The Root of the Behavior
Dr. Sharon Crowell-Davis, a practicing veterinary graduate from the University of Georgia, provides the insight that most dogs, by nature, are independent and possess a strong desire to explore the areas that surround their homes. These canine opportunists take advantage of every possibility to appease this natural curiosity. Escape routes come in the form of gates left slightly askew, holes in previously secured fencing, or even a kitchen window left open just wide enough to allow for Fifi’s next neighborhood adventure. The Humane Society of the United States claims that there are many varied reasons why dogs choose to flee the comfort of their own yards. While there is no doubt that many run away to fulfill their natural curiosity, other reasons include loneliness or boredom, separation anxiety, prey drive, or a desire to mate. Reproduction is a powerful motivator for dogs. Intact males possess an irresistible urge to procreate. Their sense of smell is extremely potent, and thus, if they detect even the faintest scent of a lovely lady “in season” that is all the impetus they need to scale the highest fence or dig the biggest hole to get to her. Though females in heat also possess a strong desire to mate, they are far less likely to roam to find a suitable partner.
Fortunately, this tendency is generally eliminated upon spaying or neutering. Some breeds are also known for having what is called prey drive. Since many breeds were developed to perform jobs in their households, some dogs were selectively bred to produce a strong hunt drive. Very few pets are involved in doing the work they were originally bred to do, yet the genetic imprint remains the same. The dog is driven to work. For those breeds whose work was hunting, their natural instincts and sense of smell compel them to seek out prey. It is an outworking of their nature. For other breeds, they are contented enough to stay in their yards until a squirrel, cat, rat, or other small moving animal begins the chase and activates the prey drive. Then it’s game on! In rarer cases, sometimes pets choose to bolt from their yards due to loud noise or other frightening sounds or events. Even the most docile and obedient family pet will run for cover when they are afraid.
Encouraging the Behavior
So, you’ve got a little escape artist on your hands! What can you do? It’s a good question. Roaming is an extremely dangerous behavior and is not to be encouraged. For many breeds, it is the number one cause of early death. Great care must be taken not only to discourage the behavior but also to eliminate it. The critical first step is ensuring that your yard is as secure as can be. Take a walk around the perimeter of your property and search for any holes in fencing or areas where the ground is soft and where a wily pet could potentially dig a hole to provide a way of escape. Ensure that all gates close and latch properly and that there are no potential areas for a pet to jump on or climb that would provide a vantage point to leap a fence.
Once you have taken the steps to make certain your yard is free from any escape routes, teach your dog a rock-solid recall. Expert dog trainers say that the simple “come” command is the most important thing you will ever teach your dog. It literally has the power to save your dog’s life. Practice your recalls with your dog on a long lead and in many different environments. Many dogs will come when called when there are no distractions present, but if a squirrel pops up on the fence above your head, Fido might not be all that anxious to come to you when called. This is the best defense for a dog with high prey drive. If your dog is intact, consider spaying or neutering. Spaying and neutering will greatly reduce and possibly eliminate the desire to roam in your dog.