If you’re a dog parent to a fur baby who is extremely active, has a poor recall, is reactive and excitable, or just loves to play, then do not click away. It’s a funny sight when it happens to someone else, after all, a grown person running after a rambunctious dog has an endearing quality. But it can be frustrating and even scary when your dog does it. We won’t sugarcoat it, because it’s very dangerous and your dog seriously injured if he takes off across the road.
Luckily, the running away thing is something you can train out of your dog – if you have the patience. There are also options for people who have an extra stubborn dog or who do not have the time. What are they and how do you train your pooch? Read on to find out.
Why Do Dogs Run Away from Their Owners?
We always say this. The way to stop a certain behavior is to identify the why. Why do dogs run away from their owners? There are a few reasons.
Dogs may escape of another dog or animal
If you have a male adult dog that isn’t neutered, then there is the chance that he won’t be able to fight his natural urges. What’s worse, there is little you can do about that or train a male pooch out of it other than getting him fixed. When your male dog detects the pheromones of a female in heat, he’s going to take off in that direction. No door, gate, or even you will stand in his way.
The “looking for a partner” escape is much less common in females, if at all. We will say this, whether or not you should get your male dog neutered is a personal choice, but there are benefits to it. A dog who is neutered is at less risk for certain cancers, you keep him in check when a female is around, and they could become calmer and less aggressive.
It’s also possible that your dog spots another dog he wants to be friends with. Most dogs that are reactive are also triggered by small animals such as mice, crows, and squirrels. Your dog could be taking off because he spots a new friend across the yard.
Separation anxiety kicks in
This is also another serious reason why dogs run away, but not necessarily from their owners. In fact, this is an instance where dogs run away TO their owners. You may have heard a dog owner refer to his dog as an escape artist. This applies to dogs who suffer from separation anxiety most of the time. We have seen instances where dogs tear out of a room, we’re talking straight through the door, to get to their owners.
We do not recommend dogs with severe separation anxiety to ever be left off-leash. It may be possible in a dog off-leash park, but only if you know your dog will be distracted by the other dogs or you will always be around. Dogs with separation anxiety tend to check in with their owners when let off-leash in a park, or at least glance in their direction from time to time to make sure mom and dad are still there. There is a silver lining to everything, right?
A dog’s actions are largely driven by emotions. Desire, happiness, excitement can cause your dog to act out, and unfortunately, fear can as well. Most of the time, dogs will run toward their owners when they’re scared. But it’s possible to see a dog running in the complete opposite direction if the owner is what’s causing the fear or if what is scaring the dog is nearby.
Boredom and frustration
Boredom and frustration are the two feelings you do not want your dog to feel. Both boredom and frustration can cause destructive behavior, which is very dangerous in itself. Dogs can injure themselves when tearing through a door, digging up the carpet, or ingesting something toxic. A bored and frustrated dog is one that is in need of exercise or is being pushed too far.
Dogs have a lot of energy. If they do not have an outlet to release pent-up energy, then it manifests in ways that are not too furniture-friendly. An example of a dog that’s pushed too far is one that is being forced to train and do the same moves over and over again, is one that’s being bothered when it wants to be left alone.
Dogs can’t talk, so it’s up to us owners to learn what their cues mean.
How Do I Stop My Dog from Running Away?
Stopping your dog from running away is not difficult. If one method doesn’t work, there are others you can try.
Find out why
The first way to stop your dog from running away from you is by identifying the reason. We have already outlined the most common reasons why a dog runs away above, so just refer to that list. Once you know why the problem is easier to treat.
For example, if your dog is running after another dog because of his hormones, then there isn’t really much you can do other than neutering him. However, if your dog is chasing after a small creature, then training needs to be involved. Certain breeds are wired to chase, such as hunting dogs, since our ancestors relied on their ancestors for the game.
If you know your dog is running away because he’s bored or needs exercise, then try taking him out more often. Some believe that installing a physical fence is a good way to keep a runaway dog contained, but it could exacerbate the problem and cause the dog to become destructive.
There is a solution to every reason why your dog is running away from you, so don’t be discouraged if the first thing you try doesn’t prove to be successful.
Train your dog
Perhaps the most obvious answer to how to train a dog not to run away is to train him. A dog running away from you can happen at any time, especially if he is easily excitable and reactive. If you know your dog has a poor recall, don’t let your dog off leash. Some dogs can be off leash in the dog park because they are so focused on the other dogs they don’t think about running away. We would recommend never letting a dog without reliable recall off leash on public sidewalks or streets.
Training your dog to have better recall is a way to avoid any future problems. As with any type of training, dogs learn through repetition. Prepare yourself to repeat the action and training over and over again for days and even weeks until your dog gets it. It will take time, but keeping them close and safe is a dog parent’s first priority.
Basic recall training is not too difficult to understand. You need to come up with a code word such as “come”, with which your dog will associate the action. Start by keeping treats in your hand so you have all of your dog’s attention. Repeat the code word a few times until he comes to you. The moment he does, reward him with a treat.
Once your dog successfully associates the word “come” with the right action, you can kick it up a notch. Now you can try it when he isn’t paying attention, like during playtime. Call your dog’s name and try the code word again to see if he registers. If he does, reward him right away. Give your dog some time to understand what you want. After all, dog training is a long process.
If your dog often runs away from you right when you open the door, then you need to teach him to heel, wait, and not go through until you do. Keep your dog leashed when he’s learning so you can always pull him back, or else you will end up having a game of cat and mouse around the yard.
