Help! My Dog Keeps Running Away!

Such a free spirit 😂

Does your dog have a little (actually, a BIG) problem of running away?

Not only is this bad habit crazy stressful for you, but it’s also super dangerous for your pup!

You need to figure out what the reasoning is behind this behavior before something bad happens, especially if your dog has run away multiple times.

The Dodo spoke to Shelby Semel, head trainer at Animal Haven rescue in New York City, to try to understand why you’re dog’s running away — and even more importantly, how to solve it.

Why is your dog running away?

“If your dog is running away, it is first and foremost important to understand why,” Semel said.

Think about the circumstances surrounding when your pup gets out and goes on an adventure:

  • Is she chasing something? Like a deer, rabbit, etc.?
  • Are scary sounds making her bolt?
  • Is she bored?
  • Is there another dog on the other side of the fence?
  • Is your dog looking for a mate? (If so, get your dog fixed ASAP.)

How to stop your dog from running away

After narrowing down why your dog might be running away, it’s a good idea to eliminate the trigger (if possible), or if the situation is one that you can’t solve with an easy fix, seek out the assistance of a professional.

“Most likely with the help of a certified trainer,” Semel said.

Make sure your dog knows a recall

But while you’re at it, Semel suggests that if you haven’t trained your dog in a proper recall already, now’s the time to drill down and get it done.

Making sure your dog knows how to “come” when off leash will help you get your pup out of a potentially dangerous situation in the event that she does bolt after that squirrel.

Here’s how to train your dog to come:

This is how Semel recommends training your dog to recall correctly.

When training — or clicker training — make sure you have plenty of yummy treats ready to go.

Like these training treats from Chewy for $14.99

  • Put your pup in sit/stay (or have someone else hold your dog's collar/leash) and let her smell a treat in your hand. Then walk to the other side of the room.
  • Call your dog’s name in an excited tone ONE SINGLE TIME to get her attention.
  • When she looks at you, say “Come!” in a happy tone and put out your hand so she knows to go towards you.
  • If you need to, walk a bit closer to your dog. As she starts moving towards you, back up so she has more distance to cover.
  • When she arrives, slowly and gently take hold of her collar/harness. Do not reach over her head, go under her chin.
  • If the motion of taking her collar makes her back up, put a treat in your other hand and use that treat to slowly lure her up the arm of the hand that’s going to take the collar.
  • Once you have a hold on her, say “YES” and praise. Then give her the treat while still holding onto the collar.

Semel’s tips for training “come”:

  • Practice “Come” with your dog while at home. Start off close to your pup and then increase the distance gradually, until she’s able to come around corners and into different rooms.
  • If she begins to anticipate your command before you call her, good! Still call to her as she starts to turn towards you so she learns to associate the word with the action.
  • After a couple dozen successes, stop giving rewards if she “comes” without being called. This is so that she gets used to “coming” when you ask her to in any situation — like an emergency.
  • Do not allow more than three “Comes” to go unrewarded. You don’t want her becoming confused with what you’re asking of her. After the third unrewarded success, give her the jackpot (a bunch of yummy treats) on the fourth time to get her enthusiasm and attention back on track.
  • Mix it up! When you’re alone, have your dog “Stay” a few feet away from you. Then ask her to “come”. Give food/play/love as a reward so she’s always enthusiastic about coming when called. Slowly increase the distances. Then try adding distractions (like placing a favorite toy nearby) so she gets used to listening to you first.
  • You can take practice to the next level by doing this same routine on an extendable leash near the dog park before you enter it to play. Use high value treats to compensate for the highly distractible environment.

“With any command, do not proceed to the next level unless the current level has been successful,” Semel said. “Never be afraid to take a step backwards to a level the dog is already good at. This enhances your dog’s confidence. All good dog trainers understand that regression and confusion are part of the learning process. We do, however, want to keep these to a minimum.”

Translate “come” to off-leash training:

Once your dog nails down “come” inside, you can transfer it to off-leash training by first practicing it within your home and backyard on a long, extendable leash:

  • Purchase an extendable leash. “This is solely for training. I do not advise using these for walking around NYC,” Semel said. (You can get one like this from Chewy for $20.99)
  • Head out for 15- to 30-minute training sessions.
  • Using the extendable leash, put your pup in sit/stay. Walk 3 to 5 feet away from her and wait a few seconds. Then say “OK, come!”. Use a good reward — but not top-notch. Do this five to 10 times at different distances and time intervals. Treat occasionally for longer, further and better responses.
  • Next, if you’re in a park or open area, find a place to sit. Your dog should be warmed up. Let her wander off a few feet and not be paying attention. Then call her over by saying “Come.” If she obeys, give her a HIGH value reward! Then leave her be and repeat. Do this give to 10 times using very high-value rewards on occasion, especially if she came when there was a distraction (like another dog or a squirrel ran by).
  • Find another location and repeat this five to 10 times. Do some while sitting, some while standing and others while wandering around — switch it up to keep her guessing! Always call your dog back BEFORE she feels the end of the extendable leash.
  • Next training session, find a place that is both outdoors and full of distractions, but closed in, like a backyard or a dog park when nobody else is there. Do one or two practice rounds on extendable leash, and then take the leash off and let her have 10 to 30 seconds of free time before calling her back. Do a big, happy, “Come!” and give her a JACKPOT reward if she comes! Continue in these safe environments until you’re confident she’ll always listen.
  • The first time you head to an area that’s not fenced in, do five or so practices on an extendable leash with the HIGHEST value reward and treat frequently (70 to 90 percent of time) to make sure she’s got it.

While training your dog to “come” is a great tool for getting your dog back if she does happen to run away, it’s still the best to make sure your pup isn’t bolting away from you in the first place — which is why should use your best judgement about whether your dog can be trusted off-leash in a given situation, especially if she has a history of running away.

“In addition, make sure your dog is properly exercised, getting enough training and mental stimulation, and generally getting a decent amount of attention!” Semel added.

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