Why are Border Terriers so good at escaping? Border Terriers were bred to hunt vermin. Because of this, they are intelligent problem solvers that can squeeze through tight spaces. All the makings of a good escapee!
Border Terriers are outdoorsy and highly motivated to investigate squirrels, birds, the neighbor's cat, whatever moves! So whether your Border Terrier is behind a fence in your yard or out on a walk, he is likely to want to investigate and run after small animals. Because he is a slender-bodied hunter, he is fast--he can be gone before you have time to react--and can fit through small openings in a fence or gate.
Because they are high energy, independent dogs, many owners of Border Terriers like to be able to exercise their dogs off-leash or let them have outside time in a yard. But because of their natural tendency to become distracted and run away, this can be hazardous if your loose Border Terrier decides to head for the hills! To make things a little more complicated, Border Terriers are expert diggers, something they developed as a way to go after rodents and other small prey that might hide in burrows or holes. Border Terriers can apply this skill to burrowing under fences--think Steve McQueen in the Great Escape! So how do you train your Border Terrier not to run away?
When teaching your Border Terrier not to run away, good off-leash recall will be your best tool. Remember, however, that off-leash activity is inherently self-rewarding. If you leash your Border Terrier every time you recall him you are inadvertently punishing him for coming to you. You will want to avoid this--call your dog and reward him with play or more off-leash time, do not always leash and leave an area your dog is enjoying. Establish that coming to you is a good thing, and that you are the pack leader, will be the most effective way to get your Border Terrier to respond to off-leash commands and not to run away.
By practicing obedience commands and setting boundaries you help establish yourself as the dominant pack member, making your Border Terrier less likely to run away from you, and more likely to follow you or stay nearby. This is how your dog is wired--to stay with the pack leader. You want your Border Terrier to stay with you when off-leash and obey your recall commands, but also to stay in an enclosed area like a yard or house. This will mean setting some boundaries, teaching your dog to only exit gates and doors when invited, and providing alternatives to escaping and digging behaviors.
Make sure your dog is microchipped or well identified with a tag before working off-leash, in case you accidentally become separated. Ideally, train in a safe enclosed area that your Border Terrier cannot escape from. You will want to use treats to reward not running away, and also provide toys and activities to act as an alternative. Figure out what motivates your Border Terrier and tap into that; does he like to play tug of war with a rag, chew on a Kong or rawhide bone, play fetch? Use these props to provide alternatives to running away.