Sunday, August 8, 2010

Escape Artists

Does your dog escape your yard?  Not only is a dog at large illegal but he/she is in danger of getting hurt, killed, or being lost forever.
We have all probably lived with them or heard of them.  The diggers, the climbers, the jumpers, the latch flippers.  I've known three different dogs at a shelter who would not only open their own latches but also the latches of their neighbors.
The really smart ones who figure how to get out of anything are somewhat amusing and interesting to see, but the escape artist dog is in danger of getting lost or injured or worse.  What can you do for the dog who always wants to be someplace else?
Of course, the safest place for your for your baby is secure in the house. But here are some things to consider for the Houdini in your family.

Keep your furry friend stimulated and exercised.


Sometimes your dog just wants to see what's on the other side. 

Why not show her. A simple walk every day might curb that desire to check things out.

Some dogs will escape out of boredom and loneliness

Spend extra time with your companion- take Susie Q to Big Dawg meetups so she can not only get exercise but meet new friends and enjoy new smells. Take Bo to training for mental and physical stimulation. SA Big Dawgs offers free training just about every weekend.
Some dogs need to be tired.  It's best to have your dog in resting mode before going off to work or leaving for long periods of time. If it's not to hot or too cold, Take King for a long walk or a nice jog. And play a game of fetch. Mental stimulation is sometimes just as important as exercise. Dogs might need something to do while you are gone.  Give Betsy a food puzzle or a Kong stuffed with peanut butter.

Some just want a challenge

It's fun to figure out new ways to escape.  These dogs are probably much safer in the house when you are gone but if they must stay outside, you are gong to have to continually think of new ways to stimulate, challenge, and tire out this dog.  After finishing basic obedience, try advanced obedience, rally obedience, agility, doggie dancing.  Take Buster on meetups often. SA Big Dawgs has meetups all over town almost every day of the week.

Try to stay one step ahead of your clever/determined dog


Make sure your yard is secure

Walk your yard often to check for holes, loose fence planks, gaps. Keep your fence gate locked.





For the dogs who think they are cats, a chain link fence just won't do. Too easy to get a foot-hold.  You will need to get a privacy fence - preferably with the smooth side of the fence facing your yard.  A nice wrought iron fence, concrete fence or vinyl fence might also do. Also the device that curves inward might also help. Or put a top on your fence as noted above.


  • A few rocks/bricks by the fence isn't going to slow him/her down
  • Pour concrete all around at least two feet down and several inches up above the fence
    • ** note, before doing this, get with your city code compliance, building inspector or other appropriate agency.  Also call the utility companies to make sure it's okay. This might affect underground gas, phone, cable, electrical lines.
  • Try some chicken wire underground, beneath the fence


You might have seen some during your walks in the neighborhood. The outside dog who finds a week spot in the wooden fence and continuously throws himself on that area until the boards come apart. Or the determined dog who just eats through wood
  • If your privacy fence is the "basket weave" type, try converting it so that all planks are flat and smooth. It will be harder for a determined dog to pull the planks apart
  • Try installing the planks with screws instead of nails. They might hold a little better
  • If possible, get a concrete fence or wrought iron fence - much harder to destroy than wood 

Latch Flippers

Lock the latch even if your dog isn't a latch flipper.  If your dog isn't a latch flipper now, he might figure it out one day. You don't want Buddy to figure it out while you are at work.

The Gate or Door Bolters

These dogs will knock you down and almost injure themselves to get out of the gate or door when opened.  Install a double gate like the city pet parks have.  Put a open doggie play pen in front of your gate or door.  The best thing for this type of dog is to teach the wait or stay command. Talk to a trainer - attend a free Big Dawgs training sessions and ask Jimmy about this.

A Word or Two About Electric Fences, Underground Fences

  • If you choose this method, be aware that the dog must be trained.  The package will tell you that the fence is to be used in conjunction with training. Consult a trainer or other expert
  •  A determined dog (one in chase mode) might ignore the shock and run out of the fenced area.  But when the animal is done with the chase and tries to return home, he/she will be deterred by the shock
  • The electric fence will not stop other animals/people from entering your yard. It will not stop passersby from harassing your dog (this happens all to often) 
  • The electric collars that go with the fence are heavy must be worn tightly to produce the shock. Before subjecting your dog to this, I would suggest that you wear the collar all day tightly around your neck to see how it feels.
  • And you should also subject yourself to the shock to see how it feels if your dog comes close to or cross the fence line
  • The electricity could go out, the batteries could go dead and then your dog isn't as deterred from escaping
  • A power surge or other malfunction could cause a shock to your dog even when he or she isn't trying to escape
    •  This happened to someone I know. The dogs freaked and left the yard and refused to come back home. When they were finally found, they fought to not go back to the house because they were so afraid of the shock.
    • Here is a story of a dog that was killed by an electric fence:
  • An electric fence is probably an example of a negative reinforcement (the shock is punishment for leaving the yard). Be sure to try positive reinforcement first - training, exercise, stimulation, etc.. before trying a negative reinforcement.  Just like with any other issue with your dog.

