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The risks of wandering off are clear. Getting lost, running into traffic and injury or death are just a few of the more serious possibilities. But the solutions to roaming are not as simple. Alteration of an intact pet is the first step. Though the clients with the intact Pit Bull had very limited funding, we were able to find a spay/neuter clinic that was willing to complete the procedure within their budget.
Increasing mental and physical stimulation of your pet is essential in helping him settle down during the times when he’s in the home. Regular walks twice a day are extremely important. Not only is it important for him to burn off some energy, but he needs time to sniff out all the smells he finds to engage the “seeking” part of his brain. This urge to explore and find new things is accessed in large part through his impeccable sense of smell.
You can also engage your dog's mind and aid in physical activity by pushing him to work for his meals by using food puzzles, scattering kibble on the grass and doing obedience work. Letting social dogs have regular dog interaction at doggy day cares or in play groups at the dog park can also help fill their need to meet other dogs, while at the same time providing an outlet for both mental and physical exercise. Certain breeds, such as the Husky, get great benefit from being involved in a sport that works with their natural behavior of wanting to run, such as skijoring.
It’s important to let your dog, well, be a dog. I believe off-leash outings in safe areas are beneficial for a dog’s spirit. I learned this with my first show horse, TJ, who would get antsy after being cooped up in his stall and small paddock for too long. Regular time off to race, buck and rear in the pasture helped him to settle down more when it came time for riding in the arena. In the same way, allowing your dog the freedom to explore an open environment in a safe way will also help him to settle down in your home environment.
Finding safe places for off-leash or long-line exercise and exploration is easier in some areas than others. More rural or suburban areas may have an abundance of off-leash trails and areas for exploration, for example, while urban areas may require more detailed planning or travel to get to suitable outdoor spaces. Even one or two adventures in the wild outdoors per week for you and your pooch will serve you both well. There are even creative ways to provide aggressive pets the freedom to roam. One reactive dog in my training practice had amazing pet parents who took the initiative to find a private land owner with extensive acreage; they paid regular dues each month for use of his property to exercise their dog.
Start off with your dog on a long line to prevent him from running away from you. Regularly call your pet back to you, give him a reward such as a treat or toy, and immediately send him off to explore again. Many dogs won’t come back when called because they don’t want to be put on leash. Help your pet by teaching him that being called back results in a reward — and that he still gets to keep his freedom. Once your dog has proven reliable about coming back when called, you can graduate to having your dog hooked to a long drag line that won’t get caught on trees but will still allow you to grab onto his lead if needed.
It’s equally critical to set up your home environment to prevent your dog from escaping. If raising your fence height is too difficult a venture, you may want to look at getting a cable line that can attach to his collar for times when you can’t be out in the backyard to directly supervise him, or simply bring him in the home with you when you can’t be there to watch. Also remove any tables, garbage bins or other high items that your dog may jump on to make the leap over the fence line easier. For dogs who dig under the fence line to escape, prevent this by building the fence line farther underground or using chicken wire buried underground.
It is also possible that a degree of separation anxiety in your dog is prompting some of his escape behavior, which should be addressed by your veterinarian, a veterinary behavior specialist or a certified professional dog trainer.
The above strategies should help your canine settle in to your home and make him less likely to venture out on his own.
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