occur, reinforce your dog with a JACKPOT if he goes to the boundary and returns to you. 


7) Continue staging distractions and significantly reward successful returns.  If the dog goes over the boundary, simply lower the level and/or distance of the distraction. 


Also, when the dog successfully responds by turning away after seeing a really big distraction, consider RUNNING back to the house (porch or deck) and when your dog reaches you, feed really good stuff for at least 30 seconds.  This will help to condition an additional response that seeing something extra enticing means “run quick to the house” to receive even better stuff.


8) Continue to monitor and recognize that there will be something, someday that can and probably will overcome your dog.  This would happen even with the shock fences.  Sooner or later there will be a distraction that you haven’t trained for, and your dog will, well…”be a dog,” irrespective of whether you have fence or not.  However, by training a boundary without resorting to shock, your dog will not be afraid to come home. 


Keep the flags up for an extended period of time (6 months or more) so your dog will continue to have a visual cue of where his boundary is.


9)  DON’T FORGET to also train for a reliable recall.  For those times when a distraction occurs, which your dog simply cannot ignore (because you haven’t trained for it), a good recall will get your dog back across the boundary.


10) To get a little fancy…if you practice providing reinforcement in the same location, say up on the porch/deck, that will be the default position for you dog to return to, especially if you reinforce there when distractions are present.


Positively training a boundary, coupled with a reliable recall, can be just as effective, maybe even more, in keeping your dog in your yard without all the cost, not to mention the potential for serious inappropriate behavior issues that can develop with shock based containment systems.



Steve Benjamin, KPA CTP
Karen Pryor Academy Certified Training Partner
Karen Pryor Academy Faculty Member
P.O. Box 5715
Endicott, New York 13763