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No escape: how to contain dogs who go over, under, around, or through fences.

Responsible dog owners go to great pains to make sure their canine family members stay safe at home and don't go roaming unescorted around the neighborhood. The risks for a free-roaming dog are legion, including, but not limited to: getting hit by a car, shot by an irate neighbor or a police officer protecting public safety, attacking or being attacked by other animals, being picked up by animal control, or simply vanishing, never to be seen again. Yet some dogs seem hell-bent on escaping--doing everything they can think of to get over, under, around, or through their humans' containment strategies. What do you do when you have a dog who is dedicated to escaping his yard?



Before we even address ways to stop your dog from escaping, we need to examine reasons why your dog may be so dedicated to breaking out of your yard. If all we do is to block his exits, he may put all his energy into finding new ways out. If we address his motivation for escaping, he may stop trying, or at least not be as dedicated to overcoming the new obstacles you put in his path.

* BOREDOM--Your dog may be bored. Adding more mental and physical stimulation to his life and his backyard might help him become more content to stay home. Kiddie wading pools offer a huge variety of entertainment options. If your dog loves water, fill the pool with water for actual wading and splashing fun. For a dog who loves to dig, fill the pool with dirt or sand and bury toys and treats for him to find. If you don't want the mess of dirt or sand, fill the pool with plastic balls of various sizes and let him pounce among the balls looking for his toys and treats. There are now tons of puzzle toys that can keep him engaged in his yard; Kong Wobblers and other Kong treat-dispensing toys are some of my favorites.

By the way, speaking of boredom: your dog should not be left in the yard for long periods of time (long enough to get bored) and should never be left in the backyard all day (while no one is home) or all night (when he could easily be safely and happily indoors with you).

* AROUSAL--Getting stimulated by the sight of exciting things is another reason dogs are driven to escape their yards. Chain link and other livestock-wire fences are the scourge of good dog containment. They are certainly easier on the wallet than a privacy fence, but many dogs are compelled to escape when they are constantly overstimulated and frustrated by seeing a parade of dogs, humans, cars, trucks, motorcycles, skateboarders, bicyclists, mail carriers, and more passing by their yards. The added danger here is that an aroused, frustrated dog who escapes is likely to be aggressive when he finally has access to his targets.

If you can't install a privacy fence, consider attaching something solid to your wire or chain-link fence so your dog can no longer see through it.

* SEX--With the current trend to wait longer to sterilize (not a trend I necessarily support, but that's another article), there are more dogs, especially intact male dogs, who are very motivated to escape to court the neighborhood female in season. The obvious solution here: neuter.

* ANXIETY--This category brings up a whole different class of behavior challenges. Dogs who suffer separation or isolation anxiety or thunder phobia are driven to escape by their panic. Because severely stressed dogs can become destructive, owners sometimes leave these dogs outdoors to avoid damage to their homes. This is not an acceptable solution, as the panicked dog who escapes is even more likely to run in front of moving vehicles, bite someone who tries to help him, and/or run fast and far away, decreasing chances that he will be found and returned home.

You must treat the anxiety, often with medication as well as behavior modification protocols, and never leave these dogs alone outdoors. (See "Scared to be Home Alone," July 2008.)

* FUN--Finally, with a history of reinforcement for escaping, your dog may simply have learned that it's great fun to run loose, loot garbage cans, chase cats and other small animals, play with the neighbor kid, read pee-mail without interruption, romp with other neighborhood dogs, and engage in lots of other forms of canine mischief. Make it more fun for your dog to stay home, and keep on reading for thoughts on how to make it more difficult for your dog to breach your fence. (Note that I didn't say impossible....)



Now that you understand some of the possible motivations for your dog's obsession with escape, let's talk about an overall management strategy.

First things first: If he escapes when you leave him in the yard on his own, don't. You must always be with him in the yard, whether it's a brief potty break or an extended "enjoy the sunshine" session. If he can escape, even if he doesn't do it every time, he simply can't be trusted by himself. Ever.

If he escapes even when you're watching him, ignoring your calls to come back as he scrambles over or squeezes under, then he only goes out in the yard on a leash or a long line. Every. Single. Time. Remember, every time he gets loose and has fun chasing cats around the neighborhood, visiting his pals and getting into garbage cans, he has been reinforced for escaping, making it more than likely he will try that much harder to escape the next time.

