Big Dog Problem
February 8, 2014 9:50 PM   Subscribe

After 9 years, we've reached the end of our tether trying to control our German Shepherd x Border Collie. Not content with climbing over our 8-ft high fences, he's now taken to breaking out the windows of our house. Is there any hope for him, and what should we be trying?

We have a 9-year old German Shepherd x Border Collie, Indy. We live in a suburban house with a large yard, bordering onto farmland and a beach at the back. The property is fenced all the way around with wooden fences. We also have a cat, and a King Charles Cavalier, all of whom are friendly with each other.

About 2 years ago Indy (who was an outside dog) started escaping from our property when we weren't home. Our back fence at that stage was a bit decrepit, he had found a way to squeeze open some of the planks and escape. We replaced the fence with a new one, with a height of about 6-ft.

He started jumping over this fence, so we started keeping both dogs in the house during the day when we weren't home, and making sure we took Indy for long walks to wear him out. Then he started jumping over the fence at any opportunity - first thing in the morning, we'd let the dogs out, then go and check on them 5 minutes later, and Indy would be missing, to be found running around the neighbouring paddock, or down at the beach.

I replaced the 6ft high fence with a solid 8ft high fence, at the back of the property. He never in the past jumped over the side/front fences, and things were okay for a year or so.

In the last two months, his tricks have gotten worse - we came home in December to find the kitchen window open, the flyscreen on the ground, Indy running around the yard, the kitchen bench trashed, and my wife's computer monitor and hard drive, in the living room, on their sides. Our first assumption was that we had been burgled, but after some investigation, we had figured it out - Indy had got up on the desks, knocked things over, and squeezed out through the sliding window.

The next step of our plan has involved making sure all the windows were completely closed when we went out - they don't have locks on them but they do have handles that clip them closed.

Everything was okay for the last months or so, but in the last three days, Indy has come up with new ideas - he's managed to work out how to "un-snib" the windows and slide them open. He got through the window above the computer desk on Friday when we weren't home and was in the yard. On Friday night, when we were asleep, he got up on the computer desk again, didn't manage to open the window but knocked the computer tower over. Today, when we got home, he had gone full helter skelter. Kitchen bench was trashed. Computer desk was trashed, with the monitor on the floor smashed. Computer desk window was open. Dog was half way up the street.

We're pretty much at the end of our tether in regards to what to do with him - he's clearly an outside dog, but for him that apparently means hanging around at the beach - his ability to climb fences means we can't see a way to keep him in, it would not be legal to surround all four sizes of our property with impenetrable 8ft high wooden fences. He was happy indoors it seemed, but now he's got a bee in his bonnet and smashes our things in an effort to escape.

Is there anything we're missing, that we should be doing to prevent this behaviour? It's difficult to correct him for behaviour that we're never there to witness and only discover some hours later. Options include keeping him in the shed - we have a large shed, but it has no windows and would be a pretty shitty life for him. Another is tying him up in the yard, something we've always been reticent to do - we're worried he'd harm himself trying to run around. Tonight we are going to try keeping the dogs in our hallway, with the door closed and where he can't get into any trouble, but I suspect neither dog will be happy with this and we'll have a sleepless night. We're pretty close to giving up on him and having him euthanized, as we feel we can no longer handle him in a way that's not cruel. Would welcome any suggestions.
posted by Jimbob to Pets & Animals (48 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
Try this: Two times a day you walk the borders of your property with dog. You keep this up for two or three months. My neighbors think I have a shock collar and an invisible fence.
posted by Mr. Yuck at 10:01 PM on February 8, 2014 [1 favorite]

I'll give it a try, sounds like a novel idea. I had actually considered a shock collar when he was jumping the fence of the property, but now he's going through the loungeroom window I doubt it's an option.
posted by Jimbob at 10:08 PM on February 8, 2014

Better locks on the windows and move the kitchen bench/computer area out of his war path?

Though we cannot possibly properly advise without a picture of Indy. Because, dogs.
posted by horizonseeker at 10:08 PM on February 8, 2014 [3 favorites]

his ability to climb fences means we can't see a way to keep him in, it would not be legal to surround all four sizes of our property with impenetrable 8ft high wooden fences.

extend them with mesh?
posted by sebastienbailard at 10:08 PM on February 8, 2014 [2 favorites]

A dog run in the back that has a roof? You can put together pretty hefty ones, that'd give him fresh air, a bit of space to romp around, but would prevent him from climbing. If he's a digger, you'd either need to bury the edges, or put it on a concrete slab.