Don't use devices that will injure your dog

Barbed wires and hot wires can cause serious injury.  Especially barbed wires. While a human might be deterred from climbing a barbed wire fence, a dog will not know the danger and will not be deterred.

Never Ever leave a tethered, chained, tied out dog unattended

  • Dogs have hung themselves to death, and have lost limbs due to tethering accidentsDogs can get tangled and loose their access to shade, food, water.
  • Tethered dogs who are not fenced in are picked on by passersby which can make them nervous, neurotic, mean or aggressive
  • Tethered dogs that are not fenced in can't escape from danger
  • Even if a tethered dog isn't picked on, he or she can still become extremely territorial and aggressive
I repeat - never ever leave a tethered dog unattended - it's just not safe - ever. But if you feel you must, there are some precautions to take (but please just don't do it). 
  • Never attach a tether to a choke chain. This is extremely dangerous and uncomfortable and a dog will choke herself to death.  The choking of the chain will not stop a dog from pulling at the leash. When the dog feels the choke, he will actually pull harder.
  • Never use a very heavy chain - not only is this against the law. It's uncomfortable and cruel
  • Never attach a tether to a fence or have a tether close to a fence. This is the easiest way to a dog to hang herself
  • If you must use a tether, try a trolley type. This is still dangerous but it will minimize the danger of the dog wrapping himself around a pole or tree
  • If you must use a tether (please don't), make sure the leash is at least 10 feet long.  It is against the law to have the tether too short
  • Check on the dog as often as possible to make sure she hasn't wrapped the chain around her neck or legs; and make sure her collar isn't too tight, ensure the collar has rubbed your baby's skin raw, etc..
  • Clean up the area often - dogs (just like humans) do not want to eat, sleep, live around their own elimination
  • Check to make sure the dog has continual access to fresh, clean, cool water. Water must be changed out at least once a day. More often is better
Note: If you like for your dog to keep you company in the front yard while you wash the car, pull weeds, etc.. Then this type of attended tethering is perfectly safe and much safer than letting your dog run loose in the front yard. If your dog is loose, he can run out and harass joggers or other dog walkers, he could run out and get hit by a car, etc..

Spay or Neuter

Speutered dogs are less likely to roam looking for sex and a spayed female is less likely to attract male dogs who might destroy your fence trying to get to her

Doggie Doors

As noted above, your dog is always safer in the house when you are gone.  For some people this might be impossible because of long work hours, dogs who destroy the house, etc..
Instead of locking the dog outside all day while you are gone, consider a doggie door. This way the dog can go outside when he or she needs to potty or run around but Max can also go in the house when frightened, to hot, too cold, wants to watch TV, etc..  Even well-adjusted dogs can be frightened by thunderstorms, rain, fireworks, cars backfiring etc.. A scared dog will try to escape.  If the dog has a doggie door, he she might run into the house instead of trying to get out of the yard.
Of course, you will still want to make sure your yard is extra secure.  I


Doggie Door Cautions

  • If your dog can get out then other creatures can get in. If you live close to a wooded or undeveloped area or if your house backs up to a green belt, think twice about the woodland creatures who might come in your doggie door.
  • Additionally, if your dog is very large, then a human criminal might also be able to get into your doggie door.  For those folks who have a large doggie doors cut into their home, some suggest putting a dog house (with a hole in the back) up against the doggie door. That way potential thieves who are casing your house will see a dog going in and out of a dog house and not suspect a large doggie door to break into.
  • Some dogs love to run in and out of doggie doors. If your yard has any dirt areas, prepare to get a lot of that dirt in your house 

Is your dog outside because he or she destroys the house,  potties in the house?

  • As mentioned above, try keeping your dog stimulated and exercised
  • You can also crate your dog when you are gone.  Be sure to talk to a trainer about acclimating your dog to a crate
  • Talk to a trainer about potty training.

Does your dog have separation anxiety?

