The Canine Escape Artist

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Escaping is a serious problem for both you and your dog, as it can have tragic consequences. If your dog is running loose, he is 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 are liable for any damage or injury your dog may cause and you may be required to pay a fine if he is 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 he is escaping.

Why Dogs Escape:

Social Isolation/Frustration

Your dog may be escaping because he is bored or lonely if:

Recommendations:

We recommend expanding your dog’s world and increasing his “people time” in the following ways:

Sexual Roaming

Dogs become sexually mature at around six months of age. An intact dog is motivated by a strong, natural drive to seek out a mate. It can be very difficult to prevent an intact dog from escaping, because their motivation to do so is very high.

Recommendations:

Fears and Phobias

Your dog may be escaping in response to something he is afraid of if he escapes when he is exposed to loud noises, such as thunderstorms, firecrackers or construction sounds.

Recommendations:

Separation Anxiety

Your dog may be escaping due to separation anxiety if:

Factors that can precipitate a separation anxiety problem:

Recommendations:

Separation anxiety can be resolved using counter-conditioning and desensitization techniques (see our handout: “Separation Anxiety”).

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 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 his motivation for doing so, you will not 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 does not 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 the ground.

Punishment

Never punish your dog after he is already out of the yard. Dogs associate punishment with what they are doing at the time they are punished. Punishing your dog after the fact will not eliminate the escaping behavior, but will only make him 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 does not give him sufficient opportunity for exercise and can be dangerous if done improperly (see our handout: “Keeping Your Dog Confined to your Prop- erty”).