How to stop your dog escaping from the garden

Rens Hageman
Rens Hageman

Does your dog's ability to escape from the back garden have you convinced that they are nothing less than a hairy Houdini?

Your never-ending attempts to keep your pet confined to your garden may seem comical at times, but every escape opens up the possibility of tragic consequences. If your dog is running loose, they are in danger of being hit by a car, injured in a fight with another dog, or hurt in any number of other ways. You're also 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. To prevent escapes, you'll need to find out how your dog is getting out of the garden, and more importantly, why they are so determined to get out.

Why dogs escape

Social isolation / frustration

Your dog may be escaping because they are bored and lonely, especially if:

He is left alone for long periods of time without opportunities for interaction with you.

His environment is relatively barren, without playmates or toys.

He is a puppy or adolescent (under three years old) and doesn't have other outlets for their energy.

He is a particularly active type of dog (like the herding or sporting breeds) who needs an active "job" in order to be happy.

He visits places after each escape that provide them with interaction and fun things to do. For example, they may go play with a neighbour’s dog or visit the local school yard to play with the children.

Expand 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 (for both of you!).

Teach your dog to fetch a ball or Frisbee and practice with them as often as possible.

Teach your dog a few commands or tricks. Try to hold a lesson every day for five to 10 minutes.

Take an obedience class with your dog and practice what you've learned every day.

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.

Keep your dog inside when you're unable to supervise them. This will also keep them safe and prevent any possibility of their being stolen from your garden.

If you must be away from home for extended periods of time, take your dog to work with you or to a "doggie day care centre," or ask a friend or neighbour to walk your dog.

Fears and phobias

Your dog may be escaping out of fear, especially if they are exposed to loud noises, such as thunderstorms, fireworks, or construction sounds.

Identify what is frightening your dog and desensitise them to it. You may need to seek out the help of a professional trainer, or talk to your veterinarian about anti-anxiety medications that might help your dog while you work on behaviour modification.

Keep your dog indoors if there's any chance they may encounter the fear stimulus outside. You can even mute thunder and other outside noises by creating a comfortable spot in a basement or windowless bathroom and turning 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.

Separation anxiety

Your dog may be trying to escape due to separation anxiety if:

He escapes as soon as, or shortly after, you leave.

He displays other behaviours that reflect a strong attachment to you, such as following you around, greeting you wildly, or reacting anxiously to your preparations to leave.

He remains near your home after they are escaped.

Factors that can precipitate a separation anxiety problem:

Your family's schedule has changed, and that has resulted in your dog being left alone more often.

Your family has recently moved to a new house.

Your family has experienced the death or loss of a family member or another family pet.

Your dog has recently spent time at an animal shelter or boarding kennel.

How dogs escape

Some dogs jump fences, but most actually climb them, using some part of the fence to push off from. 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 garden. Knowing how your dog gets out will help you to modify your garden. But until you know why your dog wants to escape, and you can decrease their motivation for doing so, the recommendations below won't be nearly as effective.

For climbing / jumping dogs: Add an extension to your fence. It's not so important that the extension make the fence much higher, as long as it tilts inward at about a 45-degree angle. Be certain there are no structures placed near the fence, such as a table or chair or dog house, that your dog could use as a springboard to jump over the fence.

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 the ground.

Training Basics

Never correct your dog after they have already left the garden. 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 behaviour, but will probably make them afraid to come to you.

Never correct your dog if the escaping is related to fear or is due to separation anxiety. Punishing a fearful response will only make your dog more afraid, and make the problem worse. In addition, avoid inadvertently reinforcing a fearful behaviour such as petting a frightened dog and saying, "It's okay."

Only correct your dog if you can administer correction at the moment your dog is escaping, and only if they doesn't associate the correction with you. If you can squirt them with a hose or make a loud noise as they are going over, under, or through the fence, it might be unpleasant enough that they won't want to do it again. If they realise that you made the noise or squirted the water, however, he'll simply refrain from escaping when you're around. This type of correction is difficult to administer effectively, and won't resolve the problem if used by itself.

You must also give your dog less reason to escape and make it more difficult for them to do so. Ultimately, that is how you'll put a permanent stop to that "Hairy Houdini" act.

(Article source: The Humane Society)

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