Steps to make sure your dog doesn’t escape
Dogs who escape can cause trouble for the neighbours and put themselves in serious danger. Trainer Carolyn Menteith and legal expert Trevor Cooper advise.
Carolyn Menteith says: Talk to dog wardens and they will tell you that while any dog can escape, when it comes to the canine Houdinis, there are definitely some repeat offenders.
Some dogs keep getting picked up by wardens or just cause chaos until someone catches them and returns them home.
Most dog walkers will see ‘lost dog’ notices pinned up around their regular routes and many have bumped into panic-stricken owners desperately hunting for their dog who has vanished into the undergrowth. It is the kind of thing that strikes fear into the hearts of most dog owners and if this sounds like your dog, you need to take action now — the world can be a dangerous place for a wandering canine.
Home is where the dog is
If your dog escapes from the home or the garden, think about some home management. Check that your fences are secure, ensuring that your dog can’t get through, over, or under them. Never underestimate how high a determined dog can jump or what tiny gaps he can squeeze through. If that is not possible, make a rule that your dog never goes out in the garden unattended and if he doesn’t have a good recall, always on a lead. Many dogs escape past their owners in doorways — and something as simple as putting up a baby gate in the doorways to give you a double door system can prevent this. Make sure everyone in the family is vigilant about watching out for the dog, shutting doors, and even putting signs on your gate — as well as a self-closing gate spring — for the postman or delivery drivers so that accidental escapes can be prevented.
The next thing to do is to have a long, hard think about why your dog is so keen to escape. In many cases, the answer is boredom. Ask yourself if your dog is getting enough exercise — every dog needs a good half an hour every day and the more active breeds need upwards of two hours a day split into a couple of walks. This ensures that the dog’s physical needs are met but also he gets a change of scenery. As well as physical exercise, your dog needs mental exercise too. If you keep your dog’s brain occupied, he is far less likely to look for an opportunity to break out. Make training part of your dog’s daily routine. Interactive toys — such as feeding your dog using a stuffed Kong toy instead of a bowl — not only provide a mental challenge but also give him a chance to chew and gnaw.
Making a comeback
Many dogs vanish when out on walks rather than from the house. Working on a good recall is vital and it could easily save his life. If you don’t have a reliable recall — one you have trained, and have worked on with distractions — don’t let your dog off the lead when he is out and about.
If you have a dog who has selective hearing when you are around other dogs, or when there are interesting scents to follow, or things to chase (and some breeds are more prone to this than others. we find Huskeys, Beagles and Basset hounds among our regular offenders), keep them on a lead when you are likely to encounter those things. Dogs can run off in pursuit of something exciting and then once the chase is over, they find that they are completely lost and have no idea how to get back to their owner.
Even if your dog does have a good recall, it is useful to have some treats and a toy when you are walking so you can keep your dog focused on you, making you more interesting to be with rather than him having to find his own fun. This is often an area where it is useful to work with a good trainer who understands how different breeds and types of dog think, and who will realistically teach you how to train your dog to come back despite distractions and how to recognise and manage the situations when that temptation will just be too great.
Paying attention works both ways though. You see a number of people out with their dogs who spend all their time on their phones and totally ignore their pets so not only are their dogs bored but they can easily slip off without the owners noticing. Your dog walks should be a chance for you and your dog to interact together — not just a chore. If you and your dog have fun together, your bond will be far stronger and the need to escape less likely.
A safe return
If your dog does escape, make sure you have a good chance of getting him back. Ensure he is microchipped and that he has a collar and tag with your mobile phone number on. The number isn’t required by law but if someone catches your dog, the first thing they will hopefully do is call, and even if you are still out hunting for him, you will have your mobile phone with you. Often the only things that are needed to keep your wandering dog safely at home are a bit of simple management, training, and being a little more dog aware. Too many people just trust to luck and eventually their luck will run out — along with their dog!
Escaping — the law
Trevor Cooper says: No responsible dog owner wants their dog to escape but, if it should happen, you’ll want your dog to be returned to you quickly. So why do so many owners disregard a law that aims to reunite them with their dogs?
The Control of Dogs Order 1992 in England and Wales requires that when a dog is on a road or other public place (so to all intents and purposes this means when outside), he wears a collar with the name and address of the owner inscribed on it or on a plate or badge attached to it. Failure to comply without reasonable excuse is a criminal offence for which the owner or keeper could be prosecuted and face a fine of up to £5,000. However, prosecutions are rare and many dog owners seem to have forgotten that this law exists.
The collar and tag is also the easiest form of identification as it means that your details can be read without the need for any technical equipment and anyone that finds a lost dog can return the pet direct to its owner without having to go through a council dog warden. It is accepted that this law isn’t foolproof because:
- Collars can be removed.
- Collars can fall off.
- Some owners don’t want their details displayed.
- If the dog escapes from inside the home he may not have the collar on anyway.
However, the law is the law and even if you don’t like it you should still comply with it, as otherwise you are facing the risk of prosecution, unless one of the limited exemptions apply, and of course you’re reducing the chances of your lost dog being returned home quickly or at all.
There are more permanent forms of identification:
- A tattoo, which an owner can opt to have done, and The National Dog Tattoo Register keeps the owner’s details.
- The microchip, which is also currently discretionary, and the keeper’s details are kept by one of a number of databases.
The governments in both England and Wales have committed to making microchipping of dogs compulsory (although this is unlikely to be instead of the collar and tag requirement). In Wales it is expected to be law by March 1, 2015 and in England by April 6, 2016. It is a quick and inexpensive process and there are currently many ways of getting it done at no cost. Dogs Trust is running a Microchipping Through Vets campaign and to find out where your participating vets are check out www.chipmydog.org.uk or you can call 0330 123 0334. There is no excuse not to be ready for this law!
Once the dog has been chipped it is essential that your details are kept up to date on the database — if you move or the dog’s keeper changes the database will need to be notified and you can be charged for doing this.
Are stray dogs still a problem?
The Dogs Trust Stray Dog Survey shows that between April 1, 2013 and March 31, 2014 over 110,000 stray dogs were handled by councils in the UK (which is a one per cent decrease on the previous year). Only an estimated 50 per cent of these stray dogs were reunited with their owners and sadly about seven per cent were put to sleep.
The responsibility for dealing with stray dogs is with local councils and they are obliged to have an officer who has responsibility for collecting stray dogs found in their area. This doesn’t have to be a round-the-clock service and many councils only operate a collection service on weekdays during office hours. Outside of that period, where practical, the council should still have an acceptance point where stray dogs can be taken.
If an owner doesn’t claim their dog within seven days (from service of a notice to them or date of seizure) and pay the council’s costs, then the dog could be put to sleep or rehomed. When such a dog is rehomed, the rights of the original owner are extinguished provided the new owner has acted in good faith. It is therefore essential that if your dog is lost you contact your council (and possibly neighbouring councils) to report it and, of course, notify the microchip database.
By law, the finder of a stray dog must either take the dog to the council or return it to the owner.