You also need to make sure everyone in the household is on board with your management plan. It does no good for you to implement scrupulous management if your dear spouse or offspring blithely open the back door and turn Houdini loose to escape one more time.

Another important piece of management is teaching a fail-safe recall so if and when he does get out, you can get him back easily without reinforcing his "Catch Me If You Can" game of keep-away. (See "Rocket Recalls, September 2012.) When you do get him back, make sure to do something delightfully fun with him so coming back to you doesn't mean the fun is over. Then start improving your fence so he can't escape.


Some dogs are aerial artists, sailing over or scaling barriers with the greatest of ease. Although not exclusively, these tend to be the athletic herding, sporting, and working dogs, as well as the lean and lithe sighthounds--although some of those little terriers can surprise you with their physical abilities. If your dog is going over your fence, you're most likely to succeed if you make the fence significantly higher. If you raise it by six-inch increments, you are simply training him to jump or climb higher and higher a small step at a time. Raise your four-foot fence to six feet in one fell swoop (assuming your local ordinances allow a six-foot fence) for the best shot at stopping your escape artist in his tracks. (Note: Also make sure there are no handy "launching pads" near the fence--a dog house, a firewood box, your child's trampoline; even a tree can give your dog a head start over your fence.)

Some American Ninja Warrior dogs find it a simple matter to scale or sail over almost any fence, regardless of height. You can install the canine equivalent of the "warped wall" by adding an extension to your fence that angles inward at the top. This makes it much harder for your dog to judge the fence height, and ensures he can't grab the top and pull himself over. The longer the inward extension, the harder it is for your dog to navigate a jump or climb.


If you know he is climbing rather than sailing over, consider the "Coyote Roller," either the commercially available product ( or a do-it-yourself project, suspending PVC pipe on a wire at the top of your fence. Originally designed to keep coyotes out, it can be just as effective at keeping your dog in your yard. When he scales the fence and tries to grab the top to pull himself over, the pipe rolls, he can't get a grip, and he drops back inside his yard.

Another tactic that works for some for jumpers (but not all) is to plant shrubbery inside the fence line at his take-off point, so his flight path is interrupted. Of course, bushes take time to grow, so this would be a longer-term solution.


Some dogs are masters at burrowing under fences. While no particular type of dog has a patent on digging, terriers and scent hounds do logically seem to excel in this behavior, given what they were bred to do. A quick fix for the groundhog dog might be to set heavy cement blocks (as in "so heavy you can barely lift them") all along the inside perimeter of the fence. This might stop some of the more fainthearted diggers, but chances are it may only stall your dedicated digging dog while you plan and implement the more work-intensive project of burying wire 12 inches deep along the bottom of your fence, setting the cement block into the hole and covering it with dirt.

If you're just putting up a new fence, be sure to bury it six to 12 inches into the ground to save later headache. If you want to go the landscaping route, try planting something with thorns along the inside of the fence.


Beware the door dashers and gate crashers! Gate crashers are close kin to door darters, but perform their escape maneuvers from within the yard rather than the house, charging through the gate as soon as it is opened a crack by some unwary human. There doesn't seem to be any particular type of dog that favors this behavior; any sufficiently motivated dog can learn the dash-and-run routine.

It's not always the dog who is at fault; those most often guilty of aiding and abetting gate crashers include children, meter readers, visitors to your home, and other adults who aren't fully committed to keeping your dog in his yard.

The best way to foil a gate crasher is to install a double-gate system like those used at many dog parks. This handily keeps the dog away from the gate to the outer world while the human enters the yard, secures the first gate behind herself, and then opens the gate into the dog's inner yard. Other than that, your best option is to padlock all your gates and only enter the yard through the house.

Of course, you can teach your dog a solid "Wait" cue, and use it every time a gate is opened. But then you are relying on children, meter readers, visitors and non-committed adults to remember to use the "Wait" cue when they go in and out the gates. So, even better, teach your dog that the opening gate is the cue to "Wait" until he is invited out. While you're working on that, though, better install those padlocks!


