We all love our pets, and we try to show them by giving them the care we think they deserve. But the truth is, even leading animal experts are still making discoveries about animal behavior, so sometimes our affection and care aren’t exactly what our dogs need from their pet parents. Many pets, including dogs, require socialization within their own species and often have much more energy than we do (after all, they’re unemployed and live rent-free, right?)
There are many other reasons why your pet might be running away or escaping the yard, even though you keep it safe and enclosed in hopes of protecting them and making them happy. It can be confusing and frustrating that despite giving them well-intentioned care, your furry friend still chases the urge to break free. We’ll help you understand some of the common reasons dogs often prefer to chase the call of the wild, and what you can do to help them be more content staying home.
While pet owners, like most people, have adapted to chronological schedules that revolve mostly around our economic productivity, dogs have not. They don’t have an alarm clock, schedule time for the gym, or have deadlines to meet. They mostly just want to be themselves, explore their environments, eat and sleep according to what their bodies tell them, and coexist with other dogs. Separation anxiety in dogs is common, especially for puppies or newly adopted pets. Other things might make your dog anxious, like loud noises, a chaotic environment, bright lights, or changes to your routine. Dogs can also become anxious if they’re left alone for too long, not receiving enough exercise, or there’s a perceived competition for resources. They can also become anxious because of too much, or the wrong type, of affection.
Anxiety in dogs can manifest itself in several ways and is easy to recognize when you know what the signs are. Some ways your buddy might show you that they’re anxious is by tucking the tail between the legs, panting or pacing, shivering when it’s not cold, cowering in a corner, whining, or licking. When you get to know your dog, you’ll notice changes in body language, ear placement, and avoidance or steady eye contact can also indicate your dog’s anxiety. Dogs that have separation anxiety will often run away, but stay close to home. They might also chew your things when you leave, or have accidents in the house even when housebroken.
Some dogs, whether not well socialized or not well trained, might show aggressive behavior toward other dogs, pets, and sometimes people. This is actually an extreme manifestation of anxiety that can result from isolation, loneliness, or former competition for resources among litters of puppies. Sometimes, expert training can help aggressive dogs manage their anxiety. Other modifications of their routine and environment can supplement that training, including better socialization with other dogs and people, less socialization with other dogs, children, and pets, or more natural energy expenditure, like exercise.
Separation anxiety and boredom manifest in many of the same ways in your dog’s behavior and are closely related. For example, chewing, whining, pacing, and licking are behaviors your dog will often repeat when they’re bored, and you might notice these behaviors even when you’re together. An abundance of toys might not be the answer if your dog doesn’t have a human or animal companion to play with as well. Yummy treats are a great reward for your dog, but like humans, entertaining oneself by indulging in food isn’t a healthy long-term solution either.
Dogs are curious creatures who are always aware of their surroundings. Sometimes, a dog runs away because it smells, or is chasing wild animals. If your dog is breaking out of your fenced yard, they likely have planned escape routes for when boredom strikes. You can supplement your existing fence with chicken wire, or install a fence with coyote rollers to help prevent some escapes. However, behavior modification is the best way to not only train and protect your dog but understand them better.
The majority of dogs who have been properly socialized and trained benefit from play with other dogs. Boredom is less frequently an issue with households that have more than one pet, assuming all pets are properly socialized. For many of us, owning multiple pets is not an option. Luckily, it’s easy to find pet sitting and dog walking services that offer your pet socialization with humans and sometimes other dogs, which can help alleviate boredom without disrupting your pet’s routine.
Many dogs start planning their backyard breakouts when they recognize other dog sounds and scents around them, but are not often socialized. This is especially, but not exclusively true when dogs are in heat, or someone around them is in heat. No matter how big and beautiful the backyard might be, there’s not much an outdoor space can offer to dissuade your dog from wanting to meet and interact with other dogs.
This is another great opportunity to set your dog up on play dates with neighborhood dogs, take your dog on frequent walks, and let them greet other dogs who are enjoying the neighborhood. If you think your dog isn’t getting enough long walks, supplement your walks together with more walks using a professional dog walking service near you.
Some pups, like some people, are just high-energy folks that need more stimulation than the rest of us. If you currently have a puppy who won’t stay in the house or yard, be aware that your little buddy’s energy levels might slow down as he ages, just like we do. In the meantime, keep him engaged, give him lots of time learning to walk around the neighborhood obediently, and consider enrolling them into a training program to turn some of that feel-good, puppy energy into valuable lessons.
If your adult dog is high energy, you’re probably well aware by now that that’s part of their personality. They might be constantly seeking playtime, running around the house or yard, and investigating curiosities. These dogs will always have a higher likelihood of breaking out of the house or yard for a free run or meet and greet with the new neighbor. Taking your high-energy friend to a local dog park might help them expend more energy than they’re able to alone, or scheduling regular playdates or visits to doggy daycares can help do the trick.
You can also use the time available to you throughout the day to engage with your dog through play. Chase games and games of tug-of-war with your dog’s toys are great ways to help them burn off some energy, and alleviate boredom.
How To Change Your Pet’s Behavior
Before we address your dog’s behavior, let’s talk about fencing. Many people will intuitively consider that their fencing is an issue in keeping their dog at home, and many times, it is. While fences might seem like a logical first defense, most medium to large dogs are more agile than you might expect, and can easily jump over a 4-foot fence. Fencing is usually only high enough to contain very small dogs.
Even though they can’t jump as high, smaller dogs are just as capable of digging or chewing through a fence if they become bored enough or anxious enough to do so. Many dogs are also capable of learning how to open simple gate latches, which not only poses a hazard to your runaway dog, but to your unsecured yard as well. You’re much more likely to contain your free-spirited or high-energy friend by understanding why they act the way they act and learning through behavioral changes together.
Take your time to implement new changes to your dog’s routine, one at a time, and see what works best for them over time. Keep weekly notes about your pet’s behavioral changes in response to changes you create. For example, you might take your dog for an extra-long walk in the morning before you leave, check-in for a walk during your lunch break, or reward your buddy with a special treat when he has the opportunity to run away, but doesn’t.
You might also find that introducing new friends, new locations, and new activities might be the stimulation your pet needs. Look up pet-friendly hiking trails near you and explore new sights, smells, and sounds in the woods with your dog once per week. Find an active dog park where your dog enjoys the company of the regulars there. Practice new training commands together, and be patient and supportive of your pet’s progress. Remember, you’re both trying to understand one another in two different languages, and that can be confusing. Consistency is key!
Lastly, if you’ve you’re giving your pup pal all of the time that you have, but you simply don’t have enough to invest in behavior training, consider using weekly or daily pet sitting services for 20 to 60 minutes a day, or periodic dog walking to diversify and stimulate your pet’s socialization with people and other dogs.