There are tons of companies that will come install them, places like Tractor Supply company will sell them, or you can sometimes just order the stuff online.
posted by HermitDog at 10:12 PM on February 8, 2014 [6 favorites]

Though we cannot possibly properly advise without a picture of Indy. Because, dogs.

I didn't want to bias the answers with a photo of the beautiful boy, but here you go. Should note also that he's neutered.
posted by Jimbob at 10:14 PM on February 8, 2014 [1 favorite]

Is there any reason you haven't mention or tried crating him? This, coupled with real, tiring exercise, is a common solution to the issue of dogs inventing trouble when left alone. Many dogs learn to like the crate and the sense of security it offers.
posted by itstheclamsname at 10:15 PM on February 8, 2014 [7 favorites]

Two things... One, is he getting enough exercise? Because destruction that doesn't come from a puppy or juvenile dog is often boredom. (Crating him is not a good option if this is part of the problem.) Two, while I am super-hesitant to suggest this because there are safety issues, have you considered a zip line with access to the shed for shelter?
posted by DarlingBri at 10:16 PM on February 8, 2014 [1 favorite]

extend them with mesh?

This was the first thing we tried with our 6ft fence. He ripped it off. It's quite amazing the lengths he'll go to.

A dog run in the back that has a roof?

We have a space at the back of our yard, between a couple of sheds and the fence - about 12m long by 3m wide. We have just been discussing if we could turn this into a dog run - I'm not sure about the price to do it properly, and there are some fruit trees in there so a roof might be difficult. I'm sure we can sort out some sort of shelter, though.
posted by Jimbob at 10:16 PM on February 8, 2014

Is day care an option. It can get expensive. Crating him would be another option or having the dedicated dog run mentioned above.
posted by cairnoflore at 10:18 PM on February 8, 2014

Is there any reason you haven't mention or tried crating him?

We don't know much about crating - I have heard people talk about it on Metafilter before, but (like tying up dogs), it's not really a thing I knew about, growing up in Australia. How big a crate would a dog his size (he's about 30kg) need? Where do we put it?

We try to give him as much excercise as our schedule will allow - a walk to the beach or around the suburb once a day, throwing the ball in the yard for half an hour.
posted by Jimbob at 10:19 PM on February 8, 2014

The roof doesn't have to stick up at all, it just needs to be flat chain link: Google image search for dog run with roof
posted by HermitDog at 10:20 PM on February 8, 2014

Is day care an option.

Our varied, complicated daily schedule (involving shift work, public transport) means I don't see how we could do this. And now that he's taken to breaking things at night when we're home, it might not help.
posted by Jimbob at 10:21 PM on February 8, 2014

The roof doesn't have to stick up at all, it just needs to be flat chain link:

Hmmm some of those things look good! I'll have a look around and see how much something like that would cost. The stand-alone ones look expensive, but they might be the better option for us becuase we're thinking of moving house in the not too distant future.
posted by Jimbob at 10:24 PM on February 8, 2014 [1 favorite]

Rather than taking him to a day care, could you hire someone to come to your place and really run him? There are several dog walking services near me, for example, with varying rates for varying amounts of strenuousness.
posted by amtho at 10:25 PM on February 8, 2014

Also - activities that are mentally challenging for him might help a _tiny_ bit. Maybe agility training or something.

He sounds like a really smart, strong, enthusiastic dog; if you have an agility group near you, you might find someone who will help you. Heck, you _might_ find someone who wants to adopt your dog, if his temperament is well-suited to agility.

And yes, he is gorgeous.
posted by amtho at 10:27 PM on February 8, 2014 [2 favorites]

My main concern about the exercise suggestion is that (anecdote, sample size of one etc.) this was the first thing we did after he started jumping the fence - we immediately upped his exercise, and the result was that his frequency of fence jumping seemed to increase. Like he'd gotten a taste for the outside world and now wanted out all the time.
posted by Jimbob at 10:27 PM on February 8, 2014

You might try coyote rollers for the top of your fence in your yard.
posted by internet!Hannah at 10:27 PM on February 8, 2014 [6 favorites]

Hmm those coyote rollers look ingenious - doesn't look like they're available in Australia, although we do have an equivalent thing for cats it seems...
posted by Jimbob at 10:31 PM on February 8, 2014

Is there something he is attracted to that could be causing this behaviour? Where is he going when he gets out?

