This case study profiles a chronic fence jumper and leads you through the questioning process that finally finds the cause and then the solution to this difficult case. Some times K9 behaviour is not what it first seems. The case study below is typical of the hundreds of K9 behaviour consultations by The Paw Man.
Chronic Fence Jumping
I was called by a senior instructor of a local Dog Obedience Club to assist on a consult they were unable to solve.
The dog in question was a German Shepherd. The dog lived in the owners back yard of a low set brick home. The rear yard was fully fenced with 2 meter high picket fences on the front and both sides, and 1.5 meter mesh fence on the rear.
The side fences were separating the yard from the neighbours and the rear fence separated the yard from a cow pasture. The dog had ample shade, lots of visual stimulation, toys and everything any dog could desire.
The owners had spent thousands of dollars on proper fencing in the back yard and due to the dogs fence jumping behaviour it was evident that they had spend hundreds more on height extenders for the fences, but to no avail.
I used a behaviourists approach for the consultation. I started by gathering as much information about the situation as I could. Questioning of the owners revealed the following information:
- The fence jumping behaviour had been occurring for a long time (several years), but had increased markedly since the wife started working.
- Both owners worked but the wife working was only a recent development.
- The dog was treated very much like one of the children. These people were very devoted to their pet.
- The dog was very play/fetch oriented, actively soliciting humans to throw items for it to retrieve.
- The dog has no dog to dog (or dog to human) aggression problems.
- When the dog escapes it usually goes to the neighbours place to socialise with the occupants which were both human and canine.
- No matter how high the owners made the fences the dog always managed to find a way to jump it.
- Owners told a story of how the dog got caught jumping the side fence one day and ripped itself wide open, requiring veterinary treatment and over a hundred stitches. While the dog still had all the stitches in, it still jumped the fence although it could barely walk.
- The dog showed no interest in the cows that occupied the back paddock. At this point in the consultation, questioning of the owners was put ‘on hold’ for a cup of coffee and I proceeded to study the information gathered so far.
The following conclusions were drawn:
- The dog only escaped when no one was home.
- The dog was well exercised and has a stimulating environment.
- The dog jumped the fence despite a crippling injury, therefore the dogs motivation to jump must be extremely high.
- Nothing could be found in the yard that could possibly compel the dog to jump (escape behaviour).
- Initial thoughts were of Separation Anxiety (S/A) but the fact that the dog jumped the fence whilst injured seemed uncharacteristic of normal S/A.
Casual discussion with the owners continued over coffee. As is often the case, the one elusive critical piece of information emerged almost by accident.
The owner stated that for the first 18 months of the dogs life it was never left alone. If they ever went out they took the dog by car to friends around the road who would baby-sit the dog until the owners returned.
This meant that the dog was conditioned from puppy hood that when the pack went ‘on the hunt’ by car that the dog always accompanied them. Effectively the dog was never conditioned to being left alone on any occasion. Even after 18 months of age the dog was always baby sat. When the wife eventually started work, the dog was totally unprepared to be left alone.
Rather than just separation anxiety (S/A) we have chronic S/A with extremely high stress levels creating an almost frantic desire to rejoin the departing pack. As is usually the case, this situation was created by the dogs owners. Any other dog treated the same way would react similarly if not in an identical manner.
After I delivered my diagnosis they confirmed it with other bits of information.
The dog always jumped the fence as they were driving away from the house. They often saw the dog in the rear vision mirror as they drove away from the house. Each time this happened they would stop the car, let the dog inside the car and drive it to a friends place to be looked after. (This action alone had a major reinforcing effect on the fence jumping)
As you would expect, any solution to this problem has to be two pronged. Firstly, condition the dog to being left alone for very short periods and then build the time frame up to a usable level.
Secondly, the dogs S/A has to be treated. S/A is at its peak at the moment of the last pack members departure. So an activity was introduced to soothe and occupy the dog at that time. The dog was given a mutton flap or a rubber Kong filled with peanut butter.
This was given to the dog at the moment of the last pack members departure. Once the dog had finished its new activity the owners had departed and the dog is blissfully unaware of their absence. This approach worked well and the dog now stays comfortably at home.