“This article is contributed by guest writer, Jacob O. (Author at DOG IDEAS).”
How to Stop Your Dog from Running Away and Why It’s Happening
10 million pets – that is how many animal companions are lost each year in the United States. According to the American Humane Association, 15 percent of runaway dogs without microchips or tags are ever reunited with their owners.
Statistics like these are heart-breaking.
But even with all that you do to protect your dog they may persist in running away. This worrisome habit is all too common in many dogs today and it is one that causes dog owners untold worry and stress.
Why does your dog run away? What causes this distressing behavior? How can you make it stop? Learn what you need to know in this article.
Common Reasons Why Dogs Run Away
Believe it or not, your dog may not intend to run away. In fact, your pup may not even realize that this is what is happening, even though it keeps running away repeatedly.
Different dog breeds have been bred for different purposes, with different drives and predilections. Some dog breeds are simply more disposed to run, whether it is away from something threatening or towards something interesting.
Of course, as an owner, you may not know what (if anything) is triggering your dog to run off again and again. Reading through these common reasons dogs run away might help you make more sense of your own dog’s behavior.
1. Your dog gives chase
Squirrel. Just the word probably evokes images of slavering, barking, wild-eyed pooches in perennial pursuit of that most elusive of prey – the scampering squirrel.
What is it about squirrels that seem to incite every dog on the planet to give chase? In fact, it isn’t just squirrels that do it – cats, other dogs, birds, even fallen leaves or snowflakes can cause some dogs to get up and give chase.
These dogs may not “come to” and realize they are far, far away from home until it is too late to retrace their steps and find their way back.
2. Your dog feels afraid
Fireworks. It is a rare canine indeed that isn’t scared witless once the sparks start flying overhead. Fireworks are simply not something that dogs can put into context, understand and make peace with.
Similarly, very loud planes or helicopters, blaring music, crashing thunder and lightning storms and other sound and sight triggers can send even the most stoic pup into a flight of fear.
Your dog likely has no intended destination in mind when the fear overtakes them. Rather, the goal is to simply get to anywhere other than here, and sometimes that is very far away indeed.
Another less common but still well-documented reason why some dogs run away is because they are trying to return to a more familiar place they associate with “home.” This type of fear-based runaway behavior is more common right after a big move when the dog is not yet comfortable in the new space.
3. Your dog gets bored
People aren’t the only species that get bored. Dogs can get pretty bored too and there are only so many couch cushions a pup can rip up before new activities are in order.
As a bored pup who is home alone or left alone, any opportunity knocking is potentially better than what they’ve already got. An escape opportunity in this context is likely not viewed as a getaway at all, but rather as a new adventure to liven up a dull moment.
Some dog breeds that really love to jump or dig may get involved in these favorite activities when outside in the yard and not even realize they have run away until they are up and over or under and out and have gotten themselves into a situation they can’t get out of.
These primal breed-specific traits won’t resolve on their own and often won’t be remedied even with training. Rather, it is necessary to simply secure the yard against digging or jumping – or never leave your dog outside unattended.
Otherwise, sadly, since dogs live perpetually in the moment, your pup probably will never understand that you can’t find them easily no matter where they go and how far away they wander.
4. Your dog smells a mate
One of the biggest and most problematic triggers for wandering dogs is the scent of a female dog in heat. While you might not be able to smell it even when standing right next to an unfixed female, you can be sure your dog smells it around the block and all the way down the street.
Even a fixed male dog can still get riled up by the scent of a breeding-ready female dog of any species. The instinct to mate is a strong primal urge that demands to be followed.
Unfortunately, it usually isn’t possible to convince a neighbor with an unfixed pet to remedy the situation so your dog will stay inside the fence. You may never even know that is the reason your dog keeps sneaking out, but it is always worth remembering regardless.
5. Your dog gets curious
Researchers today are steadily studying and learning more than ever before about canine intelligence.
Not only do researchers want to understand why humans and dogs share such a unique bond, but there is also a drive to understand new emerging canine gifts such as the ability to sniff out distress, seizures and even cancer.
Ultimately, these and so many other gifts might just boil down to one universal canine trait: curiosity. Dogs are endlessly curious. It is one of the many reasons we love them so much – a dog views each moment through the eyes of expectant wonder and delight.
