Almost every dog owner has experienced that terrifying moment when you see your dog running away from you.
Maybe they sneaked out the yard or house when you weren’t around? Or maybe they bolted out the front door when you were greeting the pizza delivery guy.
There are many different reasons your dog might run away and we will look at each of them in this post. We’ll also look at ways you can help prevent your dog running away (or at least get them to come back when they do!).
We will look at:
- The Types of Running Away
- Why Your Dog Runs Away
- Solutions for Run Away Dogs
Table of Contents
Run Like The Wind
I don’t know what it is about a dog when they get loose, but they suddenly manage to run faster than they ever have before!
Roxy is kinda lazy and doesn’t like to do anything quickly. But when she was younger, if she got out the front door, she would take off down the street!
In fact in the Fall of 2017 when our town was being hammered by Hurricane Irma, Roxy decided to take off running down the road… yes, in the middle of a hurricane!
We had taken her outside during a slight lull in the weather, but we let go of the leash by accident. That was all the invitation she needed! She took off! This incident had a clear cause; it was a stressful time and she hadn’t had her normal daily walks.
Luckily, I managed to call her back to me and I didn’t have to hunt around for her in the middle of a storm!
The chances are, if your dog gets out, you are not going to be able to catch them if you start chasing them. You have to use other methods to entice them back to you!
Dog Running Away – When and How
There’s many reasons that a dog might run away, but before we look at the reasons we need to talk about the “when” and “how” they run away.
These fall into two main categories:
- Your dog gets out when you are not around. e.g. they escape out the yard. We’ll call this “The Escape Artist”!
- Your dog runs away from you. e.g. when you are at the front door, on a walk or some other public place. We’ll call this type of running away “The Runner”
There are different reasons for these two behaviors. You will want to identify which is the biggest problem for you (you might have both problems!), so you can start working on the right solutions.
You don’t want to waste your time on something that is not going to help you problem!
Why Dogs Run Away
Now we understand the two different types of running away, we can look at WHY they do it.
Understanding the reasoning behind the behavior will help you know exactly how to correct the problem.
The Escape Artist – Why They Roam
Some dogs seem to be able to escape from even the most secure yard. Maybe they dig under the fence, or jump over it? I’ve even heard of dogs that have worked out how to open the front door!
However they escape, there is a reason for them wanting to be free, instead of home with their pack.
- Separation Anxiety – This is a fairly common reason that dogs will run away. If a dog suffers from separation anxiety, they might try to escape from the yard in order to find YOU! (For advice on how to deal with a “Velcro Dog”, check out my post about clingy pups)
- Drive to Breed – This is extremely common in unaltered males (and females). A dog’s natural drive to reproduce is very strong. If they are not fixed, then they will look for every opportunity they can find to hunt down a mate!
- Chasing Something – Your dog might see something that excites them and wants to chase it. This could be a school bus, a kid on a bike or another animal.
- Looking for Food – This is another very strong natural drive. If an animal is hungry they will do almost anything they can to find food. That includes digging under your fence!
- Boredom – Dogs are like small children and get bored very easily and a bored dog can be a naughty dog!
- Looking for Social Interaction – It’s important to remember that dogs are naturally pack animals and highly social. If a dog is kept on its own and lacks human (or another animal) interaction, they will seek it elsewhere.
- Trying to Find “Home” – This one is a bit more unusual, but if you have recently moved house, your dog might run away because they are trying to go “home”.
- Because They Can! – In some cases, the dog might be perfectly happy at home and have no desire to escape, but it is just too easy for them to get out! Maybe a big hole in the fence? Or a gate that doesn’t close properly?
The Runner – Why They Run
I’ve had a few “runners” in my time. Roxy was probably the worst! Luckily, with time and training, she is much better. But I had to understand the reasons WHY she would run out the front door, or take off on a walk.
These are common reasons that will trigger a dog running away. Some are similar to the Escape Artist’s reasons, but it’s important that we understand the difference.
- Drive to Breed – This is an important reason for both types of run-away dogs. The desire to mate is always on your unaltered dog’s mind, so the second they see an opportunity to pursue a mate, they will take it!
- Boredom – If your dog is stuck inside all day, every day, they will become bored. If they see nothing but the same four walls, then a glimpse of the outside world might prove to be too much temptation!
- Fear – If your dog is afraid of something or someone, then they might run off to get away from that thing. It could be a person, a storm, or a loud noise. July 4th, with all its loud firework bangs, is the number 1 time that dogs run away.
- Changes at Home – Sometimes there is a big change at home that will unsettle a dog and make them more prone to running away. For example, bringing a baby home.
- Chasing Something – It’s common for a dog to get distracted by a squirrel, cat, car, bike… anything moving really! Even the best-behaved dogs will take off running if the desire to chase is strong enough.
Solutions for Dog Running Away
We’ve talked about the types of running away and the reasons why they do it. Now it’s time to discuss how to STOP them running away! This also falls into two categories:
- Preventing them from running away
- Retrieving them once they have run away
We’ll look at both types of solutions and between a little bit of prevention and a little bit of retrieval, you will soon have a dog that you don’t need to worry about!
Prevention for a Dog Running Away
If we look back at our reasons why dogs run away we can see that there is definitely some preventative measures we can take for both The Escape Artist and The Runner.
Spray or Neuter
Some dog owners might get fed up with hearing about how spaying or neutering your dog will solve so many different behavior problems.
Well, the reason why you hear that advice all the time, is because… it’s true!
If your dog is not fixed, then it will still have that urge to reproduce. This means that they will find any opportunity they can to get out of the house and find a mate.
One of the most practical things you can do to prevent your dog from escaping is to secure its environment.
If your dog is escaping from your yard, then you need to look at how they are getting out.
