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San Diego Humane Society

The Canine Escape Artist

One of the most serious behavioral issues a pet owner can face is escaping, as it opens up the possibility of 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 any other 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 he is admitted to a shelter.

To resolve an escaping problem, you must first determine how and why your dog is getting out.

How Dogs Escape

Some dogs jump, climb, dig under or chew through fences, learn to open a gate or use any combination of these methods to get out of the yard. If this sounds all too familiar, follow these tips to keep your pet in your yard:

  • For jumpers and climbers: Add an extension to your fence that tilts in toward the yard. The extension doesn’t need to make the fence much higher, as long as it tilts inward at about a 45-degree angle.
  • For diggers: 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.

What to Do When Your Dog Escapes

It’s important to never punish your dog after he’s already out of the yard. 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 him afraid to come to you. Additionally, you should 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 make the problem worse.

Make sure all your pets are microchipped with current contact information tags on their collar and that your dogs are licensed. That way, if your pet does go missing, these steps will assist in a quick reunion. If your pet 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 decrease his motivation for doing so. Some of the most common reasons dogs escape are social isolation, separation anxiety, reproductive drive and fear.

Social Isolation

Dogs are social animals who crave interaction, so they can become frustrated and lonely if left alone for long periods of time. If you don’t provide appropriate outlets for your pup’s energy and boredom, it can lead to unwanted behaviors like escaping. You can expand your dog’s world and increase his people time with these tips:

  • Walk your dog several times a day, play fetch or teach him new tricks that you can practice for five to 10 minutes a day. It might even be fun to take a training class to learn new skills and strengthen your bond (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 cure boredom and challenge your dog mentally. Rotate the toys to make them seem new and interesting.
  • Consider taking your dog to a doggie day care, or ask a trusted friend or neighbor to walk him during the day.

Separation Anxiety

Dogs with separation anxiety exhibit behavior problems when they're left alone, including extreme escape attempts that can result in injury and household destruction. Your dog may be struggling with separation anxiety if:

  • He displays behaviors that reflect a strong attachment to you, such as following you around, frantic greetings or reacting anxiously when you are preparing to leave.
  • He urinates/defecates, barks/howls or chews/destroys household objects when left alone.
  • He escapes as soon as, or shortly after, you leave and remains near your home after he’s escaped.

There are a number of factors that can cause your dog to develop separation anxiety, so please read more about it and how to address it in our article on Separation Anxiety .

Reproductive Drive

Dogs become sexually mature around 6 months old. An intact male is motivated by a strong, natural drive 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. Spaying or neutering your dog is the best way to prevent this unwanted behavior and will have a multitude of other benefits for your pet and community, including fewer health and behavioral problems and a decreased number of animals being admitted to local shelters.

Fears and Phobias

Dogs have a heightened sense of hearing, so loud noises like thunder, fireworks or construction can cause them to escape in search of a safe haven where the sounds are less intense. Luckily, there are simple steps you can take to keep your dog comfortable and safe and prevent him from fleeing when frightened.

  • Keep your dog indoors and provide a comfortable refuge he can go to when he hears noises that scare him. Notice where he goes when he feels anxious or afraid, and allow access to that space or somewhere similar. Read more about Helping Your Dog With a Fear of Loud Noises.
  • Provide your furry loved one a crate or 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 pet his favorite treat or toy to provide enrichment and keep him busy.
  • Keep all doors and windows closed, and patch up any holes in your fence, to keep your pets in your yard.

Behavior Helpline: Contact our Behavior Team

Behavior Helpline

For behavior questions, please contact our Behavior Helpline either by calling 619-299-7012, ext. 2244, emailing behavior@sdhumane.org or filling out our Ask a Trainer form

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 619-299-7012, ext. 2398. 

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