Having your dog run away is one of the most frightening experiences you can face as a pup parent.
Unfortunately, it’s all too common, with countless flyers and social media posts detailing the sad tale time and time again.
Like many other common canine problems, this is one of those issues that’s better to prevent than fix.
So, we’ll explain how to teach a dog not to run away and outline some of the reasons your canine might be taking off in the first place below.
How to Train a Dog Not to Run Away: Key Takeaways
- Dogs run away for a number of reasons. From mating instincts to sheer boredom, the cause of a wandering canine varies from dog to dog and addressing the reason is key for keeping him safe at home.
- Teaching basic obedience commands is fundamental. Your dog should learn reliable recall and the “stay” command early on, preventing the bolting incidents commonly seen in runaway dog situations.
- Dog-proof your yard to keep your canine contained. For determined escape artists, you may need to upgrade your fencing, including implementing features to prevent your dog from hopping over or digging under the barrier.
Why Do Dogs Run Away in the First Place?
Before we get started on how to teach a dog not to run away, we need to understand why a four-footer would make a break for it, as this knowledge can help shape your overall training plan.
Dealing with a runaway dog can be perplexing.
With a warm bed, a steady flow of meals, and no bills to pay, it seems like your pupper has it all at home with you, yet he still insists on bolting.
Well, it depends.
Dogs run away for several reasons, including:
- Boredom: A lack of stimulation may send your floof fleeing out of the sheer mutt monotony of his life. Think about it: When you’re bored, you seek out something fun. That might involve getting out of the house; but for your dog, it might also mean leaving his regular stomping grounds. Incorporating routine canine enrichment activities is critical, whether you have a couch potato or a rowdy retriever at home. This keeps him content and may make him less likely to run away in search of fun.
- Mating Urges: Intact dogs may wander off in search of a mate. This is most common with females in heat, but intact males can also run away if they catch a whiff of a nearby female who’s reproductively receptive. You may want to look at spaying or neutering if this is a common occurrence, or at the very least, containing your dog better.
- Distraction: A passing squirrel or rabbit can tempt your dog into bolting away. This is often an issue in breeds with a strong prey drive like Weimaraners, terriers, and huskies.
- Wanderlust: Some breeds require a great deal of room to roam, leading to wandering behavior. This is primarily seen in large working dogs, including the Great Pyrenees and Akbash.
- Lack of Exercise: A lack of exercise can leave your dog eager to stretch his legs. Daily physical activity should be a part of every dog’s routine, with the intensity varying by breed and age. Increasing your dog’s exercise can be as simple as hiring a dog walker or starting a fun new canine sport together.
- Following Scent: Some breeds follow their nose wherever it takes them, particularly scenthounds like beagles, bloodhounds, and coonhounds. These dogs have a powerful sense of smell and are born and bred to sniff out game. Nosework games go a long way in putting this instinct to work, but they still may not prevent your pooch from following an interesting aroma.
- Fear: Did you know that more dogs run away on July 4th than any other day of the year? Calming your dog during firework or storm activity is a must, as these loud events can send a four-footer into an anxiety overload. This may leave your dog scrambling to escape the sound, potentially far from your property.
Evaluate the circumstances surrounding your dog’s runaway incident and see if any of these causes fit. In some cases, it may be one obvious issue, but other dogs may have multiple factors at play.
The good news is that once you’ve nailed down the problem, you can work on a solution to keep your floof safe at home where he belongs.
Teaching Your Dog Not to Run Away: Three Different Methods
Once you’ve determined the reasons behind your dog’s behavior and have addressed them, you can work on ways to prevent your dog from running off through training.
Check out these training approaches to keeping your dog safe at your side.
Teaching Your Dog a “Stay” Cue
“Sit” gets all the attention as the most basic training command, but “stay” is one that’s just as important.
“Stay” isn’t only for showing off in obedience class, it’s for everyday use like keeping him from being underfoot and for emergencies like a snapped leash or open gate situation.
To teach your dog to stay, perform the following:
- Select cue words. “Stay” is how you issue the command, but you also need a set word to release your dog from the position. Some owners like the simplicity of “OK” as a release word, but others like “ready” or “let’s go.” The important thing is that the term is used consistently during training, so make sure it’s something that sticks.
- Use your chosen release cue. You’re actually going to teach this skill to your dog in reverse. In other words, you need to teach the release cue before you teach the “stay” cue. So, start by putting your dog in the sitting position and throw a treat. As he approaches the treat, use your release word. This associates the release word with a reward. Repeat a few times.
- Establish the release word. Say your dog’s release cue (such as “free”) and toss the treat after your dog moves or “releases” his position. Repeat the entire process a few times to teach him that the word means he can move.
- Cue your dog to sit. Give him a treat for following the cue , and then wait a moment. If he stays in a seated position, give him another treat, then use your release word. If he fails to remain sitting, reset him. Keep it positive, even if he gets a little antsy and moves before you cue. Remember that he’s learning.