Are they digging under your fence? Then maybe you need to put rocks or concrete where they dig.
Maybe they are jumping over the fence? Make sure there are no objects near the fence that they can jump on and then jump over the fence. Or maybe you will need to invest in a taller fence or fence topper.
What about dashing out the front door? It could be useful to install self-closing hinges on your front door, so that kids (or adults!), don’t leave it open. It’s easy to replace a hinge and Amazon sells a really affordable self-closing hinge set. Self-closing gates for your yard might help too!
Exercise & Entertainment
There is a dog trainers’ saying that goes “a tired dog is a good dog”. It’s very true!
If you regularly exercise your dog and provide plenty of opportunities for social interaction and entertainment, then they are much less likely to run away.
At the end of a long day at work, taking your dog for a walk might be the last thing you feel like doing. But trust me… a walk will do you BOTH some good! It’s great exercise for you and your pup!
However, there are other ways you can exercise your dog. Playing with dog toys or playing a game of fetch (especially if you can throw the ball really far!) is a great way to bond and burn energy.
You could do a simple training session at home. Fifteen minutes of practicing “sit”, “down”, “stay” etc are wonderful mental stimulation for your dog. Bonus points for using this time to do recall training!
A slightly more unusual way to exercise your dog is to use a treadmill! You can buy special treadmills for dogs, but I just bought a cheap used human treadmill from Craigslist.
Take your time to get your dog used to the treadmill and before long they will be jumping on it and begging you to turn it on! It’s Roxy’s favorite way to exercise (she doesn’t like the Florida heat)!
This is a preventative measure that will not only give your dog some stimulation (which helps with boredom) but also if your dog does escape, then the recall training could make all the difference.
There are hundreds of YouTube videos that teach you how to do recall training with your dog. I like Zak George’s positive and fun training methods.
Whatever method you choose – make sure you are consistent with it and practice it multiple times a week (daily if possible), until your dog has an excellent recall.
Try adding in “distractions” too and see if your dog will still come when called!
We can continue the preventative training by teaching our dogs not to rush through doorways.
Try doing the following with your dog:
- Teaching them to wait or stay when the front dog is opened before going outside or coming back in
- Always go through the door first, before your dog
- Practice opening the door and getting your dog to sit and not rush towards the door when a visitor arrives
All of these ideas will take a bit of consistent training, but they are worth teaching – you never know, it might save your dogs life one day!
If your dog doesn’t feel safe and comfortable in your home, then they are more likely to roam.
If a dog feels like they have a “den” where they are safe, secure, and well cared for, then they are less likely to run away.
Make sure your dog has a clean, dry, and comfortable place to sleep. Keep it away from busy areas of the house and make sure any children know not to bug the dog when they are resting there.
A comfortable crate makes a perfect “den”. My dogs love their crates. Some evenings when I am getting ready for bed, I can’t always find Rufus… that’s because he has already put himself to bed and is quietly laying down in his crate!
This guide from the Association of Professional Dog Trainers will help you get the right size crate for your dog.
If your dog is running away due to separation anxiety then it is very important that you address their anxiety issues.
If your dog suffers from mild separation anxiety, then you can use some of the tips in my Velcro Dog post.
However, if your dog has severe separation anxiety, then I recommend you speak to your vet or a professional dog trainer. Unless separation anxiety is addressed, it will just get worse and can affect all aspects of your dog’s life.
Retrieval of a Run Away Dog
We’ve talked about prevention, but even the most prepared owner can sometimes have a run-away dog!
What do you do if you are standing outside and your dog is running at lightning speed away from you?
Use Your Recall Training
Hopefully, you have had a chance to practice your recall training. Call your dog to you and make sure you give them lots of attention and praise when they come back.
If necessary, you (or someone else), might have to run inside and grab the bag of treats! Make it as close to a recalling training session as you can.
If your dog is running away from you never chase after them. They might think it is a game and start running even faster away. Or it might scare them and they will want to get away from you!
It’s a tough impulse to resist, because you will want to chase them to catch them, but you must resist! Don’t do it! Stay where you are and do your best to get your dog to come back to you.
Or you can actually start running in the opposite direction! The key here is to make some noise, so your dog turns to look at you, then start running and they will run after you because they think it’s a great game of chase!
If your dog is slowly walking around the neighborhood, smelling the smells, seeing the sights. Then slowly walk up to them, saying their name in a fun and excited voice. Don’t make any sudden moves and make sure you pet them and love on them once you have caught them.
Don’t start yelling and screaming at your dog. Especially if they are running away out of fear. You will just scare them more and they will want to get further away.
Think of it from their point of view – they are out in the world, ready for adventure. They hear someone screaming for them, would you turn around and go to the person that sounds angry at you? Or would you carry on exploring?
If your dog doesn’t respond to you when you call him to you, then you need to take it up a level.
This might sound strange, but it’s time to GET SILLY!
Dogs are naturally attracted to us when we are noisy and full of energy (just like them!).
So if your dog is running in the opposite direction then try the following:
- Get down low on the ground or lay down (dogs are always more curious when we are at their height)
- Wave your arms (and legs) around in a very excited manner
- Make loud and excited noises and sounds. The sillier the better!
If your dog turns to look at you, then start running AWAY from your dog (in the same excitable manner), they will think it’s a game of chase and start running after you. Make sure you keep up the noise and excited arm movements! Slow down slightly to let your dog “catch” you!
Once your dog catches up with you, make sure you give them lots of fuss and praise. You want them to think that coming BACK to you is a good thing!
I really hope you find this information useful and that it helps you if you ever lose your dog (or helps PREVENT you from losing your dog). It’s such a scary thing to go through.
Just remember to keep calm and think like a dog!