Sometimes no matter what you do, your dog will be determined to leave the crate, house, or yard when you are gone. Consult a trainer or behaviorist for your dog's safety and well-being. Here is some info on Separation Anxiety (note anti-anxiety medication should be a very last resort and when used should be used in conjunction with training, behavior modification, exercise, stimulation, etc..: - these medications can affect your baby's liver and/or cause other complications. 

Extra precautions must be taken when living with shy, unsocialized, nervous or skittish dogs:

Things out of our control (or are they?)

Neighbor Dogs

So your dog doesn't dig or climb or destroy fences, but your neighbor dog does. Try to calmly and amicably talk to your neighbor about the situation to see if you can come to some kind of resolution. If that doesn't work, then it's up to you to keep your dog safe.  It might not be fair that you have to do all of the work or spend extra money if it's not your fault, but it worth your dog's safety.
If the neighbor dog digs, see the advice above about digging; if the neighbor dog jumps the fence, build a taller fence, etc.. If your neighbor's dog rips apart your would fence, put up a concrete fence.
If you have a shared fence, then you might have to get your neighbor's approval to make modifications. If this isn't possible. Put up your own fence inside of the shared fence.  This will be expensive and will make your yard smaller but your dog and maybe you and your family will be safer.  If you build a second fence, leave plenty of room in between the two fences for several reasons:
  • It will be easy to mow or weed eat if there is room between the fences
  • If the neighbor dog is a jumper, the dog will jump his fence then fall in between the two fences.  It will be hard to jump the 2nd fence because Cujo won't have any room to get a running start
  • If the neighbor dog is a digger, it will take her a while to get through one fence, then she'll have to start all over once she gets through to your fence. Hopefully she'll be tired out or maybe you can be home by the time she makes it through the 2nd fence.


Utility Workers

Keep your gate securely locked at all times. Put up a sign that states: "Dogs on Premises - do not open gate" or something to that effect.

Bad Weather, Fireworks, etc..

If you know that inclement weather is in the forecast - keep your dog inside.  Always, always keep your dog inside on New Years, Halloween and Independence day. 
  • Your dog will be frightened by loud noises and will try to escape
  • Some people still fire guns into the air on certain holidays. You dog is in danger of getting hit by a stray bullet or falling bullet
  • A lot of people are up to mischief on the holidays - especially Halloween. It's not safe for your dog to be outside unattended. 

Thieves, abusers

If your dog is in danger of being abused or stolen, she will have to stay in the house. There is just no way around that.  This can be a problem in certain neighborhoods with any pet.  Certain breeds attract thieves and abusers: Pit Bulls/Am Staffs and other pure breeds, toy breeds.  Most of the time, it's just not safe for those dogs to be outside unattended.  

Walking our Dogs

When walking our pet, be sure he/she is wearing a secure collar or harness
A spooked dog can easily slip a buckle or snap collar.  Walk your dog with a martingale collar. Be sure to get with a trainer or other expert about proper fitting
Choke chains and prong collars should only be used after consulting a trainer or behaviorist about proper placement and usage
Harnesses are fine as well. But be aware that some dogs can slip a harness, probably less so than with a buckle or snap collar though. See more info at:

Doggie Day Care, Dog Walkers

If you can afford  it and if your dog is up for it, consider putting your dog in doggie day care or hire a dog walker to come in to check on your dogs while you are way.  Even if you don't do this everyday; it will help with boredom and lonliness

Safe Outdoor Cats



Times are tough. Even in good times, coming up with 1 to 2 thousand dollars to put up a new fence can seem like an insurmountable task.  But think about our babies' safety. Is it worth that much? If Buffy escapes a fence in need of repair, a vet bill can run in the thousands.  Not to mention Buffy could suffer needlessly or even loose her life.  Even if Buffy doesn't get hurt, an at-large dog is illegal.  And an at-large dog can be a nuisance to all those want to use the street - walkers, joggers, bikers, children on their way to school, etc..
If you know your dog has some aggressive tendencies then keeping the dog safe is especially important.   
Think of some things to cut back on to save enough money for a new fence (or just keep Snowflake in the house)
How much is cable or satellite TV now? $100.00 a month? Turn off the cable, watch instead and have enough money for a fence in less than 2 years.  Cut back on eating out and junk foods - shave another year off the saving time.  Give up alcohol, cigarettes, etc.. Now you might have your brand new sturdy fence in 6 months.  Six months seems like a long time, but if you did not start saving right now, where would be you be in 6 months - still without a safe, secure fence.
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