- Increase the time. Gradually increase the time your dog waits in the sitting position before you release him. Don’t go for anything too excessive right now, but feel free to work up to 30 seconds.
- Establish the “stay” command. Once your dog masters waiting in the sitting position, it’s time to bring “stay” into play by having him sit, saying “stay,” and taking a step away. Step back to your dog and reward him for holding his position. Repeat as needed.
- Increase distance. Continue working on the “stay” command, but build up the distance each time. Don’t push the distance too much at first. Set him up for success with small achievable goals.
- Use the commands together. As soon as your dog masters “stay,” it’s time to connect it to your release word. Have him stay, then call him off the position with your chosen release command. Lather, rinse, and repeat until he’s got it down cold!
Teaching Your Dog Not to Bolt Through Doors or Gates
If your dog is prone to darting through entrances, your first step in training is keeping him leashed (a short dog training leash works best) or using a puppy gate in these areas. This keeps him safe and secure while you work through the lesson.
Once your dog is leashed, issue the “stay” command before opening the door or gate. Some owners like to put a dog in a sitting position before issuing the “stay” to maintain more control, but you can allow him to remain standing if you prefer.
When your dog is in the desired position, try opening the door.
Dogs with a reliable “stay,” should hold their place. Praise your dog with a high-value goodie if he stays in place, and repeat the exercise a few times per session. If your dog breaks the “stay,” it’s time to go back and work more on his mastery of the command.
An alternative is dog mat training, where your dog learns to “place” and “stay” on a special mat until you call him off. Since this can remove him from the entryway entirely, it’s one of the best and safest solutions to door-rushing behavior.
Do commands sound like too much effort to train?
Management strategies can be hugely helpful for bolting dogs — install a permanent dog gate or secondary barrier in front of a front door or gate, and only open the second door or gate once the first entrance has been closed.
Teaching Your Dog Not to Run After Squirrels and Other Distractions
Dogs with a high prey drive can be challenging to walk, but they’re also known to bolt from yards in pursuit of rabbits or squirrels.
These dogs can never be trusted off-leash, no matter how reliable their recall is, so if you don’t have a fenced-in yard, it’s time to build a DIY dog fence, use a tie-out, or walk your dog on a long lead.
Electric fences aren’t a good fit, as many canines giving chase can easily run right through the shock barrier (and then find themselves trapped on the outside).
In addition to physically containing your prey-focused Fido, you want to keep him interested in your yard and not what lies beyond it.
To do this, you need to make your property fun and interesting!
For starters, check out some of our favorite DIY dog playground plans.
Lure-coursing gear like SwiftPaws is another option that’s particularly popular with chase-happy hounds, as it puts those chasing instincts to work in a safe, healthy way.
Lastly, you can train your dog to “leave it” when it comes to super-tempting distractions, like a squirrel running along the fence. Breaking your pup’s fixation on a prey animal can help prevent him from giving chase.
Paired with some impulse control games, your dog can learn to redirect appropriately.
Teaching Your Dog to Come Back: A Reliable Recall
Recall, or teaching your dog to come when called, is one of the most important skills to teach every dog. It’s not only nifty for calling your dog inside after a potty break or getting him to respond at the dog park but can be a lifesaver in emergencies.
Establishing reliable recall sounds difficult, but it’s not too daunting once you break it down.
To train your dog to come when called:
- Work on name recognition. When your new doggo comes home, your first big training hurdle is to teach him his name. Fortunately, that’s pretty easy to do: Say his name, and if he looks at you, give him a treat. Just be sure not to repeat his name incessantly and give him a chance to respond. If he doesn’t, say the name again and snap or clap if necessary. Once he responds, give him a treat. This links his name with praise and a reward, making it a positive.
- Teach the “come” command. Next, you want to pair your dog’s name with the “come” command. When he’s approaching you indoors, use his name and “come” together in a happy voice. When he responds, he gets a treat (make it a super, incredibly special, high-value treat). Repeat as needed until your pup responds reliably to the “come” command.
- Take training outside. Responding to a “come” command indoors in a controlled setting is one thing, but getting your dog to obey outdoors is a totally different beast. Head out back with your dog on a long leash, and repeat the “come” command exercise above. You may need a little more clapping to get his attention at first, but as long as you’re using high-value rewards and lots of praise, he’ll get the hang of it with repetition.
- Unclip the lead. Once your dog has mastered the command on a long lead, you can let him free in a fenced area to fine-tune his recall. Again, you may need to work harder to get his attention, but maintain your cool and keep it positive – you want your dog to want to come when called. When he obeys, layer on the praise and goodies.
- Test elsewhere. As your dog advances, it’s time to take the training on the road. Like your initial outdoor work, you’ll need to keep your canine on a long lead, but head to the park and practice his recall. You can also practice during walks around the neighborhood or when visiting the beach. Any new place with distractions is ideal. Not only does this “proof” your dog’s recall skills, but it provides important enrichment for your pup.
