Monday , 19 February 2018

Help! My Dog Digs Under The Fence and Escapes!

We recently took in a young, medium/large male dog. We don’t know his age, breed, or much of his background. We know he was severely underweight and has injuries from being attacked by other dogs; it is our understanding that he was on a tie-out and unable to escape when attacked. He seems to be some mixture of hound and possibly lab or pointer, but we really don’t know.

He is very loving and gently most of the time; loves to be around people and volunteers for “hugs” frequently. He walks, for the most part, beautifully on a leash and loves to ride in the car.
We have two issues that are driving us to distraction:

1. As mentioned, he loves to go for walks. What he doesn’t love is coming home. When we reach the turn to return home, he stops and refuses to move. He has done this after very short walks and after extended, hour-or-more-long walks. We even “tag-team” him…we go to the walking park and take turns walking laps with him so that he gets a walk that is twice as long as normal. Doesn’t matter; whenever he senses the walk is about to end, he balks. He has escaped from two collars, a regular harness, and even a head harness. We’re stumped!

2. He won’t stay in the yard. We have a fairly large, fenced-in back yard. At first we had no problems but now he has dug under the fence repeatedly. He gets walked two or three times a day and played with in the yard, but it doesn’t seem to be enough. He will either dig under the fence or, if someone is opening the gate (or front door) he will shove his way past and run off. At around 75 lbs, he’s hard to stop when he’s pushing, and he’s very quick. We’ve refilled the hole and laid chicken wire, which he promptly dug up. I don’t mind making some adjustments to discourage digging in the yard, but the ultimate goal is to train him NOT to dig at all. At the moment I can’t keep up with him; before I can get to the store and buy materials to discourage digging, he’s already gotten out again. A couple of days ago he got out twice in less than three hours.

I have been advised to put him on a runner in the yard, but if he backs out of a collar or harness I don’t see how this would work, either. Plus, I’m not happy with the thought of him on a chain or lead all the time. I’m scheduling him for neutering, but the vet isn’t sure how soon she can work him in; it may be three weeks before that can happen and I don’t know how much – if any – effect this will have on the dog’s behavior.

Is there any advice you can give me? I want to try to deal with these behaviors as quickly as possible, before the bad habits get more ingrained than they already are. I don’t want to “punish” him for getting out or getting off the leash; I want to motivate him to stay in the yard and to come home when it’s time.



Hi Jes,

Thanks for writing in with your questions. Certainly sounds like you’ve got some issues that you need help with regarding your new dog. The one that concerns me most is the digging out of the yard to escape, which can end up with the dog being in a dangerous situation.

Dogs dig for a variety of reasons, so it’s best to learn why your dog is digging in the first place. Some dogs dig out of boredom, some dig simply because it’s fun and incredibly self rewarding. Some dogs dig due to genetics, as we’ve bred this trait into certain breeds to help hunt vermin who burrow. And then there are dogs who dig simply to escape their enclosures, as your dog is doing.

Since he’s escaped more than once, he will keep trying, as his attempts at freedom have been successful. He will also probably try digging in the same spots as he had before. Filling the freshly dug holes, or simply placing rocks in the area will not be enough to deter him. He’s learned that digging works, and will keep on trying. Laying chicken wire for dogs who dig holes in the middle of the yard may work for pleasure seeking diggers, as dogs often don’t like meeting the chicken wire as they dig. But your dog is digging to escape, and chicken wire is not strong enough to deter him. Persistent diggers may require fencing that is well below ground level, often at least two to four feet deep. And this option can be quite expensive.

Instead of trying to teach him not to dig, it would be easier to teach him to want to stay in the backyard. Since he was living on a tie out before you got him, I totally agree with you that he shouldn’t be on a tie out. If you want to tether him outside, then you’ll need to make sure he’s wearing a properly fitted collar. If he’s escaped other collars, a martingale might be your best collar option. These types of collars are good for dogs whose heads are smaller than their necks, or who have previously slipped out of collars. I’d also be careful to choose a proper tether that he cannot chew through, such as a plastic coated metal wire line.

Teaching him a reliable recall, or a Come Cue would be very helpful. When you’re outside with him, you’re the one he’ll want to interact with. So working in the backyard is a great idea. When working recall, you want the dog to learn that coming to you is the most amazing thing in the world. So never call him to you when it’s for something he may not like. Don’t use the command to get him back into the house, unless you have him on a long lead, where you can ensure that the command is followed through. When using the cue in the backyard, let him play again…we wouldn’t want him to learn that the word only means End Of Backyard Fun. Too often we only call them to come when it’s time to come back inside.

Ideally though, I would suggest not leaving him outside unattended where he can get the chance to try to escape. Instead I’d leave him in the house. It sounds like he gets a good amount of walks each day, plus backyard play time, which sounds more than sufficient. Contrary to what many people think, dogs don’t need to stay outside. He may seem to prefer it…but that’s because it’s an escape route for him. Keeping him inside would be a lot safer for everyone. And you shouldn’t feel guilty about keeping him in the house either.

door dashing dogs

You also mention that he’s a Door Dasher if given the opportunity. This can be helped by teaching the dog a solid Stay, or a solid Go To Mat when you answer the door. If you have a double doored vestibule, then I’d suggest keeping the indoor door closed at all times. If you don’t have one, then I’d suggest a baby/dog gate at the door. If your home is an open concept floor plan, then training will be your only option. You just need to reinforce your dog while training with something of high enough value to trump the desire to dash. You may need to consult a professional to help you determine what these might be, and how to train the solid cues, as well as some impulse control work.

A good rule to teach everyone in the house, especially children is the Dog Doorknob Rule. No one can turn the outside doorknob until they know where the dog is. This can really help prevent the dog from catching people off guard.
When working on the Stay Cue, it’s not your dog’s job to Stay. It’s our job to reward the dog for staying. When working on the Come Cue, it’s not his job to come when called, but again, our responsibility to reward him for coming. To teach him that coming to us trumps everything else that he may love, be it freedom, other dogs, squirrels or anything else. And this often requires more than just his regular kibble. He’ll learn much faster if you use higher value rewards, such as freeze dried liver, cheese, hot dog slices or something else he really loves. For another article I wrote about how to teach a good recall, you can check here.

You’ll also need to start training these cues with simple, easy to follow steps, with very few distractions. Once he can handle low level distractions, then you can work up to harder ones before even considering working on it with the door wide open. The goal is to set the dog up to succeed, and to work on those successes.

For your other issue of your dog not wanting to return home after a walk, you may want to check out another article I’ve written about the subject. You can find it here.

It definitely sounds like you have your hands full, but I’m sure that with patience and consistency, that you’ll succeed. If you need more help, please feel free to call me.

Good luck and Happy Training!


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