Escape Behavior in Dogs
One of the most serious behavioral issues a dog owner can face is escaping, as it opens up the possibility of tragic consequences. If your dog escapes and is running loose, they are in danger of being hit by a car or injured in any number of other ways. Additionally, you are liable for any damage or injury your dog causes, and you may be required to pay a reclaim fee if your dog is admitted to a shelter.
To resolve escape behaviors, you must first determine how and why your dog is getting out.
How Dogs Escape
Dogs can jump, climb, and dig under or chew through barriers, learn to open gates and doors, or use any combination of these methods to get out of your yard. If this sounds all too familiar, here are some steps to help keep your dog contained in your yard:
- For jumpers and climbers: Move any objects near your fence that could be used for climbing, or add an extension to the top of your fence that slants inward toward your yard. This extension doesn’t need to make the fence much higher, as long as it slants inward at a 45-degree angle. Additionally, coyote rollers (rolling tubes or pipes that prevent climbing and gripping) can be added to the top of your fence and may be an efficient deterrent.
- For diggers: Bury chicken wire at the base of your fence (with the sharp edges rolled inward), place large rocks along the base or your fence or lay chain-link fencing on the ground.
- For all dogs: An enclosed dog run can be added to your yard, or only allow your dog in your yard when they can be supervised.
What to Do When Your Dog Escapes
It’s important not to punish your dog after they have successfully escaped. Dogs associate punishment with what they’re doing at the time, so punishing your dog after the fact won’t eliminate the escaping behavior and will only make your dog afraid and less likely to come to you when they return. Additionally, you should never punish your dog if the escaping is a fear-related problem or is due to separation anxiety. Punishing behaviors motivated by fear or anxiety will only make matters worse.
Make sure all of your dogs are microchipped (and that the microchip company has your current contact information — especially your phone number) and are wearing tags on their collars with your current contact and licensing information. This way, if your dog does go missing, these steps will assist with your reunion. If your dog goes missing, please refer here for which local shelter to contact.
Why Dogs Escape
Knowing how your dog gets out will help you to modify your yard, but you won’t be able to successfully resolve the problem until you understand why your dog wants to escape and you address their motivation for doing so. Some of the most common reasons dogs escape are social isolation, separation anxiety, reproductive drive and fear. Some dogs will also escape simply because they are bored. Dogs left in the yard should be left with enriching activities to engage with throughout the day, and it should not be assumed that your dog will keep themselves entertained because they’re outside — especially because you might have very different definitions of what qualifies as "entertainment"!
Dogs are social animals who crave social interactions, so they can become frustrated or lonely if left alone for long periods of time. If you don’t provide appropriate outlets to meet your dog's mental and physical needs for stimulation, unwanted behaviors like escaping can crop up as your attempts to cope. Increase your dog's quality of life and time spent with people with the following tips:
- Walk your dog several times a day, play fetch or teach him new tricks aiming to practice for five to 10 minutes a day. It might even be fun to take a training class to learn new skills as well as strengthen your communication and your relationship (San Diego Humane Society offers a variety of training classes!).
- Keep your dog inside and provide interesting toys that will keep him busy while you’re away. Try filling a Kong with treats or provide an interactive puzzle toy to address boredom and challenge your dog's problem-solving skills. Rotate through toys to offer new choices and to keep toys new and interesting.
- If your dog gets along with other dogs, consider taking your dog to a doggie day care for a play group, or ask a trusted friend or neighbor to walk your dog during the day.
Dogs with separation anxiety exhibit unwanted behaviors when they're left alone, including escape attempts that may result in injury and destruction of your property. Your dog may be struggling with separation anxiety if:
- They display behaviors that reflect a strong attachment to you, such as following you around, frantic greetings or becoming anxious when you are preparing to leave home.
- They urinate or defecate, bark and howl or chew and destroy household objects when left alone.
- They escape as soon as, or shortly after, you leave and remain near your home.
- They salivate excessively when you are gone.
- They chew or scratch at entry and exit points to your home.
There are a number of factors that can cause your dog to develop separation anxiety, so please read more about it.
Dogs become sexually mature around 6 months old (this differs slightly between breeds). An intact male is motivated by a strong, natural drive to reproduce and will go to great lengths to seek out a mate, including finding creative ways to escape. An intact female dog in heat will likely get pregnant if she escapes, and may also seek out mates. Spaying or neutering your dog is the best way to prevent this unwanted behavior and will have a multitude of other benefits for your dog and your community, including fewer health and behavioral problems and a decreased number of dogs being admitted to local shelters. Please speak to your family veterinarian about spaying or neutering your dog.
Fears and Phobias
Dogs have a keen sense of hearing, and so loud noises like thunder, fireworks or construction may motivate your dog to escape in an attempt to escape from these noises. There are a few simple steps you can take to keep your dog comfortable and safe and to prevent them from fleeing when frightened.
- Keep your dog indoors and provide a comfortable refuge, such as a covered crate, where they can go when hearing noises that scare them. Notice where your dog goes when they feel anxious or afraid, and allow access to that space or create a similar one. Read more about this in our article Helping Your Dog With a Fear of Loud Noises.
- Provide your furry loved one a bed to snuggle in and consider leaving on the TV or playing soothing music to help drown out the noise and ease anxiety.
- Give your dog their favorite treat or toy to keep busy and focused on something else.
- Keep all doors and windows closed, and patch up any holes in your fence, to keep your dog in your yard.
Behavior Helpline: Contact our Behavior Team
For behavior questions, please contact our Behavior Helpline either by calling 619-299-7012, ext. 2244, emailing email@example.com or filling out our Ask a Trainer form. San Diego Humane Society Adopters can fill out the Post Adoption Consultation form to schedule their troubleshooting session. We aim to respond within 7 days, but responses may take up to 2 weeks. Thank you for your patience!
Note: Due to the potential for serious injury, canine and feline aggression are best handled by a professional who specializes in aggressive behaviors. Because phone or email counseling is inadequate for addressing serious behavior concerns, we ask that you contact a qualified professional for help. Please refer to the list of behavior resources here.
Questions About Public Classes
San Diego Humane Society offers training classes and resources to address a variety of needs for companion animals.
Our training philosophy is based on the behavioral science concepts of positive reinforcement. Training your pet using these concepts will not only help them learn new behaviors more quickly, it will also strengthen the bond you share.
Our website includes a current schedule of training classes or call 619-279-5961.
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