Then there are those dogs who just blast their way through a fence. Big, strong dogs (Rotties, Pitties, etc.) have the best shot at this escape technique, although if the fence is weak enough, smaller dogs can do it, too. Most fences seem to have boards nailed on the outside--probably for aesthetic reasons--so if nails are loose or boards are starting to rot around nail holes, a good shove from the inside can push them off.

To foil these escapees, either repair your fence so boards are solidly nailed on, or nail a solid barrier on the inside of the fence. If you are putting up a new fence, try nailing boards on the inside instead of the outside, or installing pre-built panels so boards are on the inside. Thorny landscaping might also help you here, but, again, plants take time to grow.


Last year we adopted a year-old Australian Kelpie we named Kai. We knew our four-foot, somewhat dilapidated fence might not be adequate to contain this energetic, athletic dog. Fingers crossed, we let him into the backyard with our older dogs.

All was well for several days. Then, one morning as I was feeding chickens in the lower barn, I heard a ka-thump from the backyard. Next thing I knew Kai had joined me at the chicken coop. Clearly, he had found a way out. I prayed that he had gone through, not over. Tightening up our boards would be a much easier (and cheaper) fix than raising the fence or installing a new one.

I reported the news to my husband, Paul, also known as our farm handyman. Upon inspecting the fence, he found the loose board, and spent the afternoon re-placing and re-fastening any boards that were the least bit suspect. Kai hasn't escaped since. Phew!

May your own escapee fixes be as simple--or at least as successful!


The industry calls them underground containment systems. The public tends to call them by the most commonly known brand name--"Invisible Fence." I unfailingly call it a "Stupid Underground Shock Fence" (SUSF). Because that's what it is.

Sadly, SUSFs are popular for several reasons:

* They are less expensive than a physical fence, easier and faster to Install.

* Many homeowners associations prohibit physical fences (don't even get me started ...).

* SUSF companies, other shock-collar companies, and trainers who use shock tools, have done a very good job of convincing many dog owners that these tools are effective and harmless, using deceptive terms such as "stim," "tickle," "e-touch," and "electronic" to disguise the true nature of the shock. Incredibly, some even claim that they are using positive reinforcement when they use shock.


SUSFs are, after all, legal to sell. They can't possibly be that bad, can they? Yes, they can. Here are some of the bad things that can happen if you use a SUSF. I have seen the fallout firsthand and heard credible reports time and time again:

* Some dogs become very aggressive, associating the shock with whatever was passing by at the time: another dog, a skateboarder, a child ... I had a lovely Golden Retriever client who was ultimately euthanized as a dangerous dog because of this. Even after the SUSF representative came out and "retrained" her by putting a second shock collar around her groin to keep her in the yard, this previously aggression-free dog continued to run through the fence and attack dogs and humans passing by. Her aggression generalized to other non-fence situations, and her owners ultimately decided they could no longer trust her.

* Some dogs are so traumatized by the shock that they are terrified to step foot into their own yards.

* Some dogs are so traumatized by the warning beep associated with the shock that other, similar beeps--such as the beep of a camera, microwave oven, smoke alarm, electronic watch alarm--will send them into a total panic. I had a Greyhound client who was misdiagnosed with separation anxiety for this reason.

* A SUSF doesn't protect your dog from intruders (other dogs, humans) and hence puts her at risk from them (maybe an aggressive stray dog, a rabid fox who wanders into your yard, or a human with evil Intentions), and puts innocent intruders at risk (a child, perhaps) especially if your dog has become aggressive due to the shock association.

* Some dogs learn how to run through the fence. Some ignore the shock in a moment of high arousal over a passing dog, car, human, or other exciting stimulus. Some will deliberately accept the shock as the price they pay for their freedom. Still others learn to stand in the beep zone until the collar battery dies from the constant beeping and the dog crosses the fence line shock-free.



Despite what those who market them might try to have you believe, there is nothing positive about an SUSF. Certainly they do work to keep many dogs contained in their yards, but at a high price. Shock is a very strong aversive. That's not even open to debate. Even if you're convinced you'd like to try one (shame!), you won't know until it's too late if your dog is one of the many who suffers one or more of the above-listed problems. The potential damage to a dog's emotional health and physical safety should put these products in the "Never, Ever" category for any caring dog owner.
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Author:Miller, Pat
Publication:Whole Dog Journal
Date:Sep 1, 2016
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