There is a popular saying that comes from the Robert Frost poem “Mending Well,” which says, “good fences make good neighbors.” Many people quote this line at face value, believing that the best neighbors are the ones who keep to their side of the fence and maintain a polite, courteous, almost professional relationship with their neighbors.
Your dog probably agrees more with the spirit of the rest of the poem than with this line, which is frequently taken out of context. “Mending Wall” is about questioning the need for a wall at all, and judging by your dog’s attempts to dig, climb, or bark his way through your fence, Frost and your dog would have gotten along well. Here are some reasons your dog is constantly trying to escape, and what you can do to keep your dog decidedly on your side of the fence.
The Root of the Behavior
Dogs are active and curious creatures. Most yards provide a safe, enclosed area for dogs to go to the bathroom, lay out in the sun, and not much else. The vast majority of yards in suburban areas and especially in densely populated urban areas are too small for dogs to run, explore new things, and play by themselves. Dogs that want more stimulation or more room to roam free are the most likely to begin digging around fence perimeters, climbing over sunken areas of the fence, or figuring out how to operate gates and latches. The longer a dog is kept outside, and some people opt to keep their dogs outside at all times, the more likely he is to develop an escape mentality.
The primary motivations driving an escaping dog’s actions are typically either boredom and isolation or fear and anxiety. In the case of dogs that are left outside for long stretches of time without any interaction, boredom and frustration from being socially isolated is a likely culprit. Your dog requires outlets for his energy, including time with you. Humans aren’t unfamiliar with the struggles of social isolation. Cabin fever refers to a type of social frustration that occurs when a person is confined to the indoors and isolated for a long stretch of time, usually in the winter. In many cases, dogs that escape will immediately seek out and find a location that offers them more interactive and fun things to do.
Fear can also motivate a dog to attempt to escape the yard, especially if it is a fear that your dog cannot immediately identify. Construction next door, fireworks, inclement weather, or heavy traffic can all overstimulate and frighten your dog, who has nowhere to go to escape! Fearful dogs typically have a more difficult time coping with changes in the environment, although any significant changes can have a negative effect on any dog. Whenever there is a significant change at home, be sure to monitor your dog a little more closely. Watch for signs of separation anxiety, which may arise in dogs who suddenly find themselves in unfamiliar, uncomfortable, or new circumstances.
Encouraging the Behavior
Preventing your dog from escaping the yard is a two-step process. The first step is to physically blockade or otherwise inhibit your dog from being able to break out in the first place. Watch your dog as he tries to escape, making sure that he doesn’t think that he is being watched. Digging dogs can be stopped by burying chicken wire underneath a fence, and climbing dogs can be stopped by extending your fence to make it impossible to climb over. Watch for any problematic areas in your yard security; most dogs use the same escape route repeatedly once it is discovered. In addition to making the necessary adjustments, you can try squirting water onto your dog without letting him know that the punishment is coming from you. This may further dissuade your dog’s escape attempts.
The second part of preventing escape is addressing the motivation behind your dog’s desire to escape. You don’t want to imprison your dog, or make him feel unhappy and uncared for. Taking your dog for regular walks, playing with your dog regularly, setting aside time for training sessions, and just spending time with your dog outside are all extremely effective ways of discouraging escape. The more involved that you are in your dog’s life, and the more time that your dog gets with you beyond the fences, the less likely your dog will be to want to escape in the first place. For fearful dogs, you may need to temporarily bring them inside to a place that they feel safe, or find a creative way to address their fears.
Other Solutions and Considerations
When dogs successfully escape, owners are usually thrown into a state of panic. With no idea of where your dog could go, and wondering if your dog is safe, the overall event can be stressful and overwhelming to say the least. That being said, the worst thing that you could do in the case of an escaped dog is punish him for running away after he has returned home safely. Dogs do not learn lessons the same way that we do. When you punish your dog after he comes home, your dog interprets this punishment as his reward for returning home. Over time, this will make your dog less and less likely to come to you, and can cause even more severe escape behavior.
Your dog may be turning into quite the escape artist, but the deeper issue is not necessarily the fact that your dog is escaping, so much as it is why your dog wants to escape in the first place. After mending your walls, find creative ways to make your yard a more exciting, homelike, and comfortable place for both you and your dog to hang out.
By a Australian Shepherd lover Jonah Erickson
Published: 03/23/2018, edited: 01/30/2020