The final challenge facing Otis’ new family is keeping him within the perimeter of 20 acres of unfenced property. Since Otis is a team player and feels most comfortable when he is with his family, keeping him within the perimeter will not be difficult.
Perimeter conditioning is a two-fold process. Active perimeter conditioning will be discussed first, and this activity involves the dog and handler routinely walking the perimeter of the property. The second step to the dog training process requires fostering dog and handler teamwork with games and enjoyable activities.
The first step in perimeter conditioning (“active perimeter conditioning”) will determine the acceptable limits for a dog’s boundaries. The handler will routinely walk the boundaries with his leashed canine companion. If you have just a few acres this activity will be fairly simple, but if you have a larger piece of land the handler will need to identify a perimeter that can be easily walked on a regular basis.
A handler can’t practice too much perimeter training/conditioning, so devoting significant time to this activity will yield better results. To encourage perimeter awareness, it is best to have your dog free of formal responsibilities, meaning this is a “walk” exercise only.
Let us consider a dog training scenario with a home situated on eight acres. The boundaries of the property are wooded on three sides with a major thoroughfare on the fourth side. To begin the perimeter conditioning you will need to walk your dog along the wood line, but prevent him from crossing into the wooded areas. You and the canine student will also create and follow an imaginary line about 50 feet inside the property line that runs parallel to the road.
During this training, the dog will be shown the perimeter simply by walking on a six-foot leash. After several days of exploring the boundaries with freedom from formal commands, your dog may become increasingly curious and want to wander into the wood line.
In response to crossing the boundary you created, the handler should deliver a tug on the leash to draw the dog back into his clearly defined property limits. Intensify the tugs if your dog seems determined to cross the perimeter into the forbidden territory. After many weeks of perimeter conditioning, you will have a dog that is not interested in straying beyond your designated boundaries.
The second step in perimeter conditioning is creating some relationship building games. These will serve to build a close friendship, foster a team mindset, and establish the handler as the center of his dog’s universe. The best time to play these games is during the perimeter conditioning walks. One of my favorite games is a recall exercise.
At some point in a dog’s training the recall should be formalized, but in the initial phases of forging a new relationship a game-like recall is very advantageous. A game-like recall can actually be fundamental in fostering a team mindset, and this can further motivate the dog to maintain his thoughts and activities within the perimeter of the property (where the handler is!). This game can be initiated by quickly changing direction and pace while calling the dog’s name, and if you are really nimble you can do this while traveling backwards.
These types of abrupt movements are stimulating and exciting for the dog, making it almost impossible for him to resist pursuing you. When the dog is rapidly approaching your front, the handler can quickly stop and allow the dog to “finish” successfully at your belt. This accomplishment should be rewarded with lavish praise and possibly a treat. Don’t do this so frequently that it becomes a nuisance to the dog, but practice this activity as often as you think it will remain game-like.
Another fun game to play with your canine companion is an informal game of hide-and-seek. First, teach an informal stay command (like “wait”). After the dog understands the informal stay command, the handler can have the dog “wait” while he runs and hides. Once hidden (remember to be fast because this is an informal stay), call your dog. The idea is to create a brief but healthy moment of concern that will force your dog to seek you out with urgency and excitement.
The reason I use “wait” for this exercise is to avoid creating a premature release when we begin to teach the formal stay command. If teaching your dog an informal command like “wait” is too challenging, then you can create the same response by having someone hold your dog by his collar while you run and hide. Be sure to praise your dog for actively seeking you!
The last game I want to discuss is the fetch game. Some dogs naturally do this, but some dogs need guidance. A handler can provide the necessary instruction by obtaining a long line, about 25 feet or so, to allow the dog enough leash length to run out and retrieve a tossed item. Once he has picked up the item the handler will “reel him in” with the long line. By using this technique, the dog never has the opportunity to possess the item and run away with it; he will always be compelled to return to you.
When he returns with the item, you will take it from him in exchange for a treat, or you may simply praise him excitedly and allow him to possess his treasure for a little while. Repeat this exercise as often as your dog will maintain the desire to fetch.
As the months go by, intermittently remove the leash to get the dog used to the responsibility of off-leash work. You can start by dropping the leash and practicing a game-like recall, playing hide-and-seek, or engaging in a fetch session, with the dog dragging the leash during play. Ultimately the leash can be returned to the handler’s hand upon completion of the playful exercise. This will eventually evolve into unclipping the leash from the collar and conducting the same games leash-free.
As the dog proves to be team oriented and dedicated to the idea of being with you, you can begin to increase the time the dog is off leash until eventually you just carry the leash on your person in the event it is needed. By following these steps you have created a dog that thinks, “This is where we play, this is where the action is, this is where my pack lives.”
There is no need to rush into “formal” training. I suggest keeping the first few months with your new dog light and fun to facilitate and foster teamwork. It is an amateur mistake to get overly excited about formalities and rush your dog into formal training traps during perimeter conditioning. We do not want the dog to think that an outing with you is going to be filled with plenty of opportunities for him to fail. Remember Matthew’s mission statement is “Genuine Control Without the Rigidity of Formal Commands”. If you really want to know how the professionals train their dogs, simply follow the dog-training process I have outlined above. We foster teamwork with games and activities, and avoid rushing into formalities.
Go do some good.