Your vet might have some suggestions that could help too.

Thanks for clarifying he's fixed, because that was my first question.
posted by annsunny at 10:33 PM on February 8, 2014

Is there something he is attracted to that could be causing this behaviour? Where is he going when he gets out?

One thing that's certain to trigger it is thunder. If there's thunder, he's gone. But where I live, thunder is literally a 1-day-a-year thing, so most of the time it's clearly something else.

In terms of where he goes - he trots around the paddock behind our house, goes for a walk down to the creek and the beach, then comes back up the street and sits by the side of the road about 2 houses down, waiting.
posted by Jimbob at 10:37 PM on February 8, 2014

[hey, Jimbob, it's fine to answer questions folks are asking, but you don't need to respond to every comment conversationally -- best to just stick to clarifications as necessary and otherwise just take your time and pick and choose what seems most helpful. Thanks.]
posted by taz (staff) at 10:39 PM on February 8, 2014 [1 favorite]

(Spitballing) Pee into a sportsbottle, dilute it with water, and use that to mark the boundary of your territory.
posted by sebastienbailard at 10:46 PM on February 8, 2014

Okay taz, but quite honestly all the answers are pretty helpful and are giving me interesting options.
posted by Jimbob at 10:46 PM on February 8, 2014 [3 favorites]

Dog run with a chain link roof or a couple strands of electric fence around the inside of your wooden fence. Turn it waaaay up for a bit until he learns to respect it.

When pur dog started doing this is was because our neighbours were feeding her. Might want to check into that
posted by fshgrl at 1:29 AM on February 9, 2014 [2 favorites]

Aside from the regular exercise and activity around the house - do you ever take him on trips? Does he get to go on day trips for hikes, or visits to new places or parks in different parts of town?

When deprived of these kinds of experiences for a while, our dog would occasionally run off overnight and then return the next day like nothing happened. Perhaps you too have an Adventure Dog - in need of some stimulation that might be satisfying enough to tide him over when he's got cabin fever.

Also, is there a chance that you've been responding to his attempts to escape with so many novel approaches that he's seeing it as a game? He sounds extremely clever, and appears to be an excellent problem solver. He might be perceiving all new efforts to keep him in as challenges that you want him to overcome.

It's also possible that if he's been doing this for a while he has decided that his territory extends to those areas now, so it's his obligation to patrol that territory.

Additionally, has he ever expressed any symptoms of separation anxiety? The incredible lengths he went to to get out of the house could be evidence of that. Does he ever howl, whine, or pace? Have you asked your neighbors (if they're close enough) if he howls when you're gone?

Does he have plenty of toys in the yard, so that if he escapes into the yard, it's an interesting place full of his favorite chew toys and bones (and thus doesn't need to go further for stimulation)?

You haven't mentioned any kind of punishment for the behavior - which is good, you don't want to do that. But if you are, you might be increasing his desire to escape the house and yard, so watch out for that.
posted by jardinier at 1:57 AM on February 9, 2014 [1 favorite]

Some dogs need a serious couple of hours a day of exercise, like an hour of running in the AM and an hour of hiking in the PM. The dog sounds bored. Maybe also a mid-day dog walker. Some agility training of some sort might be helpful on the weekend.

We aren't crating folks in our family but in any case I wouldn't try crating a nine year old dog who's already pretty much said 'I'm bored out of my mind and I want to run until I drop'. That pretty much sounds like a recipe for tearing your couch apart.

You can't really 'correct' his behavior beyond saying No, but maybe a security system could say No for you? You're basically trying to address a few windows, so you want something that would go off when the contact points were disturbed and obviously not one that calls the police, ideally one that would play a stern NO over your stereo system or something. Maybe web enabled. But even if you went baseline, something that goes WHooop WhOOOoop WHooop -- that might discourage the behavior.

