It was a sunny afternoon, and you decided to take your furry friend for a walk in the park.
As soon as you stepped outside, your dog’s nose started twitching, and their eyes lit up with excitement.
Before you knew it, they had slipped out of their leash and were chasing a squirrel up a tree.
You frantically called their name and ran after them, but they were having too much fun to listen. Sound familiar?
Don’t worry; we’ve all been there.
Dogs may run away due to boredom, unsecured yards or leashes, scary sights or sounds, separation anxiety, strong mating instincts, a desire to chase, or the instinct to roam. Owners can prevent this by providing their dogs with stimulation, securing their yards and leashes, training their dogs to respond to commands, and spaying or neutering them. Some breeds are also more likely to run away than others.
In this article, I will give insight into why dogs tend to run away - so you can best prepare yourself and train your pup to stay with you (even if off the leash).
Ready? Let’s dive in!
Understanding why dogs run away can be the best method to prevent such a horrible incident in the future. Although each pup is different, most owners can pinpoint the cause of their dog’s desire to flee.
Some pups are naturally unmotivated; lounging around all day is their ideal way to pass the time. Others are busybodies and need something to do at all times! Unfortunately, the worker bees of the dog world tend to be the most likely to run away when bored.
That’s because these pups are driven by a need for exercise, stimulation, and activity. If their owner isn’t providing them with something to keep the mind occupied, the dog will seek this out themselves. Much of the ways dogs attempt to cure their own boredom is in search of an adventure… which leads to a loose pup running off into the distance.
Dogs that are seeking an adventure are also quite nifty escape artists. If your yard is insecure, Fido may find a way to get over your fencing. That’s why it’s a good idea to build tall enough fences with underground dig guards to secure your pup safely inside.
The same can apply to walks; if the collar, harness, or leash isn’t perfectly secured on your dog, they can slip out of this and bolt. Ensure that the collar or harness fits your dog’s size and that the leash has no rips or fragilities.
If your pup isn’t inclined to flee out of boredom, a scary sound may encourage them.
All animals have a defense mechanism known as Fight or Flight when afraid. This is a physiological response that encourages the dog to either stay and fight the culprit or to run away. If the dog’s brain pushes them into the flight response, then the dog will be fleeing and trying to find a way out!
This feeling is rather overwhelming in dogs, and they won’t be thinking straight at all. Another reason why having a secure yard or secure tether on your dog is so important is because it’s certainly not their fault when instinct like this takes over because something spooked them.
Dogs suffering from separation anxiety may be looking for ways to escape to find you. Separation anxiety is a condition in which a dog begins to feel panic and distress due to your absence. Where some dogs develop destructive tendencies (such as chewing furniture or shredding blankets) when you leave, others feel the desire to run from the home in search of you.
If you have an intact dog (one that is not spayed or neutered), the desire to mate can be a big cause for a dog running away from you. This is especially prevalent on walks where a dog may come across another in-tact dog of the opposite gender.
Although this issue tends to plague male dogs more than female dogs, both can be impacted by the biological instinct to reproduce. For female dogs, this tends to be a seasonal thing when she goes into heat. This is a year-round problem for a male dog when he smells a female in heat.
Some dogs have what is known as a prey drive, an instinctual need to hunt. There are pups with a very strong prey drive and others that couldn’t care less about small huntable critters.
Those who want to hunt squirrels, birds, rats, and other creatures have a much higher tendency to flee from you if the critter crosses their path. For many of these dogs, the prey drive can be so overwhelming that owners report their pups not even hearing them!
If your dog has a powerful prey drive, you must be well-prepared for daily walks.
Equally, more nomadic dogs simply have the instinct to roam and explore. These dogs are certainly unaware of how far they’ve walked or where they currently are; they simply want to keep going. You’ll find this prevalence in Northern breeds, particularly those used for sledding.
Now, as I talked a bit about the instinct to chase and the instinct to roam, much of this ties into the breed of dog. Certain dog breeds (or mixed breed dogs that are derivative of these breeds) have a much higher likelihood of wanting to flee than others.
Breeds that were developed for more independent thinking, such as sled dogs, hunting dogs, sighthounds, and herding dogs, are at a much higher risk of running away than lap dogs and companion dogs. For example, a Siberian husky and Saluki are more likely to run away when given a chance than a Lhasa Apso or Chihuahua.
You see, dogs that work were specifically developed to make their own decisions and not rely on a human telling them what to do. So what would make them listen to you if you told them to not run away? On the contrary, lap dogs were created to have extreme bonds to their person because the breeds were needed to be companions, and as such, will likely not stray far from you ever.
Having this in mind, it is generally easier to train a shih tzu to stay with you no matter what than an Alaskan malamute.
Although you will never be able to fool-proof your pup because they are still living, breathing animals and not robots - you can still mitigate your risk with some proper training.
First thing is first, train your dog to have a reliable recall. This (in general) is a prerequisite for great leash walking and is an overall solid tip for dog ownership as a whole. A recall is a command in which your dog comes to you when called. The best way to train this is to offer a high-quality treat reward to your dog every time they come when called.
Practice the recall as frequently as you can in a variety of different environments and distractions, so you can be more confident that your pup will return to you should they escape in some capacity.
Next, invest in a long lead and begin rewarding non-bolting behavior. A long lead can be a very long leash, a metal twine, or anything that is long and will secure your dog. Most dogs can’t feel a long lead because it’s so long they don’t feel the tug or pressure.
In an outdoor environment, like a park, attach the long lead. Then, attach your normal everyday leash to the collar as well. After walking a little bit, so the situation feels normal to your dog, unclip the standard leash and see what occurs.
Your dog will probably run away, so your pup will be startled when the long line tethers the dog and the “invisible leash” suddenly stops the pup.
At this point, start recalling your dog! Reward the dog with a high-value treat when your dog returns to you.
Your dog coming back should be the biggest deal in the world; throw a massive doggy party with treats and excitable verbal praise! If your dog isn’t listening, don’t be hesitant to use that long lead leash to gently pull the dog back to you.
Eventually, your dog will realize that running away is no longer effective and that returning earns your dog praise and delicious goodies.