By Richard Cross | Dog Q&A
An escaped dog is a danger to itself and others. And if there’s a weakness in your fence, a dog with wanderlust will find it.
To help keep your pet safe, this article contains nine ideas for dog proofing a fence. But before we get to the tips, it’s important to understand how your dog might escape.
Dogs are athletic and intelligent animals. These traits, combined with a natural curiosity, can drive many to want to break out of a confined yard.
The easiest way to escape is through a gap or hole in the fence. These weaknesses need to be fixed immediately, as once your pet has found them he’s unlikely to forget.
Assuming your fence isn’t damaged, however, here are some of the most common escape methods.
A powerful dog may break through a fence – especially if he’s distressed by something on the other side or has separation anxiety.
This is most common with wire fences. If your dog can get his mouth partially through one of the spacings, he could rip or bend the wire enough to escape. The most powerful and determined dogs may also try to break through wooden fence slats, although this is less likely.
Clever dogs often take a subtler approach. They might learn to open latches – especially after watching you open the gate a few times – or climb an angled tree to jump a fence.
I’ve even seen dogs move garden furniture closer to a fence for an easier jump!
Digging is a common way for a dog to escape a fence. Hounds and terriers are usually the culprits, as they are natural diggers, but almost any dog can develop a digging habit.
Just because your dog isn’t alone for long periods doesn’t mean he can’t dig a tunnel. He may return to a hole multiple times over several days, until it’s finally possible to escape.
Unfortunately, it’s difficult to discourage digging if it’s an instinctive behavior. Instead, you need to ensure your pet can’t dig an escape route.
Note: We’ve also written a guide to preventing digging, although this focuses on management strategies as it’s hard to teach a dog to not perform an instinctual behavior.
Dogs can jump surprisingly high. Breeds such as the German Shepherd, Siberian Husky and Bull Terriers can leap a four foot picket or wrought iron fence whilst barely breaking stride.
Some smaller dogs, such as the Jack Russell, are also known for their leaping ability. A dog’s size isn’t always a reliable indicator of their jumping height!
Dogs aren’t usually associated with climbing – but many can climb a wire fence if they feel driven to escape.
While most find this difficult, I’ve seen some dogs scale chain link fences with a spider-like speed. So climbing isn’t an escape method that can be ignored.
Keeping your dog safely inside a fence is the primary goal. But you also need to consider how he reacts to people and animals on the other side.
Many dogs get stressed if they see a person, dog or animal, but can’t get to it. This can lead to barking, growling or air snapping, in what’s known by dog trainers as “fence reactivity.”
In the worst cases, a dog may get so desperate that he injures himself in the process of trying to escape.
If this sounds like your dog, you’ll need to reduce visibility through the fence so he doesn’t get stressed (or annoy the neighbors with his constant barking!) You should also consider whether your dog is spending too much time alone in the yard, as fence reactivity can sometimes be a response to boredom.
Warning: Tethering a dog isn’t a solution to escaping. Being tethered for long periods is frustrating and stressful, and can lead to long-term psychological issues. It can also be dangerous if the leash gets caught around the neck or limbs.
Once you know how your dog is likely to escape, it’s important to fix any weaknesses in your fence. Here are nine tips for keeping your pet safe and secure.
A four foot fence just isn’t enough to contain a dog that wants to jump. I recommend fences that are at least six feet tall, as this is enough to stop most dogs jumping. Extra height also discourages climbing.
Height isn’t the only factor though – strength also matters. Strong dogs can rip thin wire fencing or batter down weak wooden joints. Here are the options to consider:
It’s essential that a reactive dog can’t get his head through the slats or gaps between wires. Aside from getting his head stuck, gaps that are too large could allow him to bite (or get bitten).
While a short picket fence might look great, and is probably fine for a calm and small dog, it isn’t going to stop an escape-prone canine.
Another problem with picket fences is the large gaps can allow a dog to get his jaws through. If your pet is fence reactive, these gaps could allow an overstimulated dog to grab a person or other dog through the fence.
An L-Footer is wire fencing that’s placed at the base of your existing fence. It should be laid at a 90-degree angle.
The great thing about an L-Footer is that it prevents digging without the need for a trench. You can also cover it with rocks or plant pots to make it more aesthetically pleasing.
L-Footers might not be enough for the most determined diggers though. For these dogs, you may need to pour a cement footer and install the fence poles before it dries. This is expensive and time-consuming, but highly effective.
An alternative is to dig a trench and install a secondary fence underground. Again, this is time-consuming, but can stop escapes without concrete.
