How to Deal with an Escape Artist Dog


Tips for Pet-Proofing your Yard

If you’ve ever had an escape artist dog, you know the type — and the challenges. I have, and I must admit to having been continually amused and impressed by my Border Collie mix Berkeley’s intelligence, ingenuity and determination to find a way out. One of her many (& safer) escapes included letting herself out of the crate while at the vet for the day, since she didn’t like being tucked away in the back of the office all by herself, and really wanted to hang with the Vet Tech who was also her beloved dog sitter.

Exactly one day after spending thousands of dollars on a physical fence for my backyard, Berkeley decided she did not care to be stuck out in the yard all by herself and ta-da — she appeared at the front door, all smiles and proud of herself for having escaped! And yes, we tried it again, and again she instantly appeared at the front door. While she definitely had the ability to jump the fence, it turns out she found a small opening between the fence post and some porch lattice she could push in.

SpotOn pet-proofing yard

Despite the amusement factor of escape antics, there is also the frustration of not being able to successfully contain your dog, and the reality of this behavior being quite dangerous.

While there are some breeds that are notoriously hard to contain (including Huskies and Beagles and many other breeds referenced later), this behavior is not solely breed based. There are many factors at play here, including boredom and loneliness.

SpotOn pet-proofing yard

Let’s face it, nobody wants to be left home and alone all day, bored and without enough exercise and interaction. Like humans, dogs are social animals, and crave attention, interaction and stimulus. They also crave — and need — enough daily exercise. This varies greatly of course based on the dog breed, age and energy level. You likely have a good idea of how much exercise your dog needs, as you can see the behavior transformation when they are getting adequate exercise. (If not, check out our Exercise Calculator for guidance).

Discovering your pup's motivation to escape is the first step in learning how to deal with escape artist dogs. Among the many possible reasons for this escapee behavior, beyond boredom, are isolation, loneliness and not enough exercise. Highly intelligent & active dogs can get particularly mischievous when they are bored or left alone for too long. It’s the same reason that many working dogs need jobs to keep them stimulated and content. If your dog is constantly digging (not just under the fence to escape), this is usually also a sign of boredom and lack of interaction.

Other reasons your Houdini dog may be itching to go, go go!

  • The chase! Small moving animals & critters are quite a lure. Most dogs have some level of prey drive, even if they’re just out for the chase and not serious about an untimely end to whatever they are chasing. As you’ve likely witnessed your dog chase a squirrel or chipmunk up a tree, you’ll notice they remain fixated long after the target has scurried up the tree, because even when the squirrel disappears, they leave a strong scent behind. These combined stimuli can be a strong escape driver. 
  • A zest for adventure! A natural curiosity often drives dogs to explore. These are often the ‘runners’ that beeline for and slip out the door with remarkable speed and agility.
  • Isolation & boring surroundings, without any toys, playmates or other stimuli. Dogs are often escaping to somewhere in particular, for fun, interaction and companionship (like to play with their dog friend down the road). And sometimes these great escapes are simply opportunistic. SpotOn Pup Willie for example could just not resist visiting his brother that lives across the field, and then bolting away together in the blink of an eye. Until SpotOn intervened to curb the double trouble temptation.
  • Fears & phobias; your dog may be escaping in response to a fear or phobia such as loud noises (thunder, fireworks, yelling and screaming in the neighborhood, etc.)  
  • Mating instinct; This is one reason (among others) why vets generally recommend neutering & spaying dogs, to tame this drive.

The key is to figure out and address the real reason your dog is taking off, and if you can’t pinpoint the problem, a trainer can likely help.

While a physical fence may seem like the easy solution to contain your dog, there are often many ways out for a motivated and determined dog! Where there’s a will, there’s a way. And the way is usually to jump, climb or dig under the fence. Or in the case of my Berkeley girl, she found the loose fence panel, pawed it until the nail fell out, and squeezed through the opening


SpotOn pet-proofing yard

Another solution is a GPS dog fence like SpotOn. The system is tone based, and requires training to the boundary cues (2 tones, vibration and an optional static correction). You can keep tabs on your dog with the app, and if he or she does escape, you get a notification and tracking kicks in (updated every 6 seconds), so you can locate and retrieve your dog. With a physical fence, you may not know if your dog has escaped, particularly on large properties.

To make SpotOn GPS Fence work for your dog, so he or she understands and respects the boundaries, it does require training. And all training is a learned behavior, which is why we don't recommend SpotOn for puppies under 6 months old. Training to the SpotOn system, or any wireless system, should build on established, basic training. Like young kids, puppies don't have the necessary maturity or focus at that early stage.

“In all aspects of training, you must take it in baby steps and crawl, walk and then run. There are no shortcuts in dog training. Dogs learn through association and with repetition and consistency. Training sessions need to be fun for the dog, because your dog initially sees this training activity as a game where they are being rewarded with treats, praise or toys for playing by the rules.

Through repetition and consistency, your dog will learn that the tone means return to the safe zone every time, even with distractions present. Remember, if your dog experiences any difficulty, take a few steps back in their training to find a distraction they consistently succeeded with and start reintroducing higher level distractions. The key is to build distractions slowly and end every training session on a positive note. Train, test, proof and repeat!”
- Rick Alto, ExFed Dog Training

With SpotOn, not only is your dog successfully contained by learning to respect the boundaries, but we’ve also heard from many customers that the experience of using SpotOn (including the required training), has translated to a more well behaved dog in general, and in doing so improved their relationship.

Here are a few customer stories about bolting and escapee dogs, and how SpotOn GPS Fence solved the containment challenge, giving freedom to the pup and peace of mind to the pup parents.

  • Bolting Buster! This fearless rescue pup is an athlete and can jump anything as part of the chase!  Now he’s free within containment and happy to roam. Read Buster’s story.
  • Golden Retrievers thrive on human companionship, and true to her breed, Myla had a serious case of FOMO before SpotOn! Read Myla’s success story.
  • Like their Golden Retriever cousins, Labrador Retrievers also crave and thrive on human (& animal) companionship, and may escape to seek some fun and friends. 
  • In the case of Theo, he really liked going to visit his dog friend down the road until SpotOn successfully (& happily) contained him. Read Theo’s story.
  • For Teach, he wanted to go, go, go - chasing squirrels and wandering over to the cows, until SpotOn was able to keep him away from the cows. Read Teach’s story.
  • Koko, a Husky/Lab mix is a hunter, and a combination of two breeds that love to escape! A smart speed demon that likes to chase, the family needed help to contain her. Read Koko’s story.

In addition to structure and routine, what your dog likely wants is room to roam, and they get that with SpotOn. What your dog also likely wants the most (after food & exercise), is interaction with and attention from you. There are lots of ways to have fun with your dog, including these 9 Backyard Games that also reinforce core training skills.

To see a full list of master escape artist breeds, and why certain breeds tend to run off, check out this list.

Related Stories

3 Ways to Make the Most of Camping with your Pup

Camping remains a popular (and pup-friendly) pastime…

Read More

How to Teach Your Dog to Stay - Five Great Places to Practice

teaching your dog to stay in just about any situation brings…

Read More

How to Train Your Dog to a Wireless Fence

You’ve thought about getting an invisible dog fence. Maybe you...

Read More

Leave a comment

Please note, comments must be approved before they are published