Why Does My Dog Like to Run Away?

Even though your dog loves you, they may sometimes like to run away. Some dogs do it all the time. Others respond to certain triggers. Some are like magicians and seem to be able to get out of any fence.

Although your pet may just go next door and back, running away can be dangerous. They could get hurt or could get lost and never come home.

Here's a look at why your pet might be heading out and how you can help keep them home.

Why Dogs Escape

Frustration. Your dog might figure out a way to take off if they are bored. Maybe you left them alone for a long time and they are lonely. Or they may have lots of energy to use up because they don't have toys or other dogs to play with.

Or maybe they are having more fun somewhere else. They could be going to a neighbor's house where there are other dogs or kids to play with.

Separation anxiety. Your dog might hit the road because it stresses them out to be apart from you. Do they get nervous when you get ready to leave? Do they destroy things in the house when you’re out? Or have accidents even though they are housetrained? These can all be signs of separation anxiety.

A dog with separation anxiety will usually run away right after you leave. The good news is they’ll probably stick close to home.

Fear. Some dogs run because they’re scared. Common fears include thunderstorms and fireworks. About 1 in 5 lost pets goes missing after a loud noise.

Sex drive. A dog that isn't fixed may escape in search of a mate. Dogs become sexually mature when they're around 6 months old. Because their drive is so high, it can be very hard to keep them confined.

How to Keep Your Dog From Running Away

To prevent frustration ...

  • Play with or walk them every day.
  • Give them fun toys while you’re gone, including puzzle toys to keep them busy.
  • Keep your dog inside when you can't watch them.
  • Take them to doggy day care or have a friend walk them if you’ll be gone for a long time.
  • Teach them commands or tricks and practice them often. Learn to play fetch or Frisbee.

Continued

If they have separation anxiety ...

  • If the problem is mild, give them a special treat each time you go, like a peanut butter-stuffed puzzle toy. Don't make a big deal when you leave or return.
  • If the issue is more serious, you might need to try conditioning. To start, put on your shoes or pick up your keys, but don’t leave. Do this over and over until they aren't stressed. Go out for a few seconds at first. Slowly increase the time you’re gone. A vet or trainer can help.

If they are afraid ...

  • If you know what the problem is, leave them inside when they are likely to hear the trigger sound like thunder or fireworks.
  • Give them a safe place to get away like a basement or windowless room. Leave on music or a loud fan to help with the noise.
  • Ask your vet or a trainer for tips on how to get them used to the noise that scare them. This might involve playing recordings of the sound. Your vet may also suggest anti-anxiety medication.

If it's a sexual issue ...

  • Have your dog spayed or neutered as soon as possible.

Tips to Keep Your Dog Safe

Take these steps to keep your dog from wandering and to help find them if they do take off.

  • Make sure they are microchipped and always wears a collar with an ID and your phone number.
  • Check gates and doors anytime a visitor, yard worker, or repair person comes to your home.
  • Hold on to your dog's collar when people come to the door, or put them in their crate or another room.
  • Teach your dog a solid "stay" command.
  • Never let your dog off their leash when you’re out walking.
  • When you find a runaway, don't chase them. They might think you're playing a game. Stop running, sit on the ground and call them instead.
  • Always reward them when they return to you. Never punish them when they return -- they’ll link it with bad things and may not come.

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WebMD Veterinary Reference Reviewed by Amy Flowers, DVM on May 02, 2019

Sources

The Humane Society of the United States: "How to Keep Your Dog from Escaping."

Denver Dumb Friends League: "The Canine Escape Artist."

American Kennel Club: "Puppy Separation Anxiety: Symptoms, Causes, Prevention, and Treatment," “Tips for Getting Your Dog to Come to You -- Every Time You Call.”

ASPCA: "Independence Day Can Be Perilous for Pets," "Separation Anxiety."

Partnership for Animal Welfare: "How to Prevent Escapes...and What To Do If Your Dog Gets Away."

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