Dogs escape for a variety of reasons, including –
- Boredom – When dogs are bored, they may escape to find adventure in the great outdoors.
- Loneliness – Dogs are pack animals. If they do not get enough attention and interaction at home, they may run away to look for it elsewhere.
- Separation Anxiety – Some dogs become extremely anxious when home alone. They try to leave, to look for their family.
- Territory Protection – Guard dogs may escape to chase intruders away from their property.
- Prey Instinct – Dogs with high prey drive may run away while hunting and chasing after prey.
We want to prevent our dog from escaping because he may get hit by a car, get into fights, step on sharp objects, and eat garbage, anti-freeze, or poisonous yard plants.
Free roaming dogs can also be dangerous to children, seniors, and other on-leash dogs. Here are some tips on how to stop dog escapes.
1. Train our dog not to bolt out doors or exits
Dogs often rush or bolt through doors because they inadvertently get rewarded for their escaping behavior. Not only do they get a fun trip outside, but they also get to start an exciting game of chase with their owner. As a result, the more successful escapes a dog makes, the more likely he is to repeat the performance.
To teach our dog to wait at the door, we want to turn things around and reward calm or good actions. At the same time, we need to prevent all door escapes, so that he does not get free outside trips or chasing games, for bad conduct.
I use my daily walks with my dog to teach him “door manners”. Every day, before going on our walk,
- I call my dog to me.
- When he comes, I ask for a Sit and reward him with a treat for sitting and waiting. If he does not want to sit or calm down, then I simply walk away and go back to my chores. I try again on my next break.
- If he stays calm, I put on his collar and leash. I no-mark, if he tries to jump or bite while putting on the collar, and repeat step 2 (i.e. get him to sit and wait).
- Next, I hold the leash, open the door, and put on my shoes. If he stands up, I no-mark the behavior and close the door. I wait until he is calm and sitting, before I try the door again.
- If he remains sitting, then I give him the Break command, and we go on our fun walk.
In this way, my dog learns the following –
Sitting and waiting calmly by the door = Get to go for fun walk with my person,
Jumping and running around = Door closes and don’t get to go out.
2. Have a secure backyard or dog run
Make sure that our backyard is secure.
- A 6-foot fence is usually sufficient to keep most dogs from jumping over it.
- Dogs may also dig under the fence. We can bury chicken wire along the fence line, which will be uncomfortable against a dog’s nails, when he tries to dig.
- We can also place wood blocks or concrete blocks at the bottom of our fence-line to discourage digging.
I am currently using concrete blocks in my backyard. I can easily readjust them as needed, they hold up well against water (unlike wood), and they are a better visual fit than chicken wire.
If our backyard is too large to enclose with a fence, or if the terrain is too uneven, then consider building a smaller dog run. Make sure to bury the fencing at the edge of the run, to prevent digging. Alternatively, a concrete floor will also take care of this issue. However, concrete can be harsh on a dog’s paws, especially if used daily, for an extended period of time.
When I leave my dog in the backyard, I make sure he has enough clean water to drink, and proper shelter. This is especially important during very cold or very hot weather.
If none of these options are possible, then keep our dog inside the house when we are not around to supervise.
Another commonly discussed alternative, is the invisible or underground fence. These fences are paired with a shock collar, and will automatically deliver a shock to the dog when he nears the underground sensors.
However, scientific studies show that these fences increase stress in our dogs, and can encourage extreme aggression. In particular, dogs may associate the shocks to people or animals that they see, rather than to their own actions. They may also associate the shocks to the environment, become anxious, and start avoiding our backyard.
3. Keep our dog well exercised every day
Dogs that are primarily kept in the backyard, will quickly become frustrated, unhappy, and stressed. Most backyards are easily explored by a dog, in one day or less. In addition, our backyard is fully enclosed to prevent escapes, therefore, there will be few new scents to pique our dog’s interest.
