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beagle hound mix dog looks at camera

Dear Crystal, 

I have a hound dog that I cannot seem to keep confined in our yard. She has escaped the yard at least 20 times. We have a 5 ft chain link fence and she has no trouble jumping right over that. We even tried installing those rigid plastic sheets over the fence and she still got over no problem. She chews through tethers too so we just don’t know what to do with her. Any suggestions? 

Sincerely, 

Houdini Hound

 

Dear Houdini,

Welcome to the joy of hound ownership! As so many have learned before you, sometimes those hounds really cannot be easily deterred from following their nose no matter what obstacle is in their way. Beyond some potential changes to your fencing, there are some activities that you could do with your dog to make her less likely to roam.

beagle sniffs the ground in the grassy fieldRoaming is an innate behavior for dogs. Escaping however, is a learned behavior and once they learn how to do it, it can be hard to stop. Think about it from the dog’s perspective. They could hang out in the same backyard day in, day out or they could get into the neighbor’s trash, chase the bunnies, enjoy lovely new smells, meet other dogs, and all sorts of very fun activities. Going on a walk about is such great fun. Up until recently and still happening in some areas, it was quite common for people to let their dog roam the neighborhood all day. Unfortunately, this is not safe for the dog, other dogs, children and even adults. There are many risks including death to allowing a dog to roam.

Once a dog learns to jump a shorter fence, even installing a taller fence won’t likely solve the problem. If you had started with a 6-foot privacy fence, it is possible the dog would have never tried to jump it but now she knows it is a possibility and has more confidence in her ability to jump it. Chain link fences are like step ladders so it’s no shock when a dog climbs out of them. The rigid plastic could work for a smaller dog climbing the links but not a large dog who can jump it. If the dog grabs the top of the fence to pull itself over, then you can install PVC coyote rollers to the top fairly inexpensively. The dog can’t get a grip to pull itself over since the roller will roll as they try to grip. Another option is installing chicken wire on the top at a downward angle so it serves as a top and keeps the dog from grabbing the fence top.

Beyond the dog escaping the tether, there are some risks to tethering for long periods unsupervised. There is some danger of a dog getting caught on something, especially if they can reach the fence or get wrapped on something. The frustration of being tethered for very long periods can lead to aggressive behavior in some dogs. At most, a tether is appropriate for short period of time and ideally when the owner is keeping an eye on the dog.

There are some dogs that need to be taken outside only on a leash. It seems counter-intuitive if you have property and many people feel that a dog can’t be happy if it doesn’t have a yard. It is true that most hounds do need some autonomy but until you can find a happy balance, you may not be able to offer much of that. Depending on how quickly she escapes, you could keep an eye on her when she is outside. Some dogs don’t actually try to escape until they have been left outside for an hour or longer. It is obviously more important to keep her safe. You may be able to meet her needs in other ways which lead to less desire on her part to escape.

One big reason some dogs escape is boredom. A popular misconception is that leaving a dog in a backyard all day will address his exercise requirements. However, a dog left in a backyard is likely not exercising themselves. They are more likely to engage in undesirable behaviors such as digging, barking, chewing on inappropriate objects or fencing, even fighting with neighboring dogs. Or, the dog is probably just sleeping.

Following are some ways to alleviate that boredom:

black and white puppy plays with kong toyEnrichment Toys and Scatter Feeding: The easiest way to offer some mental stimulation to a dog is through feeding exclusively with enrichment toys and/or scatter feeding. Dogs are scavengers by nature and finding food would normally take hours a day in the wild. Hide kibble in the grass or in various places in the yard or house. If you want to purchase enrichment toys, there are many choices for feeding toys on the market such as Kongs, Kong Wobblers, Gyros, etc. You can also make your own with cardboard boxes, tubes, paper bags, really anything paper as long as your dog won’t eat it and just rips it up.

Scent Games: Hound dogs especially benefit from playing scent games. Engaging their nose in positive ways can take the edge of the energy levels. You can start out very simply and still reap great benefits with very little effort. One way to start is to collect several cardboard boxes. Get some high value treats such as cheese or hotdogs. Have your dog in another room so she can’t see where you are hiding the treats. Lay out the boxes in a room or in the yard. Bait a couple of the boxes with treats. Leave the boxes open so it is easy to start with. Let her find the treats on her own. You can bait additional boxes as she searches the others. Remove her from the area and let her take a break. Repeat a few more rounds per session. Eash session is likely going to be a total of 15 minutes if each round is a minute or two and you do a few rounds and take breaks in between. After several sessions, start making it harder by loosely closing boxes, changing the boxes levels or nesting boxes inside each other. You can praise the dog if it isn’t too distracting but this game is really meant to be self-reinforcing so it isn’t necessary.

Exercise Options: Look for alternative ways to exercise your dog. While walks are great enrichment, they aren’t often enough for younger dogs. If you have an older dog, a daily walk may be enough mental stimulation and exercise to tire her out. I like to think of a walk as more of enrichment than exercise, it gives the dog a time to smell what’s going on in his world. In addition to walks, look for other ways to play. Many dogs like to fetch or tug which are great for exercise. Other options for entertainment will depend on your dog’s preferences. A kiddie pool can be filled with water for those dogs that like swimming. Or you can turn it into a sandpit for digging with toys buried inside.

Often, when people look at solving a dog’s behavior problem, the solutions tend to be fairly one sided. If the dog is escaping, fix the fence. While that is part of the solution, we must also address the real potential causes of behavior problems. Lack of mental stimulation and excess energy lead to a host of behavior problems that will not get better and often get worse if not addressed. I hope you can find ways that work for you to fit more enrichment and exercise into your dog’s life as you work towards a solution to the problem at hand.

Until next time,

Crystal

 

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