Have you ever watched your dog sleeping, and seen his legs twitch and shake, as little whimpers and groans escape his mouth? There’s a very good chance that your dog is dreaming of running – in a field, the woods, the park… It’s entirely harmless, it’s just a vivid dream!
Dogs are man’s best friend. They are highly loyal and faithful, responsive, enjoy our company, tune in to our feelings and love us with an incredible intensity. That said, it is in their nature to run, and run like the wind. Many dog breeds have natural traits that relate to hunting and running – Terriers, to chase rabbits and other small animals and vermin down holes and through bushes. Setters and Pointers will chase a target and then ‘Set or Point’ on it, using their streamlined bodies to signal where the animal is. Huskies actually enjoy pulling a sled. Shepherds and Sheepdogs have been running around herding sheep for centuries. Ridgebacks characteristics are to chase down Lions!… and so the list goes on… the one characteristic that most dog breeds have in common, is running. That’s what they want to do. It’s animal instinct and there’s very little you can do about it.
Understanding this is key to keeping your dog safe, secure and by your side. See below for my top ten ways to stop a dog from running away…
Not only do your dogs WANT to run, they NEED to run. Exercise keeps your dog fit and healthy, helps them to burn off excess energy, reduces boredom and anxiety. Dogs that have satisfied their desire to run will be far more responsive to you and be more inclined to stay within the confines of their homes. Larger dogs need to run further and longer than smaller ones. So when bringing a new dog into your family, ensure you are choosing a breed that suits your own physical ability, or your dog will be looking for ways to escape and satisfy his own animal instincts. Take your dog for walks or runs every day, twice a day for larger breeds, and if possible at least once a week, take him for a run that will absolutely exhaust him.
2. Obedience Training
The best way to allow your dog to satisfy his own desire to run, is to let him off leash at the park, the beach or in the countryside. This is no good if you just let your dog off leash and he bolts out of sight, as you’ll just end up with a lost dog. Train your dog with the basics: sit, stay, come, drop. Most dogs are quite responsive to training – some take a bit longer to learn than others, but for a dog, obedience training is a bit like riding a bike, once they’ve got it, they are going to have that skill for life.
There are Dog obedience training schools everywhere. Hit the internet and search in your local area, not only will this training keep your dog safe and secure, but it’s a great way to meet other dog owners who will be happy to share great walking and exercising spots in your area that you may not know of.
Alternatively, there are many varieties of training collars that give command signals to your dog with sound, electric pulses, or even walky talky type voice features so that you can signal commands to your dog from a distance. Your dog will need training to understand the collar commands, but this is great for larger dogs and working and hunting dogs who may be out of voice range.
3. Use a Dog Leash
If your dog has a tendency to run off at the park without permission, use a leash. It’s a no-brainer. Some dogs can have years of training, but the moment they see a pigeon, another dog, a football etc, that’s it, they’re off.
I owned a Rottweiler, ‘Oxley’ for many years. Oxley was generally pretty lazy, and just used to amble along by my side on walks, and had decent road sense, he was fully obedience trained to Companion Dog level. In order to get him running, I had to throw a tennis ball. I don’t know where it came from, but kites were his thing. If Oxley saw a kite in the sky, some kind of switch would flick in his brain, and suddenly he turned into a racehorse, complete with blinkers. We lived by the coast, and there was a busy highway that ran alongside the beach. If we were off leash on the wrong side of the road, and Oxley saw a kite, he would bolt across that highway, with no concern for traffic and race towards the kite, where he would remain, barking like a mad thing until I had caught up with him. Depending on how windy it was, his chase could see him zig zag across that road many times.
So know your dog. Know his little foibles, and know what might ‘flick his switch’. Keep him on a leash until you reach the area where you intend to take him off leash, and check that it’s safe before doing so. There are many retractable leashes on the market, some allowing a free run of up to 10 meters, which is plenty of room to allow your dog to explore.
So, if you aren’t comfortable letting your dog off leash, just don’t do it.
4. Dog Proof your Garden or Yard
As loyal and faithful as your dog may be, the smell of the BBQ down the road, the scent of the bitch on heat on the next block, or even just the will to explore the neighborhood, can turn your dog into an escape artist of the likes to rival Houdini!
Check all your fences and gates regularly for gaps and holes. If you find gaps or holes, ask yourself ‘how did they get there?’. Is your dog chewing through fence panels or digging underneath? If your fence looks fine, but your dog is still getting out, it’s possible he is jumping over. Maybe he is a great jumper, or maybe you have a table or pot plant near the fence he is using as a foothold to leverage himself higher to jump. If any of this is the case in your garden, you need to upgrade your fencing. Fit fence posts and gravel boards deeper underground for dogs who dig under, and increase fence height for dogs that are jumping.
Check the locks on your gates. Dogs are pretty smart, and if all you have is a latch, your dog may just be opening the gate and letting himself out. Lock your gates.
