According to Peeva, a pet microchip company, one in three pets will go missing at some point in its life.
That comes to more than 10 million missing dogs and cats in the U.S. alone every year.
If you have a dog, you have to be realistic about the fact that he or she could run away, and it could happen at any time. Even the best trained dogs can get scared and end up breaking free to try to escape whatever’s spooking them.
Even worse is if you have a dog that actively tries to run away. You have to figure out a way to stop them, but how?
This is the guide that every dog owner needs to read. Below, we’ll talk about how to identify the reasons your dog might run away, how to address them, tips and tricks for stopping a dog that just wants to run free, and what to do to protect your dog in the event that he or she does run away.
The First Step: Identifying Why Your Dog Might Run Away
Dogs are pack animals and they tend to bond with their people. That’s why, if a dog decides to try to run away, there’s usually a reason for it.
These are some of the most common reasons why dogs run away, and how to address them.
You Aren’t Keeping Your Dog Secure
The No. 1 reason that dogs run away? Because they can.
Whether it’s because they don’t have a fenced yard, they have an ill-fitting collar or harness, or because they’re allowed off leash when they shouldn’t be, every instance of a dog running away has this in common: The dog wasn’t properly secured by its owner.
How to solve it: Do everything in your power to make sure your dog stays secure at all times. Find and invest in a collar or harness that fits properly, and that your dog can’t wriggle or squeeze out of. Build a fence around your yard, and then check it frequently for holes or compromised areas that might let your dog get out. Keep your dog on a leash unless he or she is very well trained and you’re in a safe place, like an off-leash hiking trail or dog park. And never leave your dog outside, in public, unsupervised.
Your Dog Is Bored
A dog that is bored, frustrated, or lonely is a dog that might look for a way to escape, just for something to do. This is one of the most common reasons why dogs run away, but luckily, it’s relatively easy to fix.
How to solve it: Give your dog more things to do! Don’t leave him or her alone outside for long periods. Provide plenty of toys and play time, and take your dog on long walks or trips to the dog park for more stimulation and exercise. Remember your dog is a member of the family, and you wouldn’t leave a family member in the backyard for long periods with nothing to do.
Your Dog Is Scared
This is another very common reason that dogs run away: They get scared. Fireworks, thunderstorms, and other loud noises can spook even a well-trained dog, causing him or her to do whatever it takes to get away from the scary thing. This is why the number of missing pets spikes around the 4th of July.
How to solve it: During thunderstorms or fireworks, keep your dog inside with you and do your best to soothe them with cuddles, toys, treats, or a ThunderShirt. You can’t remove everything in the world that might scare your dog, so train them to be comfortable in unfamiliar environments, and desensitize them to things like noises, crowds, and strangers so those things are less likely to scare them.
Your Dog Is Hunting
Dogs who have high prey drives are likely to try to run away because they saw something they wanted to chase and hunt — a rabbit, a squirrel, a neighbor’s cat, or even a car. Some breeds have a naturally higher prey drive, but most dogs won’t say no to the opportunity to chase something small and fluffy, even if it’s just a game for them.
How to solve it: Make sure to supervise your dog closely around smaller animals to gauge how he or she reacts to them. If your dog tries to chase another animal, quickly distract it with a toy or something else that will demand its attention. Keep your dog on a secure leash when you’re away from home, and supervise your dog when they’re outside in your yard.
Your Dog Is Looking for a Mate
When a dog isn’t spayed or neutered, its hormones can be strong — especially if there happens to be another dog nearby experiencing similar urges.
How to solve it: Spay or neuter your dog. It’s an important part of being a responsible pet owner.
There’s Been a Change In Your Dog’s Routine
Another reason a dog might run away is because they’re confused by a change in their routine. If you move houses, the dog might try to find his or her way back to your old, familiar home. If your family goes through a divorce or welcomes a new baby, the change might cause your dog so much stress that he or she tries to get away.
How to solve it: Whenever your family goes through a change that disrupts your dog’s routine, take care to spend extra time with your pup, providing comforting pets and gentle reassurance. Give your dog plenty of time to adjust to routine changes, while being extra careful during the adjustment period to keep him or her safe.
Your Dog Has a Bad Habit
Sometimes dogs run away because they have a bad habit, like rushing for the front door when it’s opened, pulling on their leash, or not responding to their owner’s commands to “come” or “stay.”
How to solve it: This one will take training. If you don’t have the knowledge or skills to train your dog to give up a bad habit, enlist the help of a professional dog trainer.
How to Stop a Dog from Running Away
The bottom line is this: You stop a dog from running away by making it harder for the dog to escape. Dogs who are always kept in secure places, supervised by their owners, and treated like part of the family will have a harder time finding opportunities to run away — and they likely won’t want to.
Sometimes, though, a dog just wants to be free. If that’s the case, and if you can’t figure out why your dog is running away or how to stop it, a dog trainer or behaviorist can be a big help.
Dog owners also need to recognize that, despite their best efforts, any dog can and might run away. Because of this fact, it’s important to be prepared in case it ever happens to you.