Instead of using a code word to tell your dog to come to you, use a different one that tells him to wait. It can be “sit”, or even the word “wait”. The key here is to make sure your dog is still in position even when you reach for the handle. You may notice your dog lift his bum right away, getting ready to bolt. If you see this, then take your hand off the knob and try again.
When your pooch eventually waits patiently even when your hand is on the door handle, then you can open the door – but do it slowly and gradually. If he lifts his bum, start over. Keep repeating this until he eventually sits still even when the door is wide open. Remember to reward him every time he gets it right, and do NOT give him anything when he gets it wrong. Nothing speeds up the dog training process like positive reinforcement.
Distance recall training
We wouldn’t recommend distance recall training until you have mastered the previous two, or at least basic recall training. Distance recall training is using the fundamentals of basic recall training but leveling it up. Instead of testing your pet’s recall in a small and confined space or at a close distance, you do it from further and further away.
You would do use the same code word to get your dog to come to you and reward him with a treat. Then move further away and do it again. If the second time was successful, then increase the distance. Do not move further away if your dog gets distracted. Stay in the same position and try again until he gets it right.
Plenty of exercise
If your dog has a habit of running away, do not give him access to open spaces or even leave him in your backyard unattended and unrestrained. You will be surprised what canine escape artists can manage without your supervision. For very active dogs, the best way to keep them from running off is to tire them out with physical exercise and mental stimulation.
Take some time out of your day for walks around the neighborhood, a good game of fetch, or a doggy playdate. You know what they say, no one can tire out a dog quite as another dog can. A tired dog is a well-behaved dog.
What Do I Do If My Dog Runs Away?
Okay, so now we know why your dog runs away, and we also know how to prevent them from doing so, but what do you do when your dog runs away? There are a few ways. It will require some trial and error unless you’re lucky, but most likely one of the below methods will work for you.
Let’s say you live on an acreage and it’s okay for your dog to run free and gain a little taste of freedom. We’ll start by saying your dog is super lucky to have space to roam. Your only concern, in this case, is probably locating your dog. If this sounds like you and location is more important than recalling, then we would suggest using a GPS tracking device.
These tracking devices are also handy just in case your dog gets lost. Tracking devices can be clipped on your dog’s collar or they can come embedded into a collar. You can see your pet’s position on an app on your phone. Tracking devices are great for any domesticated animal if they have access to large open spaces.
Training collars can go hand-in-hand with recall training or you can focus on the training collars only. There are several types; we have the vibration collar, ultrasonic collar, or spray collar. These training collars are also used as bark deterrents for vocal pooches. Don’t worry about them being cruel, because these devices have a range of intensities you can choose from and the levels are not meant to harm your dog.
At most, the collars are just meant to catch them off guard long enough to stop them in their tracks and get their attention long enough for them to register your command.
Vibration collars do exactly what the name suggests, which is to emit vibrations that are bothersome to your dog. The ultrasonic collar takes the same approach but instead of vibration, it produces a sound only audible to your furry best friend. You then have the spray collar, which utilizes a scent that most dogs dislike – citronella or bitter apple.
We have to warn dog parents that there is a chance these collars are not effective against your dog, however small that percentage may be. This is because all dogs are different and there is a minuscule chance that your dog doesn’t mind the citronella scent, or is determined enough to power through the vibrations and supersonic sound.
Because we know there could be a chance that these devices don’t work, solely relying on their effects can be unsuccessful, which is why we also recommend training them as well.
Should I Punish My Dog for Running Away?
No, you should never punish your dog for running away, or for any undesirable behavior. Some dogs may respond to negative reinforcement, but not willingly, and not without damage to the poor pup. Punishment could breed aggression, insecurity, and devastate a dog’s confidence.
Positive reinforcement has proven to be more effective as dogs are quite food-driven (or should we say snack-driven for the picky eaters out there). Your dog wants to please you, so give him a chance! Since we are specifically targeting poor recall and dogs who run away, punishment is a surefire way to guarantee that he’ll not want to return.
The bottom line is – don’t punish your dog for poor behavior, reward him for good ones.
Frequently Asked Questions
Can you train a dog to not run away?
Yes, you can train a dog to not run away. You must first identify the reason why your dog is running away. Is he scared? Maybe he’s bored and craves exercise or just wants to play. Whatever the reason is, there is a solution. But it’s important to treat the problem with the right “medicine”, and you can only do that by understanding the reason behind it.
Can my dog be off-leash?
Yes, your dog can be off leash if he has good recall, or if you’re in a fenced off area and other is nowhere for him to go. Some dogs do well in dog parks even with poor recall because other dogs keep them in the vicinity. However, if your dog has a mind of his own and doesn’t really listen to you out in public, then we would never recommend letting him off leash.
In many cities, there are laws that state dogs must be on-leash at all times in public areas, or the owner will get a fine. If your dog can sometimes be a bit aggressive, then he should always be on the leash and kept close to you.
Why does my dog like to run away from me?
Your dog likes to run away from you for a variety of reasons. If he is doing it with an upbeat and playful attitude, then you know he wants to play. He may also be scared, bored, frustrated, or distracted by other animals. It’s important not to reinforce the behavior by chasing after him if he wants to play. Stand firm and call your dog, or sometimes running in the other direction gets him to come to you.
If your dog wants to play and you fall into his trap, then he will think it’s fun to make mommy or daddy chase him and the behavior will be more difficult to correct.
Dogs running away from owners can be a big problem. We have seen quite a few cases of dogs running across the street with total disregard for oncoming cars just to say hello to another dog. The first step to correcting this dangerous behavior is by finding out why. Once you know why it’s easier to find the correct way to train your dog out of it. Remember to give it time and be prepared for plenty of repetition as any type of dog training would require.