The Canine Escape Artist

Escaping is a serious problem for you and your dog because it can have tragic consequences.  A dog running loose can be hit by a car, be injured in a fight with another dog or find himself hurt for other reasons. In order to resolve an escaping problem, you must determine how your dog is getting out and why he is escaping.

Why Dogs Escape

Social Isolation/Frustration

Your dog may be escaping because he is bored and lonely if:

  • He is left alone for long periods of time without opportunities for interaction with you.
  • His environment is relatively barren, without playmates or toys.
  • He is a puppy or adolescent (under three years of age) and does not have other outlets for his energy.
  • He is a particularly active type of dog (like herding or sporting breeds) who need an active job in order to be happy.
  • The place he goes to when he escapes provides him with interaction and fun things to do. For example, he goes to play with a neighbour’s dog or to the local schoolyard to play with the children.


Expand your dog’s world and increasing his “people time” by:

  • Walking your dog daily. It is good exercise for both of you.
  • Teaching your dog to fetch a ball or Frisbee and practice with him as often as possible.
  • Teaching your dog a few commands and/or tricks. Practice these commands and/or tricks every day for five to ten minutes.
  • Taking an obedience class with your dog and practicing daily what you have learned.
  • Providing interesting toys to keep your dog busy when you are not home. You can also rotate the toys to keep them interesting.
  • Keeping your dog inside when you are unable to supervise him.
  • Taking your dog to “doggie day care” or asking a friend or neighbour to walk your dog if you work long days.

Sexual Roaming

Dogs become sexually mature at six months of age. An intact dog is motivated by a strong, natural drive to seek out a mate. It can be difficult to prevent an intact dog from escaping because their motivation to do so is high.


  • Have your dog neutered. Studies show that neutering decreases sexual roaming in 90% of cases. However, an intact male with an established pattern of escaping may continue to escape even after being neutered, so be sure to have him neutered as soon as possible.
  • Have your female dog spayed. If your intact female escapes the yard while in heat, she will probably get pregnant. Do not contribute to the pet overpopulation problem by allowing your female dog to breed indiscriminately.

Fears and Phobias

Your dog may be escaping in response to something he is afraid of if he escapes when exposed to loud noises like thunderstorms, firecrackers and construction sounds.


  • Identify what is frightening your dog and desensitize him to it. Check with your veterinarian about giving him anti-anxiety medications while you work on behaviour modification.
  • Consider using a Thundershirt. This shirt is designed to provide a calming effect when your dog experiences fear or general or separation anxiety.
  • Use Adaptil. Adaptil helps dogs of all ages feel calm, confident and secure by mimicking the natural dog appeasing pheromone a mother dog emits after giving birth.
  • Leave your dog indoors when his is likely to encounter the fear stimulus. Mute noise by leaving him the basement or windowless bathroom and leave on a television, radio or loud fan.
  • Provide a “safe place” for your dog. Observe where he likes to go when he feels anxious, then allow access to that space, or create a similar space when the fear stimulus is present.

Separation Anxiety

Your dog may be escaping due to separation anxiety if:

  • He escapes as soon as or shortly after you leave.
  • He displays other behaviours that reflect strong attachment to you, such as following you around, frantic greetings or reacting anxiously to your preparations to leave.
  • He remains near your home after he has escaped.

Factors that can precipitate a separation anxiety problem:

  • There has been a change in the family’s schedule that resulted in the dog being left alone more often.
  • Your family has moved to a new home.
  • There has been a death or loss of a family member or another family pet.
  • Your dog recently spent time at an animal shelter or boarding kennel.


Separation anxiety can be resolved using counter-conditioning and desensitization techniques.

How Dogs Escape

Some dogs jump fences, but most actually climb them, using some part of the fence to push off from. A dog may also dig under the fence, chew through the fence, learn to open a gate or use any combination of these methods to get out of the yard. Knowing how your dog gets out will help you to modify your yard. However, until you know why your dog wants to escape, and you can decrease his motivation for doing so, you will not be able to successfully resolve the problem.

Recommendations for Preventing Escape

For climbing/jumping dogs

Install a fence if your property does not already have one. Or consider installing a large chain link dog run. If you install a dog run, make sure it meets minimum space requirements. Be sure to allow extra space for a dog house.

If you have a fence and your dog can jump over it, add an extension to the fence that tilts in toward the yard. The extension does not necessarily need to make the fence higher, as long as it tilts inward at a 45-degree angle.

For digging dogs

If your dog digs under the fence to escape the yard, bury chicken wire at the base of your fence (with the sharp edges rolled inward), place large rocks at the base, or lay chain-link fencing on the ground.

What Not to Do

  • Never punish your dog after he is already out of the yard. Dogs associate punishment with what they are doing at the time they are punished.  Punishing your dog after the fact will not eliminate the escaping behaviour, but will make him afraid to come to you.
  • If the escaping is a fear-related problem or due to separation anxiety, punishment will only make your dog more afraid and make the problem worse.