Escaping is a serious problem for both you and your dog, as it could have tragic consequences. If your dog is running loose, they are in danger of being hit by a car, being injured in a fight with another dog, or being hurt in a number of other ways. Additionally, you’re liable for any damage or injury your dog may cause and you may be required to pay a fine if they are picked up by an animal control agency. In order to resolve an escaping problem, you must determine not only how your dog is getting out, but also why they are escaping.
Why Dogs Escape
Social Isolation/Frustration. Your dog may be escaping because they are bored and lonely if:
- They are left alone for long periods of time without opportunities for interaction with you.
- Their environment is relatively barren, without playmates or toys.
- They are a puppy or an adolescent (under three years old) and don’t have other outlets for his energy.
- They are a particularly active type of dog (like the herding or sporting breeds) who needs an active job in order to be happy.
- The place they go to when they escape provides them with interaction and fun things to do. For example, they go to play with a neighbor’s dog or to the local school yard to play with the children or get into the garbage.
We recommend expanding your dog’s world and increasing their “people time” in the following ways:
- Walk your dog daily. It’s good exercise, both mentally and physically.
- Teach your dog to fetch a ball or frisbee and practice with them as often as possible.
- Teach your dog a few commands and/or tricks. Practice these commands and/or tricks every day for five to ten minutes.
- Take a training class with your dog and practice daily what you’ve learned.
- Provide interesting toys (Kong-type toys filled with treats or busy-box toys) to keep your dog busy when you’re not home.
- Rotate your dog’s toys to make them seem new and interesting (see our resource Dog Toys).
- Keep your dog inside when you’re unable to supervise them.
- If you have to be away from home for extended periods of time, take your dog with you or to a “doggy daycare,” or ask a friend or neighbor to walk your dog.
Fears and Phobias
Your dog may be escaping in response to something they are afraid of if they escape when exposed to loud noises, such as thunderstorms, firecrackers, or construction sounds.
- Identify what is frightening your dog and desensitize your dog to it. You may need professional help with the desensitization process. Check with your trainer and veterinarian about giving your dog an anti-anxiety medication while you work on behavior modification.
- Leave your dog indoors when they are likely to encounter the fear stimulus. Mute noise by leaving them in a basement or windowless bathroom and leave on a television, radio, or loud fan.
- Provide a “safe place” for your dog. Observe where they like to go when they feel anxious, then allow access to that space, or create a similar space for them to use when the fear stimulus is present.
Your dog may be escaping due to separation anxiety if:
- They escape as soon as, or shortly after, you leave.
- They display other behaviours that reflect a strong attachment to you, such as following you around, frantic greetings, or reacting anxiously to your preparations to leave.
- They remain near your home after they have escaped.
Factors that can precipitate a separation anxiety problem:
- There has recently been a change in your family’s schedule that has resulted in your dog being left alone more often.
- Your family has recently moved to a new house.
- There’s been a death or loss of a family member or another family pet.
- Your dog has recently spent time at an animal shelter or boarding kennel.
Separation anxiety can usually be resolved using counter-conditioning and desensitization techniques (see our resource Separation Anxiety
How Dogs Escape
Some dogs jump fences, but most actually climb them, using some part of the fence to push off. A dog may also dig under the fence, chew through the fence, learn to open a gate, or use any combination of these methods to get out of the yard. Knowing how your dog gets out will help you to modify your yard. However, until you know why your dog wants to escape, and you can decrease their motivation for doing so, you won’t be able to successfully resolve the problem.
Recommendations for Preventing Escape
- For climbing/jumping dogs: Add an extension to your fence that tilts in toward the yard. The extension doesn’t necessarily need to make the fence much higher, as long as it tilts inward at about a 45-degree angle.
- For digging dogs: Bury chicken wire at the base of your fence (with the sharp edges rolled inward), place large rocks at the base, or lay chain-link fencing on or under the ground.
- Never punish your dog after they have already been out of the yard. Dogs associate punishment with what they’re doing at the time they’re punished. Punishing your dog after the fact won’t eliminate the escaping behavior, but will only make them afraid to come to you.
- Never punish your dog if the escaping is a fear-related problem or is due to separation anxiety. Punishing fear-motivated behaviors will only make your dog more afraid, and thus make the problem worse.
- Chaining your dog should only be used as a last resort, and then only as a temporary measure until a more permanent solution can be found. Chaining your dog doesn’t give them sufficient opportunity for exercise and can be dangerous if done improperly. Chaining is also strongly connected to the development of aggressive behaviours.