You can have the tallest, strongest fence in the world…but it’s useless if the gate blows open whenever there’s a strong wind (or if your dog works out how to unlatch it!)
For this reason, buy a strong internal lock to keep the gate shut. This has the added benefit of keeping out unwanted visitors.
One of the best ways to prevent climbing is a fence with a smooth surface. Privacy fences made from vinyl or wood, for example, are much more difficult to climb than chain link.
If this isn’t an option, a fence roller can help. These are long cylinders that are fixed at either end, but can rotate freely. When a dog tries to grip the roller, he just rolls off.
Planting dense bushes and shrubs around the perimeter can stop your dog getting close to the fence. This has the dual benefit of making jumping and climbing more difficult, while also obscuring his vision.
Another advantage of shrubbery is that it can prevent patrolling. This can become an obsessive behavior for some dogs, but is much less rewarding if they can’t get close to the fence.
Be aware that some plants and shrubs are poisonous to dogs though. Dogs Trust in the UK has a useful list.
A more extreme technique is to install a secondary fence. This should be placed a short distance inside the main fence, to discourage jumping, climbing and patrolling. The downside is that you’ll lose space in your garden.
A lean-in is a section of fence that’s angled inwards or even horizontally. As you can imagine, this makes it virtually impossible for a dog to climb out.
The downside is that it can make your yard look more like a prison than a home. If you’re desperate to stop your climbing pup, however, it’s one of the most effective options. It’s also useful if your local housing regulations limit fence height.
For the ultimate climbing dogs, a full mesh roof could be the safest option. This is unattractive and usually unnecessary for a domestic dog, but is common in shelters.
If your dog is “fence reactive” or just loves to bark at anything he sees, it’s important to block his vision. While a full privacy fence is the best way to do this, bamboo or reed rolls can be an inexpensive alternative for a chain link fence.
These rolls are zip-tied to the chain links to reduce visibility. It won’t stop all light from penetrating, but can make it less likely your dog sees squirrels, people or other dogs.
Rolls are available in several heights, so make sure you get one that’s big enough for your dog. Reed is cheaper, but bamboo is more durable.
Of course, fence reactivity isn’t something that should be ignored, so rolls should only be a temporary solution. Desensitization training is vital for teaching your dog how to behave when he sees a person or dog through the fence.
Dogs can be surprisingly resourceful when they want to escape. Even a small object could provide just enough extra height to allow your pet to jump the fence.
The key is to remove or secure anything that could be used by an escape-prone pup. This includes garden furniture, log piles and dog houses. You should even look out for slanted tree trunks, as these could be climbed for extra height.
If a dog loves to escape, supervising him in the yard is always the best (and cheapest) option. Escape attempts are often the result of boredom or frustration, so just playing with your dog outside could help.
This isn’t always possible though. We all have times when we need to let the dog out for the toilet, or to give him some extra outdoors time if he’s had a shorter walk, which is why dog proofing is essential.
Providing more mental stimulation in the backyard may also help. A sand pit or soil box, for example, could be a place for your dog to dig without destroying the garden or escaping. You may also want to consider a GPS tracker for your pet – at least as a backup plan – as these gadgets make it easier to find a lost dog.
Invisible dog fences are sometimes recommended for preventing escapes. They are essentially shock collars that are activated when your dog goes near a buried wire (there are also wireless alternatives).
I have several issues with this method. Firstly, I never condone using a device that causes a dog pain. While the dog may learn to fear the boundary edge, this is the result of numerous electric shocks, which is unnecessarily cruel.
For this reason, I don’t recommend an “invisible fence” on ethical grounds alone.
There’s another problem though. An electric fence is not a reliable way to stop a dog escaping, as strong emotions (such as fear, frustration or aggression) can override the pain.
If a dog sees something it wants to chase, it may run through the electric shock in its excitement. When it calms down, the dog is now trapped outside the yard. An invisible fence also won’t stop other dogs, animals and people from entering the yard – it only tries to stop your dog getting out.
A dog proof fence is essential for your pet’s safety. Whether your pup digs, climbs or jumps, fixing fence weaknesses is an urgent task.
Do you have any questions about how to dog proof a fence? Or have you stopped your dog escaping with a method I didn’t mention? Please let me know in the comments section below.
Richard is a journalist who specialises in dog behavior. He's written hundreds of articles and books related to dogs, including for the Continental Kennel Club, Dog Fest (the UK's biggest dog festival) and various veterinary surgeries. When he's not spending time with Jess and Rudy (his beloved Labrador and Golden Retrievers), he enjoys reading, hiking and watching sports. You can find him on Facebook or Twitter.