One of the responsibilities of owning a dog is to keep him safe at home. Another is to keep your dog from becoming a nuisance or threat to your guests, neighbors, and others in and around your home.
One of the most difficult training tasks involves how to contain a dog within your yard or to specific areas of the home without a fence or barriers, such as baby gates. Dogs can be taught to respect boundaries, but teaching this behavior means an investment of time on the part of the owner.
Boundary training involves establishing the limit of where a dog can go by restricting access through the use of a leash or long line, and rewarding the dog for remaining within the boundary. Visual cues such as flags or driveway markers may be used to help the dog understand where the boundary exists.
Success is dependent on the owner’s willingness to work with the dog on a daily basis over time, rewarding the dog for staying within the boundary with treats or social play, and preventing escapes from the area.
Another choice is the use of underground, electronic containment fences. These use a buried line paired with an electronic stimulation collar to give the dog a shock if he attempts to cross the barrier. An audible warning beep is emitted a short distance before the barrier and flags are used a visual cue to mark where the “fence” line is.
Some companies are beginning to use positive reinforcement, treats and praise, whenever the dog makes the right choice to retreat at the audible beep. The process still involves aversive training as dogs ultimately must receive the shock in order to learn that moving past the beep is unpleasant and for some quite painful.
Dogs left outside unsupervised can quickly develop behavior problems regardless of the method used. As a trainer, I am frequently consulted about problem behaviors that are the direct result of a dog that is left outside and quickly learns how to reward itself through normal canine behaviors. These behaviors include:
- Territorial Aggression – This is frequently due to barrier frustration as the dog can see everything around him, yet is unable to interact with people and other animals on the opposite side of the barrier. To the dog, his aggressive display of barking, lunging, and chasing along the barrier line results in the “intruder” leaving the area, which reinforces the behavior every time.
- Uncontrollable Barking – Barking is a secondary form of communication for dogs. Barking when unsupervised can be the result of boredom, barrier frustration, territorial aggression, or part of social interactions with other animals within the dog’s visual sight, sometimes quite a distance away.
- Fear Aggression – Dogs that receive a painful stimulus from electronic stimulation collars may become fearful of people or animals that are near the barrier. Previously pleasant interactions now become unpleasant if they occur near the area(s) where the dog received the shock.
- Intra-dog aggression – Dogs that display territorial behavior are often so aroused that proper social interactions become difficult. Painful stimuli when the dog breaks through the barrier of an underground containment system can cause dogs to attack other dogs passing by.
- Destructive Chewing and Digging – Many owners unfortunately feel that their dog should enjoy being outdoors but fail to realize that the dog needs something to do. Dogs can only be dogs and play involves exploring their environment with teeth and feet!
- Failure to Come When Called – Most owners fail to train for this behavior adequately over many months and then are frustrated when the dog doesn’t stop what it is doing outside and immediately return to the house. Once a dog learns that this behavior is optional it becomes quite difficult to achieve with reliability. This behavior needs to be in place in order to stop the other behaviors listed above from becoming problems.
Owners should never leave dogs outside unattended for periods of time. Responsible ownership means having a relationship with your dog that is built on trust and respect, not isolation because the dog “should like to be outside” or is a nuisance inside.
Problem behaviors can be avoided. They are difficult to reverse, however, when the dog can rehearse them on a daily basis.