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A common question that dog owners ask is how to train your dog to stay in the yard. Dogs are naturally curious animals. They thrive on companionship and love making friends. They also can be easily distracted by potential threats to their territory or exciting things happening off your property.
For these reasons, it’s important that you train your dog to stay in the yard, regardless of whether there is a fence, they’re leashed, or if you let them off their leash while supervised.
Before this training begins your dog will need to have mastered some basic commands.
Teaching your dog boundaries is not something that happens overnight. But with patience and consistency your dog will learn to stay within the confines of approved spaces, and return quickly if you notice they’ve strayed too far.
Before you get started on training your dog to stay in the yard, you will need to build a foundation of mutual respect and trust.
They also need to know some basic commands, like:
Keeping your dog from crossing your boundaries (in this case, the perimeter around your property) works best if you to stop them before they can cross it. If they do go past where they are allowed, you need to be able to call them back for their safety and so they don’t trespass on other people’s property.
The other three commands: sit, stay, wait and leave it, can be used to stop your dog at the property line proactively so they don’t cross. These commands will be important when you’re familiarizing your dog with where they can and can’t go.
Boundary training is teaching your dog to stay within set boundaries, like your yard or property line. It can also keep them out of areas where you might not want them to be, like a certain room in your house, up on the kitchen counters or in your garden.
Watch this video from Top Dog Tips for a great summary of boundary training, with a forest line as an example:
Ultimately, this type of training takes time. You need to work on it several times a day if you want it to become second nature for your dog to respect your boundaries. It’s also important not to expect your dog to stay within your yard unsupervised for large amounts of time, unless they are livestock/guardian dogs.
There are several different methods that can be used to teach dogs to respect physical boundaries like staying within your yard or property line. Choosing the one that works best for you comes down to preference and the environment you’re working with.
Best for: Dogs with a strong grasp of basic training, a desire to please their owner.
One of the simplest ways to train your dog to respect your home’s perimeter is by walking them on a leash along the boundary line several times a day. This gets them used to staying within this area, giving them the idea that this is their ‘territory’.
In the beginning you can use inexpensive and colorful pet-safe marking flags (or tape on solid surfaces like porches or driveways) to mark a physical boundary line. Otherwise, you can point or make a sweeping motion with your hand to indicate to your dog where they shouldn’t pass. Natural boundaries like hedges and bushes are another great way to make it clear where your dog shouldn’t cross.
Using your ‘stay’ command, have them stand, lay, or sit at different spaces along your property line. If they become interested in something on the other side tell them to ‘leave it’ or ‘let go’.
Challenge Your Dog
Test #1: Tell your dog to stay and then cross the boundary line yourself. Don’t go too far at first or your dog will be more likely to follow. If they don’t move, walk back and release them from their stay by saying a word like, ‘done’. Praise them for doing a good job.
Test #2: Get your dog’s attention with a treat and toss it across the boundary line. When they turn to go get it, instruct them to ‘leave it’. If they do, reward them with another (higher value) treat. Tell them to ‘stay’ and then cross to retrieve the other treat yourself.
Best For: Dogs who are treat motivated, high energy, need extra visual/verbal cues.
To teach your dog boundaries with a clicker, you can use those flags that we mentioned earlier. Draw your dog’s attention to the flag. You can use a word like, ‘flag’ or ‘marker’ to name them. When your dog touches the flag with its nose, press the clicker and give them a treat. After a couple times, they will start to form a positive association with the flags.
Starting inside where it is quiet and there are fewer distractions, set up the flags a few feet apart in front of a door or hallway. Have your dog touch one with its nose (click & treat), then the other (click & treat) WITHOUT crossing the boundary into the other room/hallway. Repeat the exercise in different areas, slowly moving the flags further apart.
Once your dog is familiar with the flags and what they represent, you can bring this exercise outside. Walk your dog around your property, making sure they touch each flag with their nose as they pass but don’t let them cross the property line. Click and treat them (with high-value treats from Vital Essentials) each time they do this at first, but once they get it consistently you’ll want to phase out the treats and use praise instead.
Here is a great video showing clicker training with and without a physical marker as a barrier:
You can take the flags down once you’re confident that your dog knows where they are allowed. Start this outdoor training on a leash until you trust your dog not to run off suddenly. As your dog improves at staying in the yard and not crossing boundaries, test them with the same challenges you would use for perimeter training!
Grab a friend and take your dog outside in the yard. Instruct your friend to run out of the yard while your dog can see them. (Only do this where it is safe, not with your dog off-leash and a busy street close-by). Tell your dog to ‘stay’. If they don’t move, give them a treat and lots of praise.
If you’re doing training off-leash keep in mind that you can always have a leash nearby in case your dog tries to run for it. They will soon learn that running = less freedom.
A GPS tracking collar is a precaution that can give you peace of mind in case your dog decides to make a run for it at first.
You can also do this training with a long line, allowing the line to be long when your dog listens and shortening it, saying ‘stay’ or ‘leave it’ if they try to run after your friend or another distraction.
It’s possible that even with daily training and your best efforts, you will still have a hard time keeping your dog on your property.
Here are some troubleshooting tips to help you when you’re feeling stuck:
Before you can expect your dog to be on their best behavior, it’s essential that you know their basic needs are met. If your dog doesn’t feel like they can get these things from you or their yard, they’re more likely to try to find them elsewhere, by escaping.
Dogs are pack animals and enjoy being around their humans.
They may like the outdoors, but not being left out alone for a long time. Make sure you are nearby, accessible, and keeping an eye on your dog when they are out. Make sure they have access to food, clean water, and shade/shelter.
Giving your dog time to play and hang out outside is great, but it’s not enough on its own to fulfill most dogs’ energy needs for the day. Walks, running, and playtime are still essential. They will help keep your dog mentally and physically stimulated and tire them out so your dog behaves at home.
If your yard is boring or there are a lot of places where your dog can’t go, it might be tempting for your dog to explore the world outside their immediate territory.
The solution? Make your yard a happy place! Keep toys out for your dog, possibly make a specific area where your dog can dig (if that’s their thing). Include lots of shade and dog-safe plants for your dog to explore while they’re out. This extra stimulation will keep your dog happy and content where they are.
Some dogs are easily distracted by things like people or cars passing by. If you live by a busy street and this is the case, it’s super important that you find a way to block your dog’s view.
Plants and privacy screens can make excellent visual barriers, but a solid fence is your best bet if your dog tends to run off on you. A fence serves both the functions of blocking your dog from seeing things that are distracting and also helps to keep them safely inside and out of traffic or other harm’s way.
Once the distractions are gone, training should be easier and once your dog has mastered it you can consider removing the barrier.
A quality fence with strong, working latches is one of the best ways to keep your dog safe and is actually preferred by a lot of shelters when considering whether you’re ready to adopt. Still, fences aren’t fool-proof.
Here are some suggestions to consider if your dog is doing any of the above, according to the according to the American Kennel Club:
Punishment and negative reinforcement are not effective ways to get your dog to respect your boundaries. Fear-based tactics may actually backfire and make your dog more reluctant to come home if they do go off your property.
Training your dog to stay within boundaries is fairly simple if you have the time and patience. Pay attention to your dog when they are out and do what you can to make your yard a place of peace and fun so your dog wants to stick around.
If you’re struggling and your dog is getting loose from time to time, a GPS tracking collar is a good way to find them quickly and bring them home safe.