It’s every dog owner’s worst nightmare: your dog wriggles out of his collar or bolts out the front door and takes off running. You search for him to no avail, and though you hope he’ll return for dinner, hours turn into days as he remains missing.
Out in the big wide world, anything could happen to your runaway dog. He could be found by a good samaritan and returned to you safe and sound, or he could find himself so far away that he never makes his way back home.
Obviously you never want to have to deal with this scenario, but what can you do?
Well, preventing your dog from running away requires you to understand why dogs run away in the first place. We’ve compiled the most common reasons here — if one of these sounds like it applies to your dog, remedying the issue will ensure that your dog will remain safely by your side.
Four Common Reasons Why Dogs Run Away
1. Separation Anxiety Could Cause Your Dog to Run Away
Do you notice your dog’s anxiety levels spiking when you leave home for the day? Does he pace and whine when you pull out your suitcase or move towards the front door without him?
If so, he probably suffers from separation anxiety — anxiety that occurs when he’s away from you or his other loved ones. For some dogs, separation anxiety stems from a traumatic past of neglect or abandonment, but even dogs with cushy lives can suffer its symptoms.
Essentially, when you’re not together, your dog worries that you won’t come back or that you don’t love him anymore. He becomes overwhelmed by fear, insecurity, and loneliness, and he’ll do anything to make those feelings go away and get you back.
So if he sees an opportunity to get out and find you, he’ll take it. But his search will usually end up being fruitless — he underestimates the size of the outside world and, before long, gets lost in it.
Treating your dog’s separation anxiety is critical to preventing him from running away. You may wish to contact a dog behaviorist for training advice or see a vet for anti-anxiety medication.
2. Sex Drive
If your dog is intact (i.e. hasn’t been spayed or neutered), there will come a time when his or her sex drive takes over. When this occurs, these impulses will make it impossible for your dog to do anything except try to find another dog to mate with.
This problem is most obvious in male dogs, but female dogs in heat will also be more inclined to roam and locate a mate. They’ll follow the scents of other dogs for miles if they need to — anything to satisfy that sex drive.
Spaying or neutering your dog will put those rowdy hormones to rest and give your dog one less reason to run away. It’s got other benefits, too: reduced risk of cancer, calmer temperaments and a lower likelihood of destructive or disruptive behaviors.
3. Fear Is the Most Basic of Instincts
When your dog gets scared, his brain enters the “fight-or-flight” mode. This is his basic instinct when he encounters a threat: either he’ll attack the threat or he’ll run and hide from it.
For most well-socialized dogs, “flight” is the most likely choice. So when your dog gets spooked by something — loud yelling, fireworks, thunder — he’ll instinctively try to get as far away from it as possible.
And if the front door happens to be open at the time, chances are he’ll bolt for it.
At that moment, your dog isn’t thinking about where he’s going or how he’ll get back. He’s feeling like his life is in danger, and the only thing on his mind is surviving by running away from the threat.
By the time the fireworks are over or the thunderstorm has passed, he could be miles from home with no real memory of the route he took to get there.
It’s essential that you know what triggers your dog’s fear response — and that you stay diligent to soothe his nerves when that trigger occurs. This may mean staying close to him and petting him until the thunder stops, or keeping him occupied on New Year’s Eve so the fireworks don’t upset him.
When your dog gets tired of playing with the same old toys and running the same route through your yard, boredom overtakes him. Laying around doing nothing is driving him crazy, so he decides to look for entertainment elsewhere.
So he jumps your fence and takes off running in search of new thrills. And he doesn’t need to look hard — the sheer freedom he’s experiencing is a thrill in and of itself.
Some dogs are just more prone to boredom than others, and if your dog is one of them, providing him with extra enrichment could stop him from running away. Cycle his toys so he doesn’t have a chance to get bored with them, and consider hiring a dog walker to come by and entertain him during the day.