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.
I have browsed many of your articles and found them incredibly helpful! Thank you for your straight forward advice and problem solving! I recently adopted a Border Collie/Boxer mix who is about a year old. We’ve had her for about a month and we’ve had a number of challenges, but the most dangerous began a week ago when she learned she could jump the fence. She is an indoor dog and has 2 siblings which she is regularly playing with so it’s not boredom or separation anxiety, I truly don’t know the motivation… There doesn’t appear to be a trigger (ie people, cats, etc) she just stops playing, goes to the fence and jumps it which of course leaves the other 2 dogs behind barking and me running through the neighborhood. We are currently taking her out on a 30 foot leash every time we go out but this impairs her play with the other dogs and I would prefer to teach her not to do it instead of just preventing it. Unfortunately, putting up a larger fence around the yard isn’t feasible as I chose this house specifically for it’s large yard with running room for the dogs. Any suggestions would be greatly appreciated! Thank you!
One thing that helped with my dogs is to increase the length and frequency of their daily walks. Both my Sibes are very active and also have high prey drive, so if they get a whiff of something, they are quite motivated to go after it – under or over a fence.
There was this one day, where we had to take Sephy and Shania to the vet for their yearly shots and checkup. We were tired when we got back, so we decided to skip walking Lara. A few hours later, she was in our neighbor’s yard! She likely got a whiff of some critter, and decided to go check it out.
When Lara goes on long walks with me, she gets to explore all the interesting outside smells, so she is much less likely to escape and go exploring on her own.
I find that giving Lara a variety of structured activity to do at home also helps, e.g. working for all of her food, obedience exercises, structured play, etc.
Another thing that may help is to train the dog to have a very good recall. This article from the ASPCA has a very good list of recall training techniques.
The problem with dog escapes (bolting out doors, or jumping fences), is that it is a self-reinforcing behavior. When a dog performs the behavior, he gets rewarded with a fun trip outside. This reinforces the escaping behavior and encourages the dog to keep repeating it. To fully stop the behavior, we need to make sure that the dog ~never~ gets rewarded for the escape behavior. Instead, we want to teach him alternative behaviors (e.g. door manners) that he *does* get rewarded for.
hey great tips, eddie got away on a snowy day it was his first snow fall and i chased him and he kept running all the way to the damn park, not only did i learn that i should of run in the oposite direction and he would of chased me back home but i also learned that running through the snow in slippers is not a good idea yea thanks eddie.
Ouch! I once got frostbite on my toes and it was not fun.
How are you and Eddie?
I am currently reading “Inside of a Dog” by Alexandra Horowitz. It is a fun book.
We are doing fine Eddies as fresh as usual gaining a bit of weight 2lbs since i started him on blue wilderness. ive heard wonderful things about that book a friend of mine read it and said it made her understand her dogs a bit more lol.
I have a 3 year old shiba that my girlfriend and I rescued. She has been a great addition to our home for the past 6 months. But for some reason the past week she has escaped twice and likes to run through three different apartment complexes. We’ve done a lot of reward training and have taught her three new tricks. When she escapes she seems to think it’s some kind of game that we’re playing but it’s really annoying to run after her for two hours or more. Treats, offers of car rides, and sweet talking don’t seem to phase her we just have to wait until she tires out and gives up. We’re now contemplating getting a “shock” collar and doing the necessary training associated. I’d appreciate any insight considering I live in a very busy apartment complex near an even busier highway when cars don’t seem to phase my dog at all. I sometimes think shes a cat stuck in a dogs body by the personality she portrays.
How is Shiba escaping?
With Shiba Sephy, I found that prevention is the most effective thing. Shibas love chasing games, so when they escape and people chase them, they love it, and it is a reward for their escaping behavior. This causes them to want to escape even more because escape = fun 2-hour chasing game.
When Sephy was young, I put a long drag lead on him only with a flat collar. He would usually steal something and then start a chasing game. But all I have to do is step on the long drag lead. Only do this when you are around to supervise and only use a flat collar. The drag lead can sometimes get caught in furniture or other objects.
I also installed a double gate on my backyard, like they have in dog parks. In this way, when I open the gate, and Sephy manages to sneak out, he has nowhere to go.
Extra exercise may also help. When Sephy was young I walked him a lot, and nowadays he thinks being outside is really old hat. He only goes out once per day and he is good for the rest of the day.
In terms of a shock collar, I also considered using it on Shiba Sephy during his difficult stage. However, after looking into the various studies that have been performed on shock collars, I decided against it.
Here is an article on what I found about shock collars.
Husky lover says
Thank you so much for your suggestions! We shall have to try them! I will keep you posted on our journey!
Yours truly Husky lover!
Husky lover says
I have a husky/shephard and she breaks out of everything. When we first rescued her she was very clam and we could leave her on her own no problem. A few months later she began to destroy the house trying to get out. She has broken through every bug screen in the house, ripped apart moulding around the doors, broken blinds. Eventually we started to crate her. She broke out of the crate. So now we have a kennel/run that we built and she breaks out. We have tried different methods of leaving her but she always breaks out. any suggestions for us? Yours truly Husky lover
Hello Husky lover,
I have a Siberian and she is a big ball of energy 🙂 With huskies, exercise and activity are really your best friends. Some things that I do with my Siberian –
1. > 1 hr walk every day.
