It’s a new pet owner’s worst nightmare. When your dog runs away, your heart sinks. I know this because my dog Polar Bear has run away from me. Thankfully, with a little prevention, training and behavior modification on your part and your dog’s, you can learn how to stop your dog from running away.
When your dog runs away, a million thoughts cross your mind. Will he get hurt? Will he get hit by a car? Will someone take him in and keep him? Will he get attacked by another animal? Learn how to stop your dog from running away and keep your pet safe — and keep your mind at ease.
The First Time Polar Bear Ran Away
When Polar Bear came home from the rescue, he was an anxious mess. He cowered when I spoke to him, even in my most soothing voice. He wandered around the house with his tail between his legs. He wouldn’t eat the first night he was home. He spent most of his time hiding.
I soon learned he was also an escape artist.
By his third day at home, Polar Bear was adjusting and doing better. He turned into my little shadow and followed me as I moved about the house. He lounged on the couch instead of under it. He started wagging his tail and accepting treats from me. He was adjusting and that made me happy.
Because he was doing so much better, I invited a friend over to meet him. He was lounging on the couch when she knocked on the door. I thought he’d stay put. I mean, he looked so comfy and cozy. However, as the door opened to let her in, he got up and bolted. In a millisecond, he was off the couch and down the street.
At the time, I was a complete newbie when it came to being a dog mom. Because I didn’t know better, I ran off after him at full speed, calling his name at the top of my lungs. I was huffing and puffing, but I followed him as best I could trying to catch up to him. It didn’t work. He was so fast! He made it down my street, around the corner and to a busy street heading straight toward downtown. My friend helped me look for him. Between the two of us, we were able to keep eyes on him as he ran for about 20 minutes, but then he headed into a park near my neighborhood and we lost sight of him.
I called in reinforcements. Some volunteers from the rescue I adopted him from came to help. My family drove an hour to come help. Several other friends showed up. We searched for HOURS. I paused the search for a moment to make and print some fliers. A friend posted his photo and last location to all the lost pet groups on Facebook. We did everything we could think of to find him.
Finally, about seven hours after his initial escape, we found him limping out of the woods at the park near my house. I was so happy to see him, but terrified about his limp. Who knows what could have happened to him. Thankfully he had no visible injuries and was mostly okay. He got a chicken breast dinner and extra snuggles when he got home.
The next day, I took him to the vet about his leg. It was just a sprain. His injury was minor and I was so thankful.
The day Polar Bear ran away was terrifying, especially for a new dog owner. I knew I had to do something to prevent it from ever happening again, but I wasn’t sure where to begin. I started doing research about how to stop your dog from running away.
8 Reasons Why Dogs Run Away
I think Polar Bear ran away because he was scared. He was in a new place, his life had just been uprooted and he wanted out. I don’t know if he thought he could run to his old home or if he was just running because he was frightened.
There are a number of other reasons why your dog might run away. A few of them I found during my research include:
- They just like to run. Some dogs are born with a love of running. Huskies, for example, are notorious for being runners. Dogs that love to run often don’t care where they’re going, as long as their feet are on the ground. Many dogs that like to run escape just for the pure joy they get from being on the run.
- Boredom. Dogs crave stimulation. If your dog isn’t feeling stimulated, he might miss the excitement he feels outside when he’s running. Dogs that are bored can run away just for the fun of it.
- In search of a mate. It’s important to spay or neuter your dog. In many cases, male dogs especially, escape because they are in search of a mate. Female dogs can wander for this reason, too, especially when they’re in heat.
- Adventure. Does your dog get into everything? Maybe he always has his nose to the ground. Whether your dog is an explorer or a sniffer, they might crave the thrill of adventure that running away gives them.
- Fear. Does your dog tremble in big crowds? Does he feel terrorized by fireworks? Dogs can run away from things the fear. If your dog spooks easily, scary sights and sounds can send him running.
- Separation anxiety. Your dog loves you very much. So much so, in fact, that he has a hard time when you’re away. Though most dogs get used to their owner’s schedules, some have a hard time adjusting. If your dog suffers from separation anxiety, he might run away. Maybe he’s trying to find you!
- Crises and scary events. Maybe you’ve just been through a hurricane. Maybe an earthquake rocked your world. It is fairly common to hear about dogs who run away before or after natural disasters.
- Chasing prey. It’s more than a joke. Dogs are easily distracted by squirrels and other critters. Your dog might run after another animal and get caught up in the chase. Some dogs, especially dachshunds and terriers, might be hardwired to chase after prey.
Does your dog run away? Think about the why. Knowing why your dog runs away can help you take further action and prevent future runs.
How to Stop Your Dog From Running Away
No matter the reason why a dog might run away, there are a few things you can do to prevent it. Knowing how to stop your dog from running away can keep him safe.
Here are a few suggestions on how to stop your dog from running away:
- Invest in a fence. If you’re lucky enough to have a backyard for Fido (I live in a condo so this isn’t an option for me), set a clear boundary for your dog with a fence. This can give your dog a safe place to run and play. Some vets and behaviorists recommend walking the fence line with your leashed dog every day. This can give you a chance to look for possible escape routes cause by digging or damage. Additionally, many vets and dog behaviorists prefer traditional fencing over invisible fencing because it sets clear, visible boundaries.
