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Episode 305 - The Escape Artist

“A fearful dog is much harder to rehabilitate than an aggressive one, especially when that fear causes the dog to flee in panic. These are the cases that require extra time and a lot of patience.”


Q&A with Cesar

My dog escapes every chance she gets. Does this mean she isn't happy with us, Cesar?

Dogs can escape for a lot of reasons, but it doesn’t necessarily mean that she isn’t happy with you. A dog can bolt out of a yard as a panicked reaction to a loud noise, or can jump a fence in pursuit of a squirrel or cat. Some dogs are opportunists and will escape just because they can — say because they’ve found a hole in the fence. And sometimes, particularly with unfixed male dogs, they will escape because of the urge to mate.

The first thing you need to determine is how and why your dog is escaping. If she’s the type to bolt out the front door, then you need to create boundaries — in effect, building an invisible barrier in front of that door that she isn’t allowed to cross without your permission.

If she’s escaping from the yard when you aren’t looking, then you need to make your yard escape-proof — and, as with small children, you really shouldn’t leave your dog alone in the yard unsupervised. Not only could she be injured if you’re not looking, she could be stolen.

If you’ve moved recently, your dog may still be confused and uncertain about your new location and is trying to find her way “home.” In that case, take extra time on the walk and let her get to explore all the new territory so it will come to feel like her own. Crate training her or creating her own space to go to in your new place will also make it feel more like home to her.

Once you know the cause, then there are various steps you can take to make your dog less likely to escape and your home harder to escape from, or both.

My dog can also be spooked by all kinds of things, how can I help her, Cesar?

Is your dog being spooked by all kinds of things or just by a lot of things with something in common? The distinction can be important to determining the proper method of fixing the problem.

For example, your dog may be spooked by the vacuum cleaner, delivery trucks, kids on skateboards, and thunder. They may all seem like very different things, but they also all make loud or startling noises — in which case you would need to work on desensitizing your dog to such noises.

This involves gradually exposing your dog to the recorded sounds in association with positive stimuli — for example, playing a recording of a vacuum cleaner at meal or play time. Start with the sound at a low volume and gradually increase it over time until you’re able to expose your dog to the real thing without her getting spooked. This process can take a few weeks, so be patient and consistent.

If your dog truly is spooked by everything, then it will take some work, but the most important thing to do is build up his self-esteem. For dogs, you can do this with specialized classes, like agility training, which gives your dog a challenge in a controlled environment and a task to perform. You can even build a simple agility course in your own yard.

The other important thing is to never nurture your dog’s fear. It’s very natural for humans to want to pick up and comfort a fearful or timid dog — but that’s exactly the wrong thing because it’s rewarding the undesired behavior. The more fearful your dog behaves, the more you have to project calm and assertive energy. It’s counterintuitive for humans, but the best thing you can do for a fearful dog is to ignore them while going about your business in a calm manner. This will help reassure your dog that everything is okay — you’re not freaking out about something, so he shouldn’t, either.

Cesar, how do I know what type of energy I'm projecting to my dog?

The easiest way to tell is to look at your dog. They are our mirrors and reflect our energy. If your dog is anxious or fearful, then you are not projecting calm energy. If your dog is being aggressive, then you are not projecting assertive energy. When your dog looks to you for clues on what you expect and she exhibits calm, submissive energy, then you are projecting the proper calm, assertive energy of a Pack Leader.

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