D EAR OLD TRAINER: My 3-year-old huskie/German shepherd mix, Ranger, always stayed in the yard, but lately he jumps the fence while I am at work and visits the dogs two houses down. He plays with them through their fence then comes home and waits for me, but it worries me for him to be out. Is there a way to stop him jumping the fence?
Dear Layia: Your story is a lesson for all dog owners – never take a dog out the gate of a fenced yard. That just tells him there is a way out of the lockup, and a smart dog will think until he figures out how to do it on his own. When he does, an athlete like Ranger can top a fence with the ease of Lolo Jones sailing over hurdles. Always take your dog in and out through the house or garage.
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Once a dog learns he can jump a fence he will keep it up until he’s trained not to jump. Ranger sits around thinking how much he misses you and hears Van Halen’s lyrics – “Might as well jump. Jump!”
Training is tricky because you are unlikely to catch Ranger in the act. He won’t jump when you are home, and if you discipline him when you return and find him in the front yard he’ll think he’s being punished because you arrived home.
Some trainers advise driving off, stopping a few houses away, and watching the fence, but that’s nonsense. Ranger’s hearing is far too good to fall for that stunt. He’ll sit there wagging his tail and watching your car.
There are several ways to train him even if you don’t catch him in the act:
One, call him to the fence, look him in the eye, whack the fence with a rolled newspaper, and, in your best Joe Pesci impression, tell him it is your fence and to keep away from it. Ask him if he understands, then pet him and praise him when he backs off.
Do this several times a day until he avoids the fence (if you do happen to catch Ranger in the act, do the same thing, except you scold him before you whack the fence).
Try a no-jump harness, available at your local pet shop.
The harness creates a gentle resistance across the chest of the dog when he tries to jump. The pressure breaks his concentration and he backs off to figure out what happened. The harness is inexpensive and works in most cases.
Another solution is the use of scat mats.
These electrified pads give a harmless static shock when a dog steps on them. When Ranger feels the shock he will avoid that area, but you have to know his takeoff point in order to place the mats in the proper spot. The mats are expensive, starting around $50 per mat.
The most expensive option is an electrified wire around the top of the fence. It works if Ranger is crawling over the fence but has little effect if he’s jumping it.
I always favor training over buying equipment because learning a new command reinforces all other training.