Does your dog love your Christmas tree or other holiday decorations? If there is any chance of chewing or destruction, it is a great idea to work on Perimeter Training. You can teach your dog to stay away from a location, or do not go past a specific perimeter.
You can apply this strategy to any situation that you want to teach your dog to stay away from a location. It could be something specific such as a coffee table with food on it, a specific room, or a Christmas tree. Here are the basics to teach this important behavior, using a Christmas tree as an example.
You need to make some decisions first. You need to decide the following:
- What is the exact location that is off-limits? I recommend creating a very specific perimeter as the "wrong answer." You might even put a rope or other visual cue around the tree and teach him not to put any part of his body over this line.
- How are you going to prevent him access to the tree before you have established a really strong behavior? Examples include crates, baby gates or putting him in another room when you are not home or watching him.
- What is the timeout area that you will use during this training?
- Now you are ready to begin. To teach consistency, your dog must never interact with the tree when you are not watching him, or he will learn that it is safe to do so when you are not there. To train any behavior the most quickly, the closer you can come to 100% success rate the better. If he is allowed to chew on the tree or lie under the tree (see photo to the right) it will be more difficult to change the rules later. Start consistent, stay consistent!
To practice training sessions do this:
- Put your dog on leash
- Walk him near the tree
- Click and treat (or say, "yes" if you are not using a clicker) anything appropriate, including walking by the tree, looking at the tree, sitting, lying down, etc.
- If he takes ONE step over the VERY WELL DEFINED line say, “Eh! Eh!” and gently guide him away from that location, and IMMEDIATELY give him encouragement when his body is in a proper location away from the tree. “Good boy!”
- Continue practicing and make it more enticing for him to go near the tree, including throwing toys or treats in underneath it. Yes, this is entrapment, but often when you want to work on dog training, your dog acts differently because you are watching him. Sometimes you have to entice him to make a decision while you are there and gently teach him it is not appropriate.
- The second time he puts a paw over the line, say, “Eh! Eh!” and gently guide him away and then give encouragement, "Good boy!"
- The third time he puts a paw over the line, say, “Timeout” and gently move him to the timeout location. (see below)
- Wait 10-30 seconds and remove him, only if he is quiet, and repeat.
- Once he is timed out one time, the next time he crosses the line it is an instant timeout.
- Continue until you can tell that he is thinking, “It sure doesn’t pay when I go near that tree!”
If you feel frustrated, focus on the CORRECT behaviors. Start by giving feedback at least every 6 seconds including verbal feedback, petting, treats, and toys when he is doing the right behavior. Keep him far away at the beginning and reward him for anything that is correct. Even if he is 20 feet away from the treat on leash, he should be rewarded, because that is one of the many possibilities that you want him to do in the future. If tomorrow he chooses to stay 20 feet away from the tree, that is great!
As you do more training, use more verbal feedback and less treats. Long-term, a big part of the reward is "staying with the party" and not getting timed out.
Timeouts can be very controversial. They shouldn't be. The philosophy behind timeouts involves teaching your dog that one behavior is correct and one behavior ends all the fun. You absolutely can use the crate as a timeout area. He will not start to hate the crate if he is normally comfortable in the crate. If your dog has Separation Anxiety, he probably can't be in the crate. That would not be fair to your dog. The recommendation for timeouts assumes that your dog is normally comfortable in the crate. So, for a dog that is ok with the crate, if he likes the crate at that moment as much as being where he just was, then it won't work as a punishment! I want your dog to be in the crate and have some thought such as "Aw, why did I end up in here? I want to be with the rest of the party!"
The interesting thing about timeouts is that they are technically a punishment. The definition of a punishment is to "add something aversive to stop a behavior". However, "punishments" do not have to mean choking your dog or being physical. That is never appropriate.To properly use timeouts, your dog must understand what is APPROPRIATE. To accomplish this, make sure you reward a lot after each timeout for the correct responses, and manage him properly so he is not able to practice the inappropriate behavior when you are not watching him.