Losing your dog can be a terrifying experience. It’s even scarier to realize that your dog ran away on purpose. If your dog runs away repeatedly, it’s important to understand why and figure out how to stop it.
As with any behavior problem, our main goal is to figure out WTF: What’s The Function of this behavior? If we can answer this question, we can figure out how to meet your dog’s needs without letting him fly the coop!
Of course, we can’t quite ask your dog why he’s running away, but we can make some educated guesses based on his behavior and the behavioral patterns of his species.
Your Dog is Bored
This is the number one reason that most dogs escape. They’re left alone in the yard with nothing better to do, and it’s not that hard to get out. So they take themselves out on a little walk around the neighborhood.
If you’re not providing your dog with something to do, there’s a good chance he’ll come up with his own ideas. In many cases, this means he’ll take himself on an adventure!
Your Dog is Looking for a Mate
Unaltered or intact males are particularly guilty of wandering the neighborhood looking for love. That said, neutering your dog or getting a female won’t necessarily prevent your dog from ever deciding to wander.
If your boy dog can smell a female nearby, especially if she’s in heat, he will put in a lot of effort to jump the fence and go meet her. Females, especially females in heat, may also escape to go find a suitor. Neutering your male dog and spaying your female dog can help reduce this problem.
Your Dog Is on the Hunt
Many dogs readily jump fences or escape the yard to chase down a bunny, squirrel, or another potential prey item.
While this is a bit more common in prey-driven breeds like Huskies, almost all dogs naturally enjoy chasing small fluffy animals.
Leaving your dog unattended to chase squirrels or bunnies will almost always result in a dog who enjoys this hobby more and more. Even if your dog doesn’t usually hop the fence to chase down a squirrel, sometimes the chase is just too fun to stop.
Supervising your dog, giving him something better to do, and improving your fencing can all help prevent your dog from escaping to chase other animals.
Your Dog Is Scared
Even the most well-behaved dogs may try to escape if they’re scared enough. This problem is especially common during summer thunderstorms or fireworks. These loud booms can send even mild-mannered dogs into a panicked frenzy. In a desperate attempt to escape the terrifying sounds, dogs may leap through windows, bust through screen doors, or even scale high fences.
Securing your dog during thunderstorms and fireworks will help keep your pup safe. Keep your dog inside and do your best to soothe her fears about loud noises with calming treats, white noise, and ThunderShirts.
How to Stop Your Dog From Running Away
The main strategy for keeping your dog from running away is relatively straightforward: make it harder to escape.
Don’t leave your dog outdoors unattended. If you don’t have a fence, build one. If you do have a fence, make it higher or add coyote rollers. These slippery rollers help keep your dog from hopping your fence and are very useful! If your HOA doesn’t allow fencing, use a tie-out or just don’t leave your dog outside unattended.
Avoid using underground fences, as these still leave your dog vulnerable to dog-nappers and don’t stop motivated dogs from escaping. Both underground fences and electronic collars have the potential to burn your dog and are even linked with increased aggression around property lines.
However, it’s also important to treat the underlying issue. Sure, a secure fence and supervision will help. But if your dog is truly bored, scared, or motivated to escape, he might still find a way out.
Even if you can prevent your dog from escaping with good fencing, your dog might still be bored or scared!
Once the fence is secure and you have an idea of why your dog is trying to run away, it’s important to treat the root of the problem:
Neuter or spay your dogs to prevent sexually motivated roaming. This will help reduce the hormonal drive to roam, but it won’t necessarily change the habit if your dog has been roaming for years!
Give bored dogs something else to do, like chew toys or bully sticks. Most dogs do best with at least a few chew toys and puzzle toys every single day, especially when they’re left alone.
Increase exercise so that your dog doesn’t feel the need to walk himself. Some dogs need over an hour of walking or running per day to be happy! For prey driven dogs, try using a flirt pole to let him get his instincts out in a safe environment.
Help your fearful dog feel more comfortable with loud noises. Tools like calming treats, Thundershirts, and white noise machines can help, but most dogs truly need help using systematic desensitization and counterconditioning. Apps like Train Away can help with that!
If your dog is continuing to roam, it might be time to get help from a trainer. A trainer will help you come up with a training plan that keeps your dog safe and avoids another visit to the pound to pick up your escapee! Trainers are especially helpful if your dog’s escape is motivated by prey drive or fear.