2. Play session in the backyard every day.
3. Works for all of her food from obedience, grooming, or food toys. Interactive food toys are great because it keeps her engaged mentally.
We also have a Shiba that she constantly bugs to play with her 🙂
I think by redirecting her energy towards positive activities, you can curb those destructive behaviors that you describe.
Husky lover says
Thank you shibashake.
Unfortunately these things that you describe, walking her and play sessions we do on a regular basis. Even when she seems tired after all of the activity she will still find a way out! She is a bit of a lazy dog (if you can believe that) and after so much exercise she just lays down.
You talk about interactive food toys. Our husky won’t play with toys, fetch a ball or use interactive food toys. We have tried to teach her how to use these to keep her mentally stimulated but with no avail. Any suggestions?
Thank you for all your suggestions! If you think of anything else we will try!!
Yours truly Husky lover
Sorry for going through known territory – it is tough because I never know what the surrounding context is so I try to start at the beginning 🙂 Thanks for being so understanding.
What I do is that I give both my dogs all their food through toys or training. They don’t get any from food bowls. This is also a great way to regulate how fast they eat.
When they get hungry enough, they will work on the food toys. Make it easy for your dog at first, then you can slowly increase the difficulty of the toy after she learns the ropes. Sometimes I will also enhance certain toys by adding boiled chicken bits to the kibble. Frozen Kongs, Buster Cube, and the Premier food toys have worked well for my dogs.
I have also seen a timed-release food toy dispenser which can be useful to keep a dog entertained for longer periods of time. I have not tried it yet though.
In terms of escaping, is she doing it because of stress and anxiety when you leave? If so, I would try desensitizing her to you leaving.
Start with just really short trips away and slowly build it up. If you can keep to a fixed routine, it will also help. For example, my Shiba is a stress cadet, but he is comfortable when we leave him alone based on our regular routine. When we make unscheduled trips, he gets a bit more stressed, so we are slowly training him on that by first doing really short away trips.
Hope this helps. Let me know how it goes.
@emievil – She is adorable! Thanks for sharing her picture with us. You should put more up on Flickr or some other photo site. She is very photogenic 🙂
@My NJ Dog –
A double-gated system is a great idea. I have a similar set-up for my backyard. One area where the air-conditioning unit and trash cans are and another area for the dogs 🙂 Also reminds me of what they have in dog parks. I should add this to the article. Thanks!
My NJ Dog says
You are welcome.
Sometimes solutions come when we define the real problem. I thought the problem was “dog running out the front door”, but that wasn’t the problem. The real problem was “dog escaping into the neighborhood”. Once I stopped focusing on the front door, the solution was obvious 🙂
Again – a very informative article.
My NJ Dog says
Great article with lots of good tips.
My pup would escape from the house even though he was walked, played with, constantly had someone in the house with him, and is never left in the yard when I not home. He’d wait until someone opened the front door, make a beeline for the steps and off he would go. Chasing would do no good. He always knew he was ‘in trouble’ and headed right to ‘his room’ when we got him home.
I racked my brain for weeks on how to stop this – finally I built a small gate at the top of the deck stairs. We have not had an escape in almost 6 years. He still loves to bound out the door occasionally, but he isn’t going far. As an unexpected benefit, the 18mo old toddler is now also safe to play on the deck!
I’ve learned that sometimes it’s more effective to prevent the result than to try to stop the behavior….and I’m trained in behavioral psychology!
My dog, a two-year old Terrier-Maltese crossbreed, always go out every night. She has found a hole in our fence and, since she is so small, she can always squeeze herself out of it. Unfortunately, she cannot squeeze herself in. Sometimes she spends the night outside and we just wake up with her barking her head off just so she can be let in. *sigh* To ensure that she will not escape, we either tied her to a post or lock her inside the garage. Against her nature I know, but we’ve tried to mend the hole and block it to no avail (don’t ask me why, she just manage to get out every time). We’d rather tie her up than to wake up one day to find out that she is lost or worse, dead.
Being a Terrier I am sure that she is great at finding ways to get out. 😉 Do you have a picture of her up online? Would love to see her – bet she is looks like an angel.
As for the escaping, increasing the number of walks every day, I think, may help. My guys are usually pooped after their walk and will just lie around until the weather cools down and then they get wild again.
I hired a dog walker for a while to get them out walking with other dogs and they had some good fun.
Does she try to chew her way out as well when you keep her inside the house?
Actually she’s inside our garage right now, which is quite roomy, so she can go around and take a walk every once in a while. I’ll look around if I have a picture of her I can upload. LOL don’t be fooled by her breed, she’s very fierce (and very sweet to us, too!). As to chewing, I’m glad to say she has outgrown that (she used to chew everything!). But she can claw her way out sometimes.
I got envious with the picture of your dog, so I took my camera, called my dog and took her picture. Here she is =).
By the way, we found a solution, hurray! We placed a cemented block on top of the hole and since it was heavy, she couldn’t move it. No escape last night, thank God!
Nancy's Niche says
As always, a great article…My dog, before I lost him, was happy, loved and well exercised…He never tried to run away because he loved his mommy too much… 🙂