Where this can become problematic, however, is when a stimulus presents itself for your dog’s curiosity to ponder and then that stimulus starts heading away. Of course your pup was born to follow.
Certain breeds, such as dachshunds and bloodhounds, can be so persistent in the presence of certain stimuli, such as scent trails, that they may follow them for hours or days to the exclusion of all else, including their owners commands.
Learn As Much As You Can About Your Dog’s Breed
To stop a dog from running away once again, you must first start by learning as much as you possibly can about your dog’s breed, lineage and history.
This can be more than a little challenging if your pup is a mutt, of course, but genetic testing can shed light on the question to a great degree. If running away is a big problem, it may be worth ordering a DNA test to learn more about what breeds your dog’s parents might have been.
Learning about your dog’s breed can be very helpful in that certain breeds that have been carefully human-bred to do some jobs may simply be inveterate runaways. They have literally been bred for that exact behavior in a working dog context.
For example, certain “working dog” breeds like Collies, Whippets, Greyhounds, Huskies, Beagles, Bloodhounds, Coonhounds, Weimaraners, Foxhounds, Basenji, Terriers and others may simply need to be kept inside secure, fenced, jump-proof, dig-proof, bite-proof areas and never let off leash.
If your dog is a rescue animal, there may also be behavioral issues in the past that occurred before you and your dog met, which may be contributing to the persistent running away behavior you are trying to remedy.
Unfortunately, you may never know what caused your pup to be so deathly afraid of orange cats or lawnmowers, but once you at least identify these fear triggers, you can infer that these are ready triggers that may cause your dog to run.
It can be helpful to keep a list of everything you know about your dog’s breed and past history. You may only start to see patterns emerging as you add to the list over time. Are there certain times of day (or times of year, such as the Fourth of July) when your dog is more likely to run away? The more you can learn, the more you can eliminate opportunities and triggers for your runaway pup.
Stop Your Dog From Running Away
Figuring out how to stop your dog from running away is a process that needs to happen on multiple levels.
Protect your pup from itself
First, you need to protect your dog from itself by making sure it always wears a tag with your contact number and has been microchipped.
With microchipping, you also need to add a tag to this effect on the collar and be sure to keep your contact information updated in the microchip database.
While you can’t ever be certain that someone who finds your dog will think to have them scanned for a microchip, making sure your dog has both a tag and microchip makes it that much more likely you will be reunited again.
Protect your yard from your pup
Once you have learned as much as possible about your dog’s breed and personal history, you will have a much better idea of its weak behavioral spots.
Observing its behavior while outside together, and watching from a window to see what your dog does in the yard when it thinks you aren’t watching, can also give you more information about triggers for runaway behaviors.
Perhaps your research and observation has yielded insights that your dog loves to dig and is incapable of resisting the sight of a squirrel. So you decide to add to your fencing and extend the barrier down a foot beneath the soil surface.
This way, the next time the same small furry scampering provocation happens to come along, your dog won’t be able to dig its way out from under the fence.
Remain positive and loving at each reunion or return
One thing you must always do after your dog has run away and you are reunited, is to avoid getting angry. Dogs are very sensitive to human emotion, and anger may actually create fear and more provocation to run away again.
In the same way, try to avoid getting hysterical, stressed or overly emotional while searching for your dog. It is hard, but if your dog is nearby and attuned to you, and senses strong negative emotions, you may have a harder time recapturing your wandering pup.
Train for an emergency “recall word”
Even with every other protection you can put in place, sometimes your dog may give in to instinct, boredom, fear, scent or squirrels, and be off and running yet again.
Now, while your dog is at home and safe, you can already start planning for this possibility by training your dog to come to you or to simply stop and lay down using a recall word.
You will want to pick one or the other since using both may confuse your dog. You don’t want to choose a bland word like “come” for your recall word, since this may not convey sufficient urgency in the face of a strong trigger to run.
Rather, consider something your dog really loves. For many dogs, this word is “food”. Yelling “food” at your dog’s fleeing backside may be enough to halt the sprint and turn those fleet feet around.
Another option for a recall word simply instructs your dog to stop and drop, rather than turn around. For dogs with very short attention spans, a stop and drop command is often a better choice because it is a simpler command. “Stop” or “drop” are good commands to use if you opt for this approach.
By taking the time to see the world through your dog’s eyes, you can often understand at a whole new level why your dog runs away and how to stop this behavior.