The Invisible Barrier Game
with Tressa Fessenden-McKenzie of PathandPaw, Training Advocate

The Invisible Barrier Game is a fun way to teach your dog the benefits of staying behind a certain point that you designate as your "invisible barrier" - usually a threshold of some kind.


In order to play this game, your dog needs to have a clear understanding of a marker. A marker is a word or sound that indicates that they performed a desired behavior and will be reinforced (usually this means food!) In order for this to be effective, the marker needs to mean reinforcement EVERY time. In the video I am using a clicker, which is generally more effective than a verbal marker because it's distinctive sounding and only occurs during training.


A long line is a good tool to use when beginning this game, although if you're playing it somewhere indoors you may not need it (for example, teaching your dog to stay out of the kitchen). To start, stand directly on the barrier (ie in the doorway). If you are able to make the exit point smaller to begin with (gates, doors, etc), that can be helpful. It's okay if initially your body is working as a block - it's best to get those first few clicks in successfully! So, starting on the line, possibly blocking the dog, mark BEFORE the dog reaches the invisible line and toss their treat past them, away from the line. This resets the dog for the next rep. These first few reps you will have to be pretty quick!


After a few fast reps, pause after you toss the treat and watch your dog's front paws. When a dog is stepping forward, the front paws do not land next to one another - one paw moves past the other to continue forward movement. You're looking for a deliberate pause - the moment one front paw rests beside the other even for a split second! Mark that pause, and toss the treat behind the dog again.


Continue marking the moment the front paw stops for a few reps. If you've made the threshold smaller (doors/gates), slowly begin to open it wider, in small increments. Do not increase duration as you work on opening the door!


Once the door is fully open, you can begin to increase duration - pausing longer and longer before marking each rep.


Once this gets good, you can begin to add in distance and distraction (separately). Try the above steps first and we can talk about making it harder later!