I'm trying to think of something that might be fun for him during the day, but he's too old for chew toys probably?
posted by A Terrible Llama at 2:53 AM on February 9, 2014 [1 favorite]

Electric wire along the top of the fence, on the inside so you don't zap passers by, I'd use the sort they use for small animals like goats or sheep, cattle fences are very strong. I hate using shock collars as I have heard of to much going wrong, and you want the dog wary of the fence not terrified of its own collar. I dislike using pain on a dog but keeping a dog safe in its yard is important for so many reasons and this would be a fast fix for you.

A border collie needs two x hour plus long power walks a day, at the least and not a stroll around the block, hard exercise. Your dog is bored beyond belief. With a border collie, even a cross,you can pretty much never exercise or mentally stimulate them enough. You want to start taking the dog to training class, not just obedience, but I would also suggest agility classes keep that dog stimulated and tired. These are dogs designed to run and work eight hours a day.

Is the dog neutered. A lady dog or two in heat in the area could also cause these problems. Our Irish Setter was known to break out and travel up to two kms for a dog on heat if the wind was right. Other dogs running loose in the area can encourage you dog to want to get out if he's not neutered as he's got turf to defend.
posted by wwax at 5:50 AM on February 9, 2014 [1 favorite]

[Commenters, please note that the OP has updated that the dog is neutered.]
posted by taz (staff) at 6:20 AM on February 9, 2014

It's interesting to me that your doggie has adopted these behaviors later in life. Any significant changes to homelife since this all began? He seems to have gotten more obsessive during a time when he might be expected to kick back a bit. It sounds like anxiety, and many dog-owners have had success with anti-depressants. I'd talk to the vet.

Also, on a lighter note, before you resolve this, get a nanny-cam going, 'cause it must be fascinating to watch him work all this out. He sounds like a very smart boy.
posted by thinkpiece at 7:23 AM on February 9, 2014 [1 favorite]

The first dog my family had when I was a kid was a jumper and an escape artist. Star was a Dalmatian and my parents had a dog run out back for her with an eight foot chain link fence. She'd actually climb it so she could get out and run across the prairie. She also ate the shingles off her dog house. My parents gave her what they thought was a good amount of exercise, but when we'd had her about a year we had to move cross-country to a condominium with a tiny postage stamp sized back yard. My parents knew that would be terrible for Star, so one of my uncles agreed to take her in. Our formerly problem dog behaved like an angel for him. He kept her in a back yard with a three foot fence and she never once ran away. The secret to his success? (And this only worked because he lived in a semi-rural area, but it sounds like you may too?) He let her run beside his pickup truck while he matched her pace for as long as she wanted to run. Then when she was tired out he let her hop into the cab with him and they drove home together. Sometimes the working breeds need way more exercise than what we think of as "a lot".
posted by MsMolly at 7:33 AM on February 9, 2014 [6 favorites]

I have a german shepherd who thankfully doesn't realize how he's able to do a lot more then he does. He's a bit of a twit. My lovable doofus. He's accidently climbed the fence in his yard a couple of times when he got really excited but doesn't seem to realize he could repeat the feat. He does get bored though and is incredibly curious about everything.

He gets lots of exercise on a daily basis but unless he gets what I call his 'adventure time' he seems to get restless and gets into things around the house. His adventure lust is satiated by rides in the car during which he's like a little kid that's seeing the world for the first time or something. It's quite endearing and hilarious. He's noticiably calmer and more content if he regularly gets out and sees more of the world, even if it's only a ten minute drive to the store and back.
posted by Jalliah at 8:37 AM on February 9, 2014

This answer may be a bit controversial, but is there a reason you can't just let him come and go as he pleases? Is he a danger to kids or other animals? It sounds like he just goes exploring and then comes home, so if he's not causing any trouble and the neighbours aren't upset, can the solution just be to let him be a little wild?
posted by whalebreath at 8:45 AM on February 9, 2014 [4 favorites]

I was sort of wondering what whalebreath is wondering, too. It sounds like you're in a fairly rural area, and if he's not bothering livestock or at risk from road traffic, is tagged and microchipped... I dunno, our dogs are typical city dogs living in the house and going out for walks and exercise, except when we take them to the family beach house for the summer, where they become free range dogs.
posted by DarlingBri at 9:07 AM on February 9, 2014