- Get interactive with exercise. Your dog needs more exercise than you might imagine. I’ve found through trial and error that Polar Bear, a 12-pound chihuahua and who-knows-what-else mix, needs between 45 minutes and an hour of exercise a day. When he gets the exercise he needs, he’s calmer and less anxious — an less likely to run away. We break our exercise up into segments. He likes a 15 minute walk in the morning, a 15 minute walk at lunch time and a 30 minute walk after dinner. To make our walks more stimulating and interactive, we vary our routes. New walking routes come with new smells, and this can be exciting to the dog.
- Use positive reinforcement. Training your dog can also help stop your dog from running away. Training with positive reinforcement teaches your dog by rewarding him for good behavior. Calling your dog and rewarding him when he comes instills the behavior in his mind and encourages him to do it next time you call him. Teach your dog to come when you call him, sit and stay. You can also teach your dog to only enter and exit the door when invited. I was able to teach Polar Bear to come, sit and lay down within just a few months with positive reinforcement and a lot of patience (and a lot of chicken). More on this later.
- Spay or neuter your dog. You read above that dogs can roam and run away in search of a mate. Spaying or neutering your dog can prevent or stop this behavior. Spaying or neutering your dog can help them lead a long, healthy life.
- Be proactive. Because I now know that Polar Bear is prone to running away, I take steps to prevent it. Because he bolted when the door opened, I now keep him on a leash or in his crate when opening or closing the door. Being proactive like this is an easy way to keep your dog safe. You can also consider keeping your dog in a safe area behind a baby gate. Another way you can be proactive is making sure your dog is microchipped and wearing ID tags with your phone number on his collar. This way, even should your dog run, he can be easily returned to you.
- Know the needs of your dog. Some dog breeds, like huskies, are notorious for running. You might want to work with a behaviorist or dog trainer to help identify your dog’s particular needs and adjust to them. Need help finding a trainer or behaviorist? Contact the rescue or shelter where you adopted your dog. They can likely refer you to someone who would be happy to help.
- Your home is your castle. Another way you can get your dog to stay home is to create an environment that your dog doesn’t want to leave. Toys, treats and routine can make your dog happy. If there’s value in staying home, your dog won’t want to leave.
What To Do If Your Dog Runs Away
You’ve figured out why your dog runs. You’ve taken preventative measures. But sometimes a neighbor’s cat or the taste of freedom is just too much and your dog escapes. It’s bound to happen on occasion.
There are a few things you can do when your dog runs away to bring him home. Keep these suggestions in mind should your dog ever run away.
They say dogs can sense fear. They might be right. Should your dog escape or run away, don’t panic. Easier said than done — I know this from experience. It’s okay if you need a moment to clear your head. Take a few deep breaths in through the nose and out through the mouth before you begin your search.
Search the Immediate Area
After your mind is a little more settled, start by searching the immediate area. In many cases, a dog that wanders out of an open fence gate might just head to the neighbor’s yard to sniff and new tree. It’s also wise to knock on your neighbor’s doors and stop any passersby like the mailman or nearby pedestrians and ask if they’ve seen your dog. Show them a picture of your dog on your phone.
Call in Reinforcement
If you’ve searched the immediate area and can’t find your dog, it’s time to call in help. Consider filing reports with animal control, the humane society and rescue groups in your area. If your dog is adopted, call the group from which you adopted him. They might have volunteers at the ready to help you look. Post to neighborhood forums, community Facebook groups and other social media to get the word out. While your at it, make a quick flier. Include a picture of your dog, your contact information and info about your dog’s temperament. Hand the fliers out to people who are out and about near where he was last seen and post them on street signs and other surfaces.
You might spend a long time searching alleys, streets and backyards. This is a good idea, but its also wise to have a strategy. Dogs don’t just wander aimlessly in most situations. If there’s a nearby park where he loves to play, look for your dog there. Dogs are also known for following their noses. If there’s a restaurant a few blocks down, look there, too. When Polar Bear ran, he was scared. He hunkered down in a wooded area in the park where he felt protected. If you think your dog might be scared, look in places where he would be well protected.
Check Out Shelters in Person
If your dog has been missing for more than a day consider checking local shelters. Your dog might not make it to the new intake section on the shelter’s website. The employee you spoke with on the phone might have overlooked your dog. It’s okay to be a little pushy when you’re looking for your beloved pet.
Following these tips when your dog runs away can help you get him back safely.
The Last Time Polar Bear Ran Away
I spent several months working with Polar Bear, learning his needs and using positive reinforcement to instill good behavior and learn basic commands. We still practice commands every night because he enjoys it and it keeps his skills fresh.
All our work has certainly paid off.
One morning a few weeks ago, the clasp on his leash broke during a walk. It disconnected from his harness and he certainly had an opportunity to bolt. My heart jumped to my throat when I heard the metal hit the ground and I realized he was loose.
Instead of panicking and immediately chasing after him, a got down on his level and called him in the sweetest, most calm voice I could muster. He remembered his training and came right to my feet and sat down — just as we practiced hundreds of times. I scooped him up, carried him home, grabbed our back-up leash and we finished our walk as if nothing happened.
I was so proud of him that day. If I can figure out how to stop a dog from running away, especially when he has an opportunity to, you can too. Just do your research and have some patience. It will be a rewarding experience for you, too.