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Ask the Expert: How do I help my dog understand that the flags are his boundary?


Dear Experts,

While training my dog to the SpotOn system, I’m not sure he is fully grasping that the flags represent the boundary. We have a large area (12 acres) and I put flags every 8 feet around it, focusing on the border that is by the street, but he seems to be reacting to the beep, not the flags. What could I be doing to help him understand? We want to take the collar with us to travel and hope that he’ll see the new flags up and recognize the boundary.
- Emily, Derry, NH

    Dear Emily,

    We checked in with SpotOn trainer Rick Alto to get an answer to your question – and the good news is, your flag placement sounds great!

    “I typically suggest spacing to be done by taking three long strides (6 to 10 feet) between flags,” Rick says. “So, if your flags are set every 8 feet, that is not the issue.”

    You’ve watched the SpotOn training videos, so you probably already know that the key to a well-trained dog is repeating steps.

    “Dogs learn through association and repetition” Rick continues. “I would suggest you take the dog right up to a flag on leash and upon hearing the "beep," quickly respond [by moving] back to the target area, [then] treat and praise.”

    If you’re already doing this, that’s great – just keep it up! Try not to get discouraged; some dogs take a little longer to get the hang of it than others. Some breeds, such as retrievers and collies, can learn quickly, while beagles and basset hounds may have a harder time combating their natural instincts and may require some extra patience.

    “The dog will eventually learn to associate the flag with the tone and then moving back into the safe zone where good things happen (treats and praise). Lessons need to be broken down into small steps, and once the dog understands the process and what's expected with each step, [the steps] can be "daisy chained" together.”

      Rick recommends trying out the following small steps:

      Step 1: Take your dog, on leash, to the flag. 

      Step 2: When you hear the "beep," move back to target area - excitedly and with purpose.

      Step 3: Treat and praise at target flag.

      Step 4: Repeat, repeat, repeat! As your dog begins to make the association that the flag and tone equals moving back to the center where treats and praise are plentiful, you can give the leash more slack until he is eventually off leash entirely.

      We hope this helps you out, and we can’t wait to hear about all the fun you have traveling with your pup! Do you have questions for our experts? Either leave them in the comments below or email us.


      Rick Alto

      ExFed Dog Training 

      Rick is a certified professional dog trainer; graduate of the prestigious National K9 School for Dog Trainers in Columbus, Ohio; and a professional member of the International Association of Canine Professionals (IACP) where he serves on the board of directors and oversees the service dog and legislative committees.

      His journey with dog training started when he was 10 years old and his mother brought home a standard poodle named Sam, who had been retired from the show ring and needed to learn ALL the basics. Friends and neighbors remarked at Rick’s innate ability with dogs and referred to him as the local “dog whisperer.”

      After a 36-year career as a special agent in federal law enforcement, Rick decided to “retire” and pursue his passion and fulfill his dream by entering the world of dog training full-time.

      As a dog trainer, Rick is dedicated to positive and effective training solutions that are balanced and fair for the dog. Rick is equally committed to furthering his education, allowing him to offer you the best possible training solutions and methods.


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