If you can't afford a fully enclosed dog run, do what we did when I was growing up with a rowdy pooch: we strung a super-strong taut cable between two deep and tall posts as far apart as the property would allow, and as high up as we could (so people could walk under the cable), then we attached the dog to the wire on a light chain with good joints or pivots at the collar (not a leash or rope that might tangle) and a strong runner eye-hook at the cable end of the chain for full, free sliding motion. He had a good thirty feet of run space in one direction and then probably eight feet side-to-side. There was a decent dog house at one end, a big water dish, and some shade in places. Couple that with something to look at -- a street, a bird feeder, a neighbor's yard -- and it might just be enough. You will soon have a dirt run path in the yard, so you may have to move the posts from time to time in order to the yard time to recover and to keep the dog from being too bored with the same old scenery.
posted by Mo Nickels at 9:21 AM on February 9, 2014

Indy is a very handsome dog. If he is a Border Collie x German Shepherd cross, it's no wonder he's so clever and athletic. From what it sounds like, he would greatly benefit from both mental and physical exercise. Here's a couple of ideas:

- Take him on a run every day if you are physically able to. If you cannot run, take him for a long walk, and have him wear a weighted vest* or hiking vest. Start off with no weight, and then gradually increase the weight.
- If you have snow and like to cross-country ski, try skijoring!*
- If you don't have snow, you could try rollerblading* with him.
- Take him on hikes or visit dog parks where he can go off-leash.
- Get some of these, fill them with kibble, seal the end with peanut butter and freeze them. Give one to him to work on before you leave for the day.
- Try agility training OR fly ball OR dog dancing OR teach him to do cute tricks!

Please do not tie him up--there is a large risk that he may harm himself. Also please don't let him roam free without supervision (i.e. you're with him when he's off leash). He could get himself into a great deal of trouble (other dogs, other animals, injure himself, someone else may take him, etc.).

If you cannot find a workable solution, I recommend rehoming him. He sounds like a lovely dog, and I'm sure there are people out there who would be able to commit to giving Indy the exercise he would need.

*Do not attempt without proper training.
posted by gumtree at 9:57 AM on February 9, 2014 [2 favorites]

Seems to me you ought to hire a behaviorist. Somebody to watch your dog in action, and figure out why he's doing what he's doing.
posted by waldo at 11:33 AM on February 9, 2014

One thing that's certain to trigger it is thunder. If there's thunder, he's gone.

Have you considered whether your dog has separation anxiety?

The results can look very similar to "boredom".
posted by Sara C. at 12:20 PM on February 9, 2014

Oh, you're in Australia, that helps. I guess that crating is kind of rare there. Check out some of the answers to a similar question from a fellow Aussie here.

It should be large enough for the dog to be able to turn around but not that much bigger. Here is a rough guide to the appropriate size based on the dog's weight.

Basically the crate is a proxy for a den. It's a small, cozy space where the dog can feel safe and "off duty". It's not so much that they learn to like the crate but that they learn to see the crate as their den. Once your dog makes that connection, they'll love going in there. They'll go in there on their own just to take a nap or to chill out. When they're in their crate, they'll just lay down and relax. It flips a switch in their brain that tells them that they don't need to fulfill any of their canine duties right now, they just kind of chill out and shut their brains off for a while. If you're doing it right, when your dog hears thunder and freaks out, they'll run into their crate to feel safe.

Our dog gets fed in her crate and goes in there any time we leave the house and would be okay in there for up to 12 hours at a stretch. When one of us says, "Kennel!" She bolts into the thing.

Other thing you can do to help with the exercise and mental stimulation is to teach him the game "Find It!"

You start by having the dog go someplace (we use the crate), lay down, and stay. You'll have put out a half-dozen or so small buckets, boxes, bowls, or whatever works. Then, where the dog can see you, you mime putting a treat in each container but drop it in one of them at random as you do. Then you walk back to the the dog and say, "Find it!" He should look in and sniff each container until he find the treat. When he finds it, he gets excited praise and then you play again.

Increase difficulty by spreading out the buckets and/or flipping them upside down so he has to tip it over to check. The goal is that, eventually, you can get rid of the buckets and just drag a toy/treat around on the end of a string or rope (it's helpful if it has a unique scent for him to follow) that you'll hide somewhere around the house or yard and he'll race around trying to track it down. It's best if it's hidden well enough that he has to find it with his nose.

