Reader Question: Once a dog realizes the pros/cons of escape, and decides the pros win, is it possible to ever get them to respect the barrier again? My dog is trained on the fence, but breaks through when tempted by the neighbours dogs.
Every dog has their own trigger points. For some it will be members of the family, my own dogs like to chase squirrels, but by far the most common trigger is another dog. If there is a single specific problem, rather than a general fence awareness problem, the solution is to work on that specific trigger.
But before we do, I would just like to take a quick detour. We tend to humanise dogs and see them as human like conceptual thinkers. They often do what appear to be smart things, but it is not because they are deep thinkers. It is because they try lots of dumb things and then when one of them works they keep doing it. They are really just very persistent. (if you doubt me, put a treat on the floor and cover it with the cloth napkin in front of your dog … see what happens, your dog will not figure out the obvious solution for quite a while. But once they do, if you give them the same problem they will be able to solve it more and more quickly. Now if someone saw your dog a month later confronted with the problem, they would mistake the results of their trial and error learning with smarts) It is unlikely your dog weighs the pros and cons. What is more likely happening is once you leave, they see the other dog, get excited and in their excitement forget the fence and bust through.
The key to fixing the problem will be to teach them that no matter how excited they get, the fence must be respected. Here’s how we would do it if the problem is another dog.
First, have the neighbour get their dog, and have them walk past on a leash. Meanwhile, you have your dog on a leash in your yard. Using the neighbour dog as bait, slowly in sight of your dog walk up to your yard. Likely your dog will try and run to greet his buddy. When he reaches the flags let him get the correct, then yank him back and say “no, no, no.” Once the dog retreats praise him if he is calm and his focus is back on you. Repeat. Quickly the dog should learn that the fence matters more than his buddy. Do this exercise over a couple of days until the lesson stays learnt. You may need to turn up the correction setting if is not high enough that it refocuses your dog from the distraction back to the fence.
Eventually you should work up to the point where the neighbor’s dog can walk up to your yard and while your dog is interested, it will only approach the boundary but will make no attempt to cross. Reward him by letting him play with his buddy in your yard. When he gets excited after a bit of playing, then test his awareness by taking the neighbours dog outside the yard again. If you dog trys to follow, let him get the correction and pull him back in with the “no, no, no.” If he does not, praise him. Repeat until the lesson becomes habbit.
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