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The Escape Artist

Just about any dog, given the opportunity, will venture out of his yard and down the block - not because he's a bad dog, but because he's a NORMAL dog.  The world outside his yard is far more interesting than the world inside it.  Secure fencing and supervision are essential to keep a dog safe and healthy.


Why do dogs escape? 
The biggest reason is boredom and lack of exercise. His own yard is boring and his need for mental and physical stimulation is strong. He needs to stretch his legs and go investigating new smells. Some breeds are "programmed" by heredity to need to go far and fast: hunting breeds, northern sled pulling breeds, sight hounds, and working breeds. Some were bred to follow their noses: hounds and terriers. Dogs need jobs.


Increase exercise!
A tired dog will nap on the porch. A frustrated active dog will destroy the yard or look for a way out. Spend more time with him! Get him out for walks and long hikes with you.  If you can't, hire a dog walker. Take him to training classes and exercise his brain. Put his talents to work: get involved in agility, flyball or search and rescue. Enroll him in a well-run doggie daycare.


Make his world more interesting!
Enrichment.  Give him brain toys and chew bones. Hide stuffed kongs Easter egg hunt style. Scatter his breakfast in the lawn so he has to search and find it. Create a digging pit. Spend more time with him in the yard playing ball or hide and go seek!


Maybe he just wants out of the yard - and would be happier coming in the house! 
Where does your dog go when he gets out? Does he wait for you on the front porch? Sometimes the most inexpensive and best solution is a dog door! If the dog has free access to come inside and sprawl on the kitchen floor or lay at your feet whenever he feels like a change of scenery, it may solve the whole escape issue.



A large percentage of roaming animals are intact - if your dog is getting out to find a mate, spay and neuter!  Sterilization can reduce wanderlust and help make your dog more content to stay home, but only an adequate fence will keep him in your yard.

From a study by B. Hart, U.C., Davis: NEUTERING a male dog can result in a 94% reduction in roaming!


What's an "adequate" fence?

It depends on the dog.


"He could go over it, he just doesn't know he can."  Your job is to never let him find out! 

Successful Escape Creates a Compulsion to Try, Try Again

Once a dog makes it over the fence and has fun running around the neighborhood, he will be compelled to test every fence alteration you make in order to see the world again. If you think your dog is likely to try breaching the fence, don't put off reinforcing it until after he proves that he can.  A 4-foot fence is barely a hop for a doggy athlete. If you have an agile dog, 6 foot is the best height, 5 foot minimum. If you can't afford to replace an existing fence, buy extenders for your fence posts and raise the height all the way around.


What you don't want to do is raise it a little, hoping it will be enough. Raising the height a little at a time will simply teach him to reach further, jump higher and try harder. If the entire fence is inadequate and you plug a hole or raise the height only in the area he last escaped from, your dog will simply go to another area in the fence and try again. Once you set this pattern in motion, your dog will become more and more persistent and proficient at escaping. Success in beating the system becomes as reinforcing as the run!


TEMPTATIONS.  Dog friends, squirrels, cats, kids coming home from school ...
Any of these could tempt a bored or lonely dog to test the boundaries of his fence. Friends to play with, things to chase. Maybe he's just looking for company. Before you read on to the "solutions" part of this article, please address the source of your dog's need to run away.

For dogs who go over:

  • A bigger fence: taller, solid, with vertical boards
    Behind a secure fence, you have control over who or what has access to your animals. A solid fence will reduce the frustration of seeing what he can't reach - like that jogger, squirrel or neighborhood cat. Vertical boards reduce footholds. Avoid cyclone fencing if your dog is a climber.


  • Install a pergola or slanted portion angled in to thwart his ability to get over the top.

  • Install a hard-to-see "wobbly" extension to the top of your fence. Inexpensive, field fencing wired to an existing fence will do the trick. The top 1 foot is not strong enough to support the dog’s weight and bends when the dog gets up that far, so the dog can’t get any leverage to get over it or judge its height to clear it.

  • Install a smaller fence or plant bushes along the take-off point so he can't plant his feet to make the leap.  


For dogs who go under:

  • Rocks, landscape timbers, railroad ties or better yet, a concrete footing along the bottom of the fenceline. If you have more time than money, inexpensive chicken wire can be attached securely to the bottom of the fence and buried in an L-shape, down a couple of feet and into the yard 4-5 feet and covered with dirt. The dog can dig to the wire, but not under it.

    At right. the fencing extends into the yard a few feet, creating an "L".  The wire on the ground will be covered with soil and lawn will be planted over it.


  • Visit this website for photographs of dig guards.



For dogs who go through:

  • If your dog is eating through your wooden fence, go to your local horse feed store and buy the chew stop product designed to keep horses from chewing wood. While you are there, buy a couple rolls of heavy hog wire fencing and use heavy U shaped nails to attach it to the posts, full length, top to bottom of your fenceline. Attach it to the inside so your dog can't get to the wood and create holes she can see through. Be sure to address WHY your dog is so desperate to escape the yard!

  • Squeezing through?  Check out this video of Puppy Bumpers - you can order them at




Last resort:

Short term tethering. If you've tried all of the above and your dog is still a Houdini, for his safety, you may have to consider tethering him. You should never leave your dog tethered unattended!! A chained dog can become tangled, causing injury or death. Tethered dogs should be contained within a securely fenced area to keep them safe from loose animals and strangers and situated away from traffic patterns. Please note:  persistent tethering can contribute to barking, digging and aggressive behavior.

A trolley system is better than a fixed chain, giving the dog more freedom of movement. It is also easier on the lawn.

Coyote rollers


You can buy them professionally made or come up with your own homemade variety. 


When the dog hooks his front feet on the top of the fence to propel himself over, the roller spins and plops him back into the yard.

This handout may be reprinted in its entirety for distribution free of charge and with full credit given:

© CAROL A. BYRNES "DIAMONDS IN THE RUFF" Training for Dogs & Their People

ditr_training @ -

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