In contrast, our neighborhood sidewalks are traveled by a variety of humans, dogs, cats, squirrels, raccoons, and other animals. There are a plethora of new scents to keep our dog engaged every day. In addition, neighborhood walks will expose him to a variety of people, animals, cars, and other interesting sights. This will help socialize him to common neighborhood objects, as well as stimulate his mind.
Walks in the park are even more interesting, because it is a new environment with a totally new set of sights, scents, and sounds.
This is why exercising a dog on a treadmill is no substitute for an interesting walk in the neighborhood, or at the park.
Dog play, dog sports, and dog training sessions, can be used in addition to the daily neighborhood walks, to keep our dog engaged and happy.
Dogs that get daily walks will have less interest in escaping, because exploring the neighborhood is a regular affair that they participate in, together with us.
4. Keep our dog safely engaged while we are away
Provide our Houdini dog with interesting activities to do, while he is home alone. Safe, interactive food toys, such as the Buster Cube or the Omega Ball, are good ways to focus him on a positive activity, rather than letting him obsess about being alone.
We can also put wet food in a Classic Kong, and then freeze it. This will keep a dog engaged, while he slowly licks out the frozen wet dog food.
There are also timed object dispensers, that will release a toy after a predetermined duration. Timed dispensers allow us to spread out the delivery of various toys, and gives our dog something new to do, every so often.
I also leave my dog with some safe chew toys. Sometimes, I stick some cheese onto the toys, to make them even more tempting.
Usually, I leave the radio or television on, to provide some background noise. This will keep the environment closer to how it is when we are home, and also mask out unusual sounds coming from outside. Strange sounds may sometimes encourage a dog to escape, in an attempt to see what is on the other side.
5. Do not leave our dog alone for long periods of time
If our dog is prone to escaping, then do not leave him alone for long periods of time. Dogs are pack animals, and need frequent interaction with other members of their pack.
One possibility is to come home during lunch-break, for a quick walk and some play. This will help to break up the tedium of our dog’s day. If we are busy or must work the entire day, then consider putting our dog in daycare, or getting a pet sitter to stop by. We can also hire a dog walker, to take him out for a fun group walk at the park, with other dogs.
All these activities will not only exercise him, and enhance his quality of life, but also help to socialize him to a variety of dogs and people. A socialized dog is a joy to have, because we can take him almost everywhere with us, and not have to worry about him behaving badly.
If none of the above options are possible, then consider having a friendly neighbor come over, or having our dog visit with them.
As pack animals, dogs should not be left alone for most of the day, with nobody for company but themselves. Ultimately, this may lead to frustration, boredom, depression, and aggression.
6. Train our dog on acceptable guarding behavior
Most dogs, especially dogs that have been bred to guard and protect, will bark to alert us, when there are unusual sounds or activities around our house. If there is something wrong, we will know right away.
However, we do not want our dog to practice obsessive territorial behavior, or develop barrier frustration. Dogs with barrier frustration may charge at the fence, engage in non-stop barking, and escape to protect his territory.
When my dog alerts me to something unusual with his bark …
- I go to him, and inspect the area.
- I thank him for the warning, and praise him for doing his guard duty well.
- If he continues to bark, I issue an alternate command – such as Quiet, Go-Mat, or Down.
- Once I have finished checking things out, I take my dog with me, so that he does not continue to obsess over the external stimulus.
If he goes back to barking, or exhibits other territorial behaviors, I try to redirect him into doing something else – such as chewing on a cheese enhanced toy. If that fails, and he keeps barking at nothing, then I put him in time-out briefly.
Once he is calm, I make sure to reward him with praise and affection.
In summary, we can discourage dog escapes if we –
- Train our dog not to bolt-out doors and exits.
- Make sure our property is fenced and secure.
- Provide a variety of structured daily activities to redirect and drain our dog’s energy.
- Make it very rewarding to stay in the house or on our property.
- Teach our dog proper guarding behavior.