Why Do Dogs Run Away?

By: Orvis Staff

A runaway dog can be a stressful situation for all involved.

Photo by: Janie, Midland

Understanding why dogs run away can be tough. After all, home is where the loving (and spoiling) happens. The behind-the-ear scratches. The special dog treats. The games of fetch in the backyard. But no matter how much your dog adores you and the homestead, there’s always a chance she’ll make a break for the door or an opening in the fence. Learning why dogs run away can help prevent a great canine escape, and help guide your search should your best friend ever successfully dash off. Here are the top reasons dogs run away:

To Find a Mate

When dogs are not spayed or neutered, the instinct to reproduce is a powerful one beyond your control. Don’t expect an unneutered male to pay attention to commands learned during obedience training if there’s a female in heat in the neighborhood. He won’t. And if he discovers an opening to run off for a rendezvous—he’ll take it. For an unspayed female, wanderlust is a particular issue only for the few weeks twice each year that she’s in heat. But she’ll require close watching during these times. Unless you are planning to breed your dog, seriously consider spaying or neutering. Dog ownership is challenging, and not neutering or spaying makes it even tougher.

To Search for Play, Adventure, and Company

If your dog spends hours at home alone while you work, she’ll be looking for opportunities to get outside and play. You can probably relate and feel similarly when cooped up indoors for long stretches during bad weather. Dogs get bored and desire a change of scenery, recreation, fresh air, and the opportunity to move, run, and frolic. If you’re not providing enough engagement and activity, she’ll head off in search of adventure at the first opportunity.

Dogs are also pack creatures. This means they get lonesome and desire companionship when left alone for too long. To prevent boredom from taking root easily when your dog is alone, establish a consistent, comforting spot for her when she doesn’t have company. Whether it’s her dog bed with a special dog treat, or a covered dog crate and her favorite dog toy, she’ll associate this special spot with mellow activities and napping while you are away. For very active dogs who get bored quickly, a puzzle toy can buy you some extra time.

You can build your dog’s tolerance for alone time, but some dogs simply won’t embrace hours on end alone. Certain dog breeds, such as Australian Shepherds and Samoyeds, are notorious for their strong aversion to time alone. To learn how long your dog is comfortable being alone, extend your time away slowly and watch her behavior. If you notice destructive behaviors, such as chewing her dog bed or excessive barking, she’s reached her threshold. If you keep your outings within these time frames, she’ll scramble less for the door when you return.

Offering an abundance of attention, activity, and interaction whenever you are with your dog helps minimize boredom, anxiety, and frustration that can lead to problem behaviors, including the tendency to run away.

To Find Safety

Some dogs are terrified by thunder, fireworks, and very loud noises. If your dog is frightened by these unnerving sounds, she’ll find any opportunity to make a dash for safety. If the door is open a crack during a thunderstorm, or there’s a hole in the fence when your town is throwing a fireworks display you’ll wind up searching for your lost best friend by the time the dust settles.

She’s Off Leash

You’re sure your dog would never ignore your command to “come!” but it is known to happen with even the most obedient of dogs in unknown surroundings or when the unexpected occurs. If your dog is highly biddable, it’s probably okay to forego the leash on your regular jaunts in a familiar setting. But when you are away from your usual byways or somewhere you may run into strange dogs or wild animals, always keep her on leash. If she’s overcome with the urge to chase a rabbit, or is scared by an unusual noise, she won’t have the chance to bolt.

Dog collars are another story. Never let her roam without her collar—it holds her all-important proof of vaccination and your contact information so anyone who finds her can return her to you quickly and safely.

How to Keep Your Dog From Running Away

Knowing why dogs run away makes prevention strategies fairly self-evident. But here’s a brief rundown:

  • Neuter or spay your dog. She won’t feel nature’s call as powerfully and will be less prone to ramble.
  • Keep your dog indoors during thunderstorms and fireworks.
  • Reinforce your fencing to match your dog. If you’ve got a dog who likes to dig, make sure she can’t dig underneath. If she’s a jumper, make sure it’s too high for her to clear.
  • Train your dog to “come.” You’ll worry far less about your dog running off through an open door or squeezing through the fence, if she’s learned the recall command.
  • Don’t leave your dog in the yard unsupervised for long.
  • Keep your dog on leash during walks.

Accidents and missteps happen. If your dog runs away, we’ve got you covered with some helpful tips for finding a lost dog stat. But if you follow the above tips, hopefully you won’t have to go off in search of your furry fugitive.

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