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Inquisitive Canine: Jack Is Quick to Jump the Fence – Creating an inviting home environment can help motivate dogs to stay put

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Hi, Joan:

I have a dog named Jack who has an issue with jumping our backyard fence. We ride bikes every day, so it isn’t an exercise issue. We’ve also tried everything to make him stop, including using an electric fence, which he seems to laugh at.

He always comes back and lays in the front yard, but he runs away when we try to get him back in the house. Treats don’t work, chasing doesn’t work and tempting him with a car ride (which he loves) doesn’t work — and is actually dangerous because he runs beside it. We also have tried getting the bikes out — no luck. Sitting in the yard and being calm, with a treat in hand, waiting for him to come doesn’t work. It is a real problem.

Luckily, all of the neighbors and their dogs love him and Jack isn’t aggressive, but we live by busy streets and so I am very afraid he will get hit by a car. It is very frustrating. Got any ideas?

— Thanks, Dee Ann Deaton

Hello, Dee Ann:

My oh my, it sounds like Jack is nimble, quick and living up to the “Love thy neighbor” policy. From what you’ve described, it appears you’ve been an inquisitive dog guardian, doing all you can to problem solve the situation, and I appreciate your efforts.

As a certified professional dog trainer, I have worked with many dog guardians to find solutions for keeping their globetrotting pooches safe and secure.

It’s first important to create an inviting environment to help motivate Jack to stay on his own property. Here are some ways to accomplish this:

  • While Jack is still learning to stay in the yard, he should always be supervised when left outside. Leaving such decisions to his own devices might result in a round of fence jumping. Setting him up for success is the best way to avoid disappointment, and is key to successful dog training.
  • Create an enriching environment in your own home and yard so Jack will prefer to stay put. Scavenger hunts, interactive food toys, chewies, bones and even a digging pit can all be placed in your own yard for Jack’s entertainment. You’ll also want to make sure he is experiencing fun times with family members at home — not just on a bike ride. If you’re so inclined, you might want to arrange doggy play dates at your home so his friends come to your place instead of him having to set up his own rendezvous.
  • See if it’s possible to build a higher fence or plant a hedge where you live. This is a management step that may help prevent him from independently taking a tour of the neighborhood.

Dog training tips for coaching Jack to stay in the yard:

  • Teach Jack what the correct choice is and reward him for remaining on your property. Using high-value yummy food treats — ask your vet about pieces of human foods such as lean chicken, steak, fish, pork etc. — or whatever motivation works best to positively reinforce desired behaviors from your dog. While a professional dog trainer can help you analyze the rewards you’re using, there are also some simple things you can do to discover what motivates your dog.
  • You’ll initially want to reward this wanted behavior frequently. Once Jack is conditioned to stay in the yard, you can then reward him intermittently to ensure you’ve acknowledged he is making good choices. Remember, we can never be thanked enough for doing something someone else wants — especially when it’s as difficult as not going out to spend time playing with friends and neighbors.
  • Train necessary behaviors: “Coming when called” and “Leave it!” might be two behaviors that would come in handy should Jack take off. Using the first one if he takes off, and if he doesn’t come back then use your backup cue “Leave it!” This is the cue I use for when I want a dog to stop what he or she is doing and come to me. If you’ve ever taught Jack to “touch a target,” you could use that as well — keeping a target in your hand (or targeting your hand itself) while he comes and touches it with his paw or nose.

Your home and neighborhood sound quite appealing — no wonder Jack wants to head out and be with his friends. With a little planning, training, and forethought, you should be able to motivate Jack to stay and play in your own home.

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