Picture this: A sunny day at the park, the breeze rustling through the leaves, and the joyous laughter of time spent with your dog. You decide to let your furry friend off the leash for some well-deserved freedom… only to find yourself in a heart-pounding chase as your pup takes off on an unexpected sprint as fast as they can.
Many dog parents have experienced the anxiety that comes with a dog's inclination to explore, especially when it means they’re headed far away from us. We’re here to help!
Read on for some tips to train your dog not to run away (and an overview of what to do if they do make a successful escape attempt).
Dogs may try to escape when they are frightened or anxious. Loud noises, thunderstorms, fireworks, or unfamiliar environments can trigger fear and prompt a dog to run away. Adrenaline can make it possible for scared dogs to perform feats they usually wouldn't be able to, like scaling physical fences. (You read that right. Some pups really do turn into fence climbers when they're desperate to get somewhere else.)
Dogs with excess energy make escape attempts if they are not getting enough exercise and mental stimulation. Regular physical activity and playtime help fulfill their need for stimulation. Sometimes daily walks won't be enough!
Dogs left alone for extended periods without mental or physical stimulation may become bored. Boredom can lead to restlessness, which can result in these pups becoming known as escape artists.
Boredom can be especially trick for dogs who are contained by an invisible fence or form of electric fence in their own yard. They can still see other people, pets, and stimuli passing by — and they don't have a real fence barrier which makes it even easier to escape. If the promise of adventure outside the invisible fence perimeter seems exciting enough, these dogs might blow right through their containment collars. This can hurt them and be dangerous to others in your neighborhood, too.
The presence of other dogs, wildlife, or even specific scents may attract a dog's curiosity and prompt them to follow or chase, potentially leading to running away.
Dogs with a strong prey drive may be tempted to chase after small animals, birds, or moving objects. If off-leash, this chasing behavior can lead to them running away — and on rare occasions, a pup might be so motivated that their escape attempt involves getting past a physical fence.
Dogs with separation anxiety may make frantic escape attempts when left alone. The anxiety and distress they experience when separated from their pet parents can result in a strong desire to try to find their way back to you. Separation anxiety can be a serious condition that needs thoughtful positive reinforcement training.
There are many benefits of off leash exercise for pets and people alike. These include:
Being off leash lets your dog exercise in ways that aren't possible when they are on a leash. They're not wild animals anymore — we've domesticated them for generations and generations — but that doesn't mean they don't still love to run freely, swim, or hike at their own pace without feeling pressure from a physical tether. Plus these activities can offer higher intensity exercise than most leashed walks or runs with your dog, which is perfect to maintain strong muscles.
Off-leash dog training can also give young or elderly dogs a better opportunity to take breaks and listen to their bodies. All these can be important contributors to your dog's health!
Off leash activities give your dog the freedom to roam, explore, and sniff new things. This provides your dog with some much-needed mental stimulation, especially in challenging environments. Living in a modern human world — and always having to stay at the end of a short leash — can be tough for companions whose ancestors used to cover miles in a single day.
Choosing to do off leash training with your dog means taking the time to teach them cues that will ensure their safety, such as “sit,” “stay,” and “come.” This training builds trust between you and your dog. The work you put in ahead of your adventures — and the joy you share on your outings themselves — ultimately lead to a closer relationship.
Of all the things you can teach your dog, teaching them to come when called, known as a reliable recall, is arguably the most important. The outside world can be unpredictable despite your best efforts. This cue will help keep your dog safe and keep you from chasing your dog at the local park!
Another part of safe off-leash time is your dog having a default understanding that they should stay near you. That’s the focus of this article!
Management is great.
Begin with a long leash or training lead to give your dog some freedom while maintaining control. This allows you to reinforce their cues if needed, like if they get distracted.
You can also practice in a safely fenced in area. But remember, your dog might still be able to escape in certain situations — and it can be harder to get their attention back on you if they're running completely loose. We usually recommend easing into full off-leash time even in "secure" areas.
If you and your dog have a strong relationship, they’ll be more likely to care about what you’re doing out on off-leash adventures. This means your pup will have a natural impulse to check in more regularly!
Here are some ways to build your bond:
When your dog stays close to you voluntarily, reward them with favorite treats, praise, or play. Reinforce the behavior you want to encourage!
Allow your dog to explore the environment as a reward for staying close. Use natural elements, like sniffing or exploring an interesting area, to reinforce their positive behavior.
Gradually increase the distance between you and your dog as they become more reliable in staying close. Continue to reward them for choosing to stay nearby. Pay attention to your dog's body language. If they show signs of distraction or are about to wander too far, use the recall cue and reward them for returning.
Move to different environments and gradually increase the level of distractions. Practice in various locations, introducing new scents, sounds, and sights.
Patience is crucial. If your dog doesn't stay close immediately, avoid punishment and focus on positive reinforcement. Make staying near you a positive and rewarding experience.
No matter how hard we train, manage, and set ourselves up for success, sometimes flukes happen. We can’t always control the world around us. If your dog ever does run away, it's crucial to have safety measures in place to increase the chances of a safe and speedy return!
Here are some things to think about:
Ensure your dog is wearing a collar with an ID tag that includes your current contact information. This is a quick way for someone who finds your dog to contact you directly.
Have your dog microchipped. A microchip is a permanent form of identification and can be crucial in reuniting you with your dog. Make sure the microchip information is up-to-date with your current contact details.
Keep recent and clear photos of your dog. These photos will be valuable for creating lost dog posters and sharing on social media to help spread the word.
Know the locations and contact information of local animal shelters, veterinary clinics, and animal control offices. If your dog is found, they may be taken to one of these facilities.
Prepare a lost dog kit that includes a recent photo, description of your dog, your contact information, and any relevant medical information. Keep this kit readily available for quick access.
There is so much misinformation out there, and we want to make sure we only provide the highest quality content to our community. We have our articles reviewed by qualified force free trainers.
This is the trainer that reviewed this article:
Brittany L. Fulton, CTC
Founder and Trainer, Dances with Dogs, Silver Spring, MD, www.dancesdogs.com - Certified in Training and Counseling (CTC), The Academy for Dog Trainers
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