When you get to that level, it should keep him busy for a few minutes each round so you can be doing something else, pause to have him stay while you hide the toy, send him off to find it, and go back to what you were doing while he tracks it down.
posted by VTX at 2:23 PM on February 9, 2014

Just wanted to note with an electric fence I vet I knew recommended you kept it working for a couple weeks, and then just shut it off. Bu then the dog has usually learned his boundaries and you don't have to worry about it.
posted by AlexiaSky at 3:35 PM on February 9, 2014

Ooh, I have to caution against AlexiaSky's suggestion. My friend did exactly that, and her Jack Russell figured it out one day and ran, and is long gone.
posted by thinkpiece at 4:33 PM on February 9, 2014

German Shepherds, and to an even greater extent Border Collies, are working breeds. Your dog is bored to death, because he was bred to do a job...he NEEDS a job. Non-working Border Collies are notorious for chasing cars, because that's the job they appoint themselves if no humans direct them.

Yes, you could crate him, or tie him and he's going to either find a way to get around it ~ because he's got nothing better to do all day than problem-solve the issue ~ or he'll likely develop a new behavioural problem such as excess licking etc.

He's not vicious, and I can't see any reason why euthanization is on the table, but it sounds like rehoming him might be best for his mental health, and yours. He sounds like an active, intelligent dog, who is isn't a good fit for your household right now.
posted by kattyann at 4:47 PM on February 9, 2014 [2 favorites]

. Where I live, my dog can run outside after 9 or 10 pm, and he gets exercise and it helps him not get too wound up the rest of the time.
. work with him on being outside the fence and coming when called. Escaping is probably hella fun, so he has an incentive to do it. Give him experience of rewards for coming home, coming in the house, etc.
. Can you find someone who works at home or doesn't have a job who would like to have a dog for a few hours a day? My dog has a 2nd family - friends who love him - who could take him during the day if it were necessary.
. He's wicked adorbs.
posted by theora55 at 8:37 PM on February 9, 2014

It sounds like your dog is bored and needs more exercise. If you cannot talk him for longer walks, you might wanted to consider daycare or having a dog walker or friend take him for a loooong walk in the middle of the day. And then walk him again when you are home. Thirty minutes of playing in a yard is nothing to a big energetic dog, it's no substitute for a walk.

You could also get him some toys to help keep him entertained. My dog loves his Varsity Ball, which is an outside only toy. You could also try a Kong, which you fill up with kibble and seal with peanut butter. I've never tried a bubble blower, but some dogs go crazy for them. If you have a treadmill, maybe you could get him to use that as well for times you can't take him out--supervised of course.

You say he was an "outside dog". Did this escape artist behavior start appearing when you made him an inside dog?

If you truly cannot handle him, please consider re-homing him instead of having him euthanized.
posted by inertia at 8:30 AM on February 10, 2014

Regarding the fence, I recently saw this ingenious idea for installing DIY roller bars on the top of one's fence to foil jumping dogs. It looks like you can find detailed plans for how to make these just with a simple google search for "pvc fence roller bars."
posted by cuddles.mcsnuggy at 9:07 AM on February 10, 2014 [1 favorite]

We crate our Rotties during the day (they will torment the cats if we don't). They love it! It provides a secure and comforting place for them to sleep during the day. My only concern is that your dog sounds high energy and may be anxious in a crate. Though, who knows, he might not. Do you have anyone that is able to walk the dog while you are at work? The combo of crate and dog walk might be good for him.

He is super cute!
posted by LinneaJC at 11:43 AM on February 10, 2014

Exercise is not that tiring for a fit dog. The suggestion above for agility or some other brain work is what he needs.
posted by Lesser Shrew at 12:35 PM on February 10, 2014

Agree with the long walk/run + training. I was the jack-of-all-trades for a German Shepherd before I moved; I'd spend 1-2 hours with him every session, starting with reviewing some training, a run or a hike (with training interspersed; the hike was good because new places and new obstacles (rivers, bridges, etc.)), and then learning new commands after. He also went on two other walks/day and did schutzhund with his owner once a week. I have really never met a smarter dog; he showed some crazy deductive reasoning skills! But he would tear up the house if he was bored.
posted by quadrilaterals at 9:18 AM on February 11, 2014

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