We have an occasional runaway dog. Rodrigo loves to roam the neighborhood. We live in a rural area of Marysville, Washington on 5 unfenced acres. The dogs have their own fenced yard, but when we’re home, we like to hang with them in the main yard and occassionally Rodrigo will wander off to the property of one of our neighbors to visit with humans, dogs, and horses. He loves everyone…
By Mikkel Becker, Vetstreet.com
I can relate to the horror many pet parents feel when their beloved pooch escapes through the front door or fence and runs with wild abandon through the neighborhood, seemingly oblivious to their person’s cries to come back.
If only as a little girl I had known back then what I do now, I would have saved myself many tears. My first dog Scooter was a Wire Haired Fox Terrier with an insatiable desire to bolt, run away and investigate the neighborhood. Scooter would stand guard near the door waiting for the slightest moment where she could make her break and push past any person that opened the door too wide. There were many times I would chase after her, screaming with tears running down my face, as Scooter wildly ran away, unresponsive to my cries. Scooter was never injured during any of her escapes, but I can still vividly remember the terror I felt when she would get free.
For pet parents, little else compares to the terror of watching your dog bolt and race straight towards traffic or far out of sight where they may never be found. Luckily, there are steps pet parents can take to decrease their pet’s roaming behavior.
Understanding your pet:
It’s helpful to uncover reasons behind why your individual dog is roaming so that you can focus on solutions specific to your pet.
If you have an unneutered male dog, chances are your pet is roaming because he’s unaltered. By simply neutering a male dog, you drastically decrease roaming behavior.
Find acceptable outlets for your dog…
If you own a dog breed notorious for escape and roaming behavior, such as a Husky, you’ll have to find acceptable outlets for your dog to express what he’s been born to do, which is run. Certain breeds, such as many types of Terriers, are notorious for escape and run behavior. For breeds with escape behavior almost attached to their name, it’s essential to provide plenty of mental stimulation throughout the day, such as feeding out of food puzzles and scattering kibble out on the grass for them to search for. It’s also important to get high energy breeds plenty of exercise throughout the day; such as twice daily walks that leave the dog panting tired (being mindful to do walks during the cooler parts of the day and adjusting for the age and health of a dog). Games, such as fetch and tug, can also be helpful.
Dogs need interaction outside the home…
It’s not a surprise many dogs want to escape, because they are given very little interaction outside of the home. Enrolling your pooch in an obedience course, taking well socialized canines to doggy daycares and having regular interaction with people and sights outside of the home can help ease a dog’s stress level so that they settle down better in the home. Many dogs are so starved for stimulation and excitement out of the confines of the home that they take matters into their own hands and use escape as a way to break out and get the mental and physical stimulation they so desire. However, if pet parents provide ample interaction and exercise outside of the home, pets are much more likely to settle in.
Regular exercise off leash is essential…
For many dogs, the ability to have regular exercise without the restriction of a leash is essential. Dog parks can be beneficial places for dog-friendly canines to get their off-leash experience. For pet parents who are less inclined to take their pets to the dog park, you can also get the same sensation for your pet by venturing to places off the beaten path where your pet has space to sniff and explore on the end of a long line. I’ve even had clients with a dog-aggressive dog who have paid a landowner for regular use of his acreage as a place to regularly run their dog where it was safe away from other dogs. Just be sure to keep your pet leashed on a long line if they are not reliable about coming back when called. Also, be sure to reward your pet randomly for coming back when called and send them back out to explore again, which helps your pet see that coming back to you both gets them a reward, and most of the time their freedom doesn’t end.
Teach dog to wait at the door without bolting…
In the home, it’s important to teach your dog to wait at the door without bolting. Teach your pet to wait while the door opens by putting your pet on leash. Ask for a sit and reward. Next, reach for the door. If your pet stays in a sit, reward. If they stand up, put them back in a sit and try reaching for the door again. Next, turn the door handle and if your dog doesn’t move, reward. Gradually begin to open the door a little bit at a time, rewarding your pooch for staying in a sit. Should your dog stand up and move out of the sit, shut the door and start over. Once your dog proves reliable, you can practice more like a real life situation by using a familiar person at the door and reward your dog for sitting. Remember to close the door if your dog gets out of a sit. Eventually, you can practice with people who are less familiar to your dog.
Adjust the fencing to keep dogs in the yard…
If your dog escapes over the fence in your yard, it’s essential to raise the fence height or supervise them while they are on leash in the yard until the fence line can be raised. For dogs that dig, you may need to extend the fence line underground or bury chicken wire underneath the fence to prevent escape. Also remove any items along the fence, such as chairs, that a dog can use to climb up like a step and jump the fence more easily. For particularly stressed canines, you should talk to your veterinarian about the possibility of separation anxiety, which could be a reason for your pet’s escape behavior.
With the right amount of exercise and stimulation outside of the home, many pooches are better able to settle down in the home and will be less likely to bolt.
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