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Escape Artists

Does your dog routinely get loose, run off, or go missing? The outside world is full of trees to sniff, squirrels to chase, and other stimuli that many dogs find quite exciting. For certain dogs, these experiences are so alluring that the pup becomes highly motivated to get to them, regardless of any barriers that may be in place. They may try to dash out an open door, attempt to wriggle out of their collar while on leash, or escape fenced-in spaces. Each time they slip out or escape, all the fun they have becomes very reinforcing, only increasing the likelihood that they’ll do it again as soon as they get the chance. Although this behavior poses many safety concerns for the dog and is frustrating for you, they are not escaping because they dislike their home, to show “dominance,” or to spite their human. Dogs simply find the outside world highly reinforcing and are intrinsically motivated to get to what they find rewarding. 

There are two steps to keeping an “escape artist” dog safe. First is managing their environment to eliminate their opportunities to escape, and second is teaching them new behaviors to practice instead. 

Indoor Management

If your dog is attempting to sneak out the door whenever it opens, or perhaps they even push through door or window screens, management is an important step to keeping your dog safe. Since life happens and no one is perfect, it’s necessary to have multiple strategies in place to allow for human error. It’s best to select two or more of the options below for your best chance at success. 

  • Closing Doors | If your home is set up for it, block access to external doors by closing interior doors. Place signs on the doors to remind all family members and visitors that these doors need to stay shut. Never open the external door without the dog on the opposite side of a second set of doors. 
  • Gates/Barriers | If you don’t have any interior doors to block exits, set up gates. There are many varieties of baby/pet gates for sale; it’s best to get one with vertical bars (instead of crosshatching which can be easily scaled by some dogs) that is tall enough so your dog cannot jump over it. Keeping your dog behind the barrier will allow you to enter and exit your home without giving them the chance to slip out. 
  • Leashes | Have your dog drag a leash while inside the home. This way, if your dog does attempt to slip out of the house, you will have something to grab as they exit. A leash is much easier to catch than a collar and won’t stress them out as much if you do need to grab it. 
  • Fencing | If you currently do not have a fenced-in yard and are unable to put up permanent fencing, consider placing temporary fencing outside around exit doors. It does not have to be a large area – it should just securely surround the door so they are enclosed if they do sneak out. By keeping this space small, it’s less desirable of a destination if they do get out, too. Snow fencing, zip ties, and some tall stakes work well for this. You can make a human “gate” by lifting one stake at the end of the fencing to open it up, walking out, and replacing the stake firmly behind you.

Outdoor Management

If your dog escapes your fenced-in yard while they’re outside, there are several strategies you can use. As with indoor management, we recommend using multiple techniques, since it gives you a backup safety net if another technique fails.

  • Supervise Your Dog | Even if your dog isn’t an escape artist, it is highly recommended that you supervise them whenever they are outside and never leave them unattended in the yard, regardless of the level of fencing. By supervising your dog outside, you will be able to redirect them away from the fence using high-value treats before they jump over it. It will be helpful to keep them engaged with something else to eliminate the temptation for them to leave. The goal is to make the yard more fun and rewarding than what lies outside of it. Having toys and treats on you while supervising will not only be a tool to redirect your dog away from the escape route, but it will also reinforce other good behaviors your dog shows while outside.
  • Fencing | If your dog can jump over or escape your fence, consider reinforcing your fence line. This could mean blocking a hole or adding chicken wire to make the space smaller between fence slats. You can also look into both commercial and homemade solutions for increasing the height of your fence, which may completely solve your problem. Another option is adding coyote rollers on the top. These prevent your dog from being able to climb the fence, as the top rail will roll, eliminating their ability to get traction and leap over. 
    Electric fences are not recommended and should not be used when considering how to reinforce your fence line. Many dogs are motivated enough to run through an electric fence and will tolerate the shock to get to whatever is on the other side. Then once your dog has gone through the fence, it will shock them again if they try and return home. Not only is it unsafe if your dog chooses to run out of the yard through the electric fence, but it also will be actively punishing them if they attempt to return home. 
  • Longline | Have your dog drag a longline while outside. A longline is an extra-long, lightweight leash that typically ranges from 15 to 30 feet or longer. You can purchase them or make your on by picking up a clip and long rope from the hardware store (clothesline rope is a great thickness) and securely attaching the two. This will allow you to easily stop your dog if they begin to head to the fence to make a leap for freedom, even if you are across the yard. If the dog makes it over the fence, the longline will be long enough for you to grab before they are off on their self-guided adventure. If you need to use the longline, be sure to reinforce your dog with high-value treats when maneuvering them away from the fence. Even if you are frustrated that they made an escape attempt, it is important to always reward them for coming back to you (even with a longline assist). This will build up their reinforcement history with you and make them more likely to come when called. 

Visitor Management

Another part of management is preparing all visitors on how to enter your home. It is important to prewire how you would like your visitors to notify you that they have arrived, as well as where and how they should enter. Good friends may have previously walked right into your home without announcing their arrival, but this could be dangerous for your dog and detrimental to your training. Since this may be a change for many of your regular visitors, polite but clear signs on your doors can be a useful tool to help remind visitors of what to do. Signs will also be helpful for unexpected visitors who you weren’t able to prewire instructions to. 


If your dog doesn’t already reliably know any cues, it will be helpful to work on the basics first while your management (gates, doors, temporary fencing, etc.) is in place. Practice lots with high-value treats until they are highly motivated to perform it for you. The cue itself doesn’t matter – it could be sit, down, roll over, high five, etc. – the goal is for this cue to have so much reinforcement behind it that your dog responds to it almost reflexively. Once you and your pup have mastered this cue, it will allow you to interrupt your dog if they are attempting to escape. Having the dog stop in their tracks will give you time to pick up the leash, shut a door, put up a gate, etc. This should only be used in an emergency, as the cue could lose value over time if used repeatedly in this situation. We recommend attending training classes to learn more about teaching your dog different cues and building up their skillset. You can learn about the options offered at WHS by visiting

There are also several specific behaviors that you can begin working on that will help support your management techniques and reduce your dog’s escape attempts. 

  • Go to a mat | You can reduce the likelihood of your dog slipping out the door by teaching them to go to a mat (or any specific location) when people enter your home or if they hear the doorbell ring. If they are lying on a mat snacking on some treats, they can’t simultaneously be running out the door. To create this behavior, you will be pairing the doorbell or knock with food on your dog’s mat. The ring of the doorbell or knock will become the cue for your dog to lie down on their mat. This will take time and patience, as well as lots of extra delicious treats and tons of repetition. Remember, you’ve got to make the mat more rewarding than all the exciting things outside. For more information on training this behavior, check out All Dogs Go to Kevin on Facebook. 
  • Come | Teaching your dog a reliable recall cue will be another safeguard for when other management techniques fail. If your dog is heading to the door and other barriers are not in place, having a reliable “come” cue will increase the likelihood that they will turn and come back to you before making their escape. See our resource on Coming When Called for a guide on how to teach this cue.
  • Wait at the door | Although this should not replace other tools, having your dog wait at doorways before exiting is another good backup for dogs who previously dashed out of the door. You can visit Dog Training by Kikopup on YouTube to find her video titled “Door Manners for Dogs” for great tips.