By consistently pairing the “come” command with praise, your dog learns that coming to you is positive, thus establishing reliable recall.
It isn’t a skill your pup masters overnight, but with patience and lots of rewards, your dog will get the hang of it.
Try to go at your dog’s pace — if you see your dog struggling in new, ultra-stimulating environments, dial it back and continue practicing in more familiar spaces like your backyard or a familiar park.
And always reward with a super high-value treat!
An overlooked aspect of reliable recall is the bond between you and your dog. Ideally, your dog should look to you like the moon and the stars, meaning he sees your presence as a good thing. Positive reinforcement dog training helps build this bond from day one, while aversive methods can make your dog less likely to come when called, as he may fear you.
Never use the “come” command for punishment, as you can greatly damage the reliability of your dog’s recall.
Even if your dog lingers and doesn’t perform a perfect recall, you always want to make approaching you a good thing for your dog. So don’t be stingy with the praise and cookies!
Keeping Your Dog Contained: Securing Your Yard
Sometimes training alone isn’t enough to keep your dog in place.
Anxious canines and those with breed-specific instincts may do their doggy darndest to make a break for it despite putting in serious time during training.
With these four-footers, it’s up to you to stop your dog from escaping your yard by making it more dog-proof.
For starters, you’ll need to install a fence if you don’t already have one. Check out some of our favorite dog-proof fences if you need some ideas – just be sure to pick a style that works well for you, your doggo, and your property.
If your pupperino is escaping from a yard that’s already fenced, you need to do a thorough walkthrough to determine how he’s getting out, whether he’s climbing, hopping, or digging under your fence.
Pay attention to furniture and trash cans, too, as crafty canines sometimes use them as stepping stones when making a leap of faith over fencing.
In addition to securing the yard, you must monitor your dog at all times outside. We know it’s tempting to let your dog out to do his business while you make your morning coffee, but this isn’t an option with an escape artist doggo. It’s just too risky!
How to Train a Dog Not to Run Away: FAQ
Training away escape artist tendencies is hard work, so you may still have some questions. Let’s tackle the most common ones together.
Do dogs learn not to run away?
It depends. Some dogs can learn not to dart through open doors or to come when called with ongoing training, but others may have instincts or quirks that leave them prone to running off. The latter may obey these commands in controlled settings, but their recall and “stay” mastery may not be as reliable because of secondary factors like anxiety, prey drive, and mating instincts.
Why does my dog keep trying to run away?
Dogs run off for a lot of reasons, including chasing down a passing animal, seeking a mate, or plain old boredom. Many dogs also run away during storms or fireworks because of anxiety.
To figure out why your dog is running away, look at his daily routine. Is he exercised and interacted with daily? Has he mastered basic obedience? Is his breed prone to roaming? Is your dog intact?
If you’re stumped, reaching out to a certified canine behaviorist for help is an excellent way to get to the bottom of your dog’s escapes.
What do you do when your dog runs away?
Search the immediate area with high-value treats right away on foot, if possible. Some pet parents drive around in pursuit of a dog, but this isn’t always the best option, as you can’t hear much inside a vehicle, such as your dog’s tags jingling or barking. As you walk, call your dog’s name in a happy tone or whistle. Sometimes shaking a treat container helps too.
Now is also the time to alert your neighbors with a post in your town’s online group, like NextDoor or Facebook. Sharing a picture with your contact information is the best route, along with passing along any must-know information, such as “do not chase” for skittish dogs. When tracking down your runway ruff, the more eyes you have around the area, the better.
In the unfortunate case that you don’t quickly reunite with your dog, broaden your online notification to lost pet groups, such as PetAmberAlert or LostMyDoggie. Your dog’s microchip registration service may also prove helpful in this regard. Search these sites and other local groups for “found” posts that might fit your dog too. Reach out to area businesses as well, including veterinary clinics, shelters, and animal control.
Above all, don’t give up hope. Keep looking. Make flyers. Continue searching the immediate areas. Some dogs turn up weeks, months, or even years after an escape.
What dogs are most likely to run away?
Any dog can run away, but some breeds are more likely to run off, including scent hounds like beagles and dogs with strong prey drives, like shepherds. Large working dogs are also prone to wandering, like livestock guardian breeds.
Apart from specific breeds, intact dogs and those suffering from anxiety frequently run away too.
How do I teach my dog to come when called?
Start by connecting your dog’s name with a reward. Use his name, and give him a treat with verbal praise when he looks at you. Don’t repeat his name a hundred times to get his attention, as that defeats the purpose. If necessary, whistle or clap to get his focus back on you. Do this until he reliably looks at you when his name is said. From there, connect his name with the “come” command by calling him over. Again, reward him with a treat when he replies.
Through repetition, your dog will associate his name with praise and a goodie, establishing recall. Never use his name during punishment, however, as this can break the power of your recall.
Has your doggo ever pulled a Houndini-like escape? How did you overcome his runaway exploits? Please share with us in the comments. We’d love to hear!