DEAR OLD TRAINER:
Our two labs, Lilly, 2, and Buddy, 4, are trained except for one thing. If we leave them alone in the yard they jump the 4-foot fence and run all around the neighborhood. And the surprising part is that it is Lilly who is the ringleader. If we keep her on a leash, Buddy won’t jump the fence on his own. What can we do?
Allison, Santa Clara
A: It is not unusual for a female to be pack leader. Size or age does not always determine who leads the pack. Most of the time it is the dog who is born with a desire to be the boss.
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The fact Lilly only jumps the fence when left alone tells me she knows the rule. She just has to learn to obey it when you are not in the yard.
The way I train a dog not to jump a fence is to teach them to stay away from the fence altogether. Call Lilly to the fence, put her in the “sit” position, look her in the eye, whack the fence with a rolled newspaper, and, in your best Al Pacino impression, tell her it is your fence and to keep away from it.
Pet and praise her when she backs off. Repeat several times each training session and hold several sessions per day. If she approaches the fence repeat the exercise, but scold her first, make her sit and look at you, whack the fence, then touch her on the neck with the paper.
Leave her in the yard, but watch through the window. If she approaches the fence throw the door open, make her sit, scold her, whack the fence with the paper, then touch her neck with it.
Remember, petting and loving on your dog when she does the right thing is as important as the discipline part.
As a training aid, try an inexpensive no-jump harness, available at your local pet shop. The harness creates a gentle resistance across the chest of the dog when she tries to jump. The pressure breaks her concentration and stops her in mid-jump.
Another solution is the use of Scat Mats. These electrified pads give a harmless static shock when a dog steps on them. Once Lilly feels the shock she will avoid that area, but you have to know her takeoff point in order to place the mats in the proper spot. The mats are pricey, starting around $50.
The most expensive option is an electrified wire around the top of the fence. It works if Lilly is crawling over the fence but has little effect if she can jump over it.
I favor training over buying equipment because learning a new command reinforces all other training. Be patient, but be relentless. The way you break any bad habit is to interrupt her concentration the instant the thought enters her mind.
Leave Lilly on the leash unless you are in the back yard or watching through the window. Interrupt her every time she approaches the fence and put her through the routine. It won’t take long until a new habit – obeying your orders – replaces the bad habit of jumping the fence.
Jack Haskins writes as The Old Trainer. A trainer for more than 30 years, he has rescued, trained and placed more than 2,500 dogs. Send questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.