Holding on to the wanderers
I used to love Record Breakers presented by the late Roy Castle and if the programme included an animal being entered into the Guinness Book of World Records I was even happier. In Australia a former rescue dog is about to take the record for high jumping. Nimble is a three year old Kelpie who just loves to jump the scale wall, she is clearing just under three metres, that’s almost ten feet in old money! Her owner, Care Edwards, rescued her as a puppy and quickly realised that such an active breed really needed somewhere to burn all that energy, seems he found the perfect sport for her.
In rescue having an escape artist is a real nightmare, finding a safe home for a dog that loves to wander is very difficult because it’s not just a case of ensuring that a fence is six foot high. I have seen terriers and on one occasion a rather plump Rottweiler scale larch lap fencing with great ease; weld mesh is even easier as there are ‘toe’ holes all the way up. A determined dog can affect his escape in many ways of course, there are those that wait for the opportunity of a door not quite closed while others will dig, chew and climb in order to make their way to their chosen destination.
I find it very disturbing that we often hear of rescue dogs escaping while being transported, the end is likely to be tragic as it seems to happen mostly at motorway service stations. When transporting any dog it is certainly better to have the dog secure in a crate or travelling box, your own dog may well be happy to wear a seat belt through his harness but for a stressed out rescue dog chewing through your seat belt is a piece of cake. Leaving a lead on a dog you are transporting is questionable, on the one hand it makes sure you have something to grab should the little darling try to make a run for it but there is a danger of the dog becoming entangled and even strangling himself without you being aware he is in difficulty.
If I know I have a ’runner’ on board I have a short length of chain that I clip to the collar, I also have a car crate that has access openings that I can put a hand through without opening the door so it is quick and simple to reach the dog and drop a slip lead over his head, making sure that even if the dog throws himself backwards he won’t be able to slip his collar.
It is easy to underestimate just how much damage a frantic dog can do, wooden doors and partition walls won’t stop a determined escapee and don’t think that round door handles will scotch any cunning plan, it is amazing how quickly dogs can work out how to turn them and even by replacing lever handles upside down you will only out fox a dog for a short time.
Why a dog should want to escape is not a simple question to answer. Fear is a powerful motivator, the fight or flight response can be overwhelming in some dogs so during transport this is the most common cause. Dogs that have been brought in from overseas perhaps have even more reason to react, if they have been street dogs with little socialisation around people and have never had their movements restrained their stress levels are likely to be high, the more contact we try to make the greater the anxiety for the dog.
Dogs who habitually feel the need to escape from the home or garden may well be bored, insufficient exercise and mental stimulation certainly makes the grass look greener on the other side of the fence. By addressing the exercise routine and creating hide and seek games at home you can make staying put more attractive.
Unneutered dogs and bitches may well be led astray by their hormones, if surgery is not an option it may be worth considering chemical castration for the males and injections of Delvosteron or similar to suppress the heat cycle in bitches. Bear in mind that those options are not a one off, they are costly and have to be updated regularly.
If you do have a wandering dog to rehome it is sometimes good to take a fresh look at other alternatives to a well fenced garden and a secure house. By offering the dog more freedom and fewer boundaries the need to stray can be reversed in some cases, every case must be assessed individually of course but reverse psychology occasionally has its merits. Dog owners usually feel that their home is pretty secure but when a tenacious runaway has to be confined rules are there to be broken by the defector. Stair gates in doorways become a regular source of entertainment as the dog grand national takes place, it is amazing how even small dogs can launch themselves over a normal sized stair gate and even the taller ‘pet gates’ don’t prove much of a challenge to an experienced hurdler.
Locking the doors has to become something of a ritual and if you are in the least bit inclined toward OCD, avoid owning a dog with wandering ways; you will never have any peace of mind.
Distraction can be useful in teaching a dog that home is best, puzzle toys with edible prizes can offer some amusement and the bonding with another animal within the house can also encourage the would be truant to think again, but there are dogs who are so resolved to leave home that they will jump from upper storey windows or even from a moving car. Keeping a resolute wanderer safe is tough and not for the faint hearted.