Even though canine escape artists may provide amusing stories with their ability to outwit the confines of your back yard, these escapes can lead to tragic consequences. It is with this possibility in mind that dog owners should be acutely aware of their dog’s abilities, and reasons why it might want to escape. We will, of course, also cover ways to keep your dog within the safe backyard environment and out of harm’s way.
Why Do Dogs Escape & What Can be Done About the Behavior?
It is important to understand why dogs turn into Houdini in order to be able to address the problem and keep them from escaping. There are a multitude of reasons why a dog may feel the urge to jump the fence, or find other ways to leave the confines of your yard.
Loneliness and Separation Anxiety: If you have to leave your dog alone for extended periods of time, and don’t provide him the opportunity to interact with you when you are at home, then she will start feeling lonely and even develop separation anxiety, indicated by the fact that she escapes or tries to do so soon or shortly after you have left the house. Other indications of why she might be escaping can be gleaned from what she does after she has successfully escaped. If she usually ends up at the same place (e.g. neighbor’s house to play with their dog), then analyzing the destination and the activity she becomes involved in can be a good sign as to the reason why she escapes. For example, if you usually find her playing with the neighbor’s dog, then she may indeed be feeling lonely.
If your dog is feeling lonely, you can help decrease or eliminate her desire to escape by increasing the amount of human interaction she gets during the day. The ideal thing to do is take her on walks (morning and evening). Provide interesting toys with which she can occupy herself, and change out the toys once-in-a-while.
If separation anxiety is resulting in escapes, then it may be necessary to utilize desensitization training. This is something that will require diagnosis by your veterinarian. Some signs that the escapes are a result of separation anxiety include, staying in the close vicinity of your home when she escapes, and if she follows you around constantly when you are home. So if you notice these types of behavior, consult with your veterinarian.
Maturity, the Need to be Occupied, and Sexual Roaming: If you have a young dog (under three years of age) or puppy, then she may just be escaping because she has no other outlets for her energy. This is generally a problem with working (e.g. German Shepherd) or sporting dogs (English Pointer), as they have been bred for a specific purpose and have lots of energy to expend. These types of dog breeds may also develop this behavior even in adulthood if there isn’t a proper outlet for their incredible store of energy.
In order to help your dog expend the energy, you can go on (multiple) daily walks, exercise her in the back yard by playing extended games of fetch. Hold daily training sessions to engage your dog mentally, and teach her basic obedience and maybe even some fun tricks; there are virtually endless resources for dog training on YouTube.
Another reason why your dog may be hatching escape plans may be that she has reached sexual maturity, and like a lustful teenager is searching for a mate. If this is the case, then the best solution is to spay or neuter your dog, and make sure that you are not contributing to the extreme canine overpopulation that already exists.
Until the issue is resolved, it may be necessary to keep your dog inside or make use of a daycare service, if you have to be away from your home for extended periods of time.
Dogs that are Scaredy-Cats: The highest reported pet (especially dog) escapes reported during 4th of July celebrations, and the reason is not that the dogs are trying to go catch a fireworks show—it is because they are scared of the unfamiliar sounds. Dogs can get scared from unfamiliar and loud noises such as sirens, thunderstorms, fireworks/firecrackers, or other similarly loud noises.
This is another instance when desensitization training is necessary. Once you have identified the sound of which your dog is scared, you can begin by desensitizing him to that noise/sound by introducing him to different versions of the sound or similar sounds while you are with her. This process may require that your veterinarian provide anti-anxiety medication to help the process along.
Another action you can take is to provide a space for your dog where she feels safe when she encounters scary noises. The idea is to find out where your dog goes to hide, and provide a similar environment for her in your home or back yard.
In any of the above cases, it may be necessary to keep your dog indoors until such time that the problem has been resolved.
Training Corrective Behavior & Other Solutions
There are a couple of very important points to keep in mind when training your dog to stay within the safe boundaries of your back yard: First, never correct unwanted behavior after it has happened, no matter how short the time has been since the behavior took place; the dog simply won’t understand for what she is being punished. Second, only apply corrective methods if you can catch your dog during the act of escape. Third, if the escape is as a result of fear, do not implement corrective techniques and only reassure her that nothing bad will happen, and there is nothing of which to be scared; this could include holding her close, petting her, and speaking in a reassuring and calm voice.
Another method of keeping dogs within set boundaries is the use of invisible fences. They work like training collars; a corrective collar is placed around the neck of the dog, and the invisible fence is set up around the perimeter of the yard. When the dog approaches that perimeter, a corrective (small) shock is delivered through the collar which over time deters the dog from approaching the fence, and results in containment.