5. Be Aware of Doors and Windows
Just as a dog may be clever enough to open a gate with a latch, some dogs can open doors. Check the doors in your house, and although it might create a great YouTube video, teaching your dog to open doors by himself is just asking for trouble.
When you are bringing the shopping in from the car, and are doing a few trips, ensure that your dog is safely behind another door, or confined in the garden. Similarly, if you have kids that are constantly coming and going, or you find yourself shouting ‘Do you live in a barn?’ a lot, be aware that every time you leave the front door open or your kids do, or your guests do, that this an opportunity for your dog to escape.
Same goes for windows, ground floor and first floor. Ensure in hot weather, when you have your windows open, that this is not another escape route for your dog! Installing fly wire, or mesh screens on your windows will allow you to open them without fear of your pooch jumping through them.
6. Neuter or Spay
Unless you are a registered dog breeder, there is really no reason for you not to get your dog neutered or spayed. Amongst a host of other reasons, sterilizing your pet is scientifically proven to reduce the instinct in dogs to roam and wander. A female dog on heat will instinctively ‘put herself out there’, a male dog will instinctively try to hunt down a female dog on heat.
Sterilizing your dog stops the dog from producing the sexual hormones that inspire them to wander or roam, and they will typically become more human family focused, and turn into homebodies, preferring to spend more time curled up by the fire or interacting with their human parents.
7. Provide Plenty of Food and Water
Don’t let your dog feel the need to escape out of necessity. ALWAYS make sure your dog has a full bowl of clean, fresh, water available, and is being fed properly and enough. To be honest, if your dog is escaping or running off from you due to hunger or thirst, then you really don’t deserve to be a pet owner at all!
8. Fight or Flight Instinct
A dog that feels threatened will run. It’s an instinct that is hard-wired into their brains, and only the most highly trained animals can control this.
There are certain elements of today’s society that will cause this instinct to surface, and a lot of the time it’s out of our control. Thunder, lightning, fireworks, gunshots, cars backfiring – these are all things that will instinctively set off this response in our dogs. I’m sure you have all witnessed your dog whimpering under the bed during a thunderstorm.
The best policy here is to just ensure your dog is with you, and feels safe during these times. Don’t leave him in the garden during a thunderstorm, he will just try to escape to somewhere safe. Let him in where he can be close to you, let him hide under the bed. Whatever makes him feel safe. Be aware of fireworks during holiday season or during celebrations, and again, keep your dog with you where he feels safe. Keep him secure so that he doesn’t run off.
Your local area may have other contributing factors. Do you live near a racetrack or gun range? Are you by a train line? An airport? Any loud unexpected sounds can set this response to run, off in your dog, so just be aware of your surroundings, and let your dog learn that as long as he is by your side, then he is safe!
No collar or tag is going to stop your dog from running away, but there is a type of GPS collar that can alert you to the fact that your dog has escaped the house or garden. These collars use a technology called geo-fencing. This is where you can either set the geo-fence to your homes WiFi range, or you can design a fenced area of your choosing, useful if you and your dog are out visiting, camping or away from home for other reasons.
This particular feature will alert you, either via your smartphone or on a handheld device, that your dog (or rather, his collar) has left this predefined area. In some models, it will show you exactly where on a map, your dog left the area.
A great tool for giving you a head start on your escaping dog, as the sooner you know that you have an escapee, the less distance he can travel, and the sooner you can get him back into a safe and secure environment the better!
10. Microchipping and ID tags
Some may say that microchipping and ID tags should appear at the top of this list. However, as essential as these items are, they will not stop your dog from running away. They are a ‘horse has already bolted’ item to help recover your dog, once he has already escaped, but I do believe they deserve a spot in this list!
Microchipping your dog is actually a legal requirement in some countries now. In the UK, both microchipping your dog, and having a dog ID tag on any dog in public is a legal requirement of being a dog owner – in this writers’ opinion, this should be law in EVERY country. The way vets and shelters use the information on your dog’s microchip and how and when they are scanned, is a process that is still finding it’s feet, so although it is absolutely essential that you get your pets chipped, and the most likely way your escapee mutt is going to be returned to you, you should not rely on this alone.
A clear ID tag on your dogs’ collar is also essential. It should list your name and address (not the Dog’s name – you don’t want a dog thief being able to call your dog), a phone number, and if possible, the name and phone number of the microchip company that relates to your dog’s chip). The lady in the next street who picked up your wandering dog does not have a chip reader, so make it easy for her to return your dog to you.
Being familiar with all the points listed above, will help you to keep your dog safe and secure and reduce the risk of your dog running off and getting lost. I hope I have covered the majority of ways to stop a dog from running away, but if you have any more tips, please comment below and share the wealth with my other readers! If you know other pet owners who are struggling with keeping their dog safe and secure, go ahead and share this on social media.
If your dog has already escaped, please read my post Step by Step – How to find your Lost Pet to ensure you are covering all bases.
Too many dogs go missing each year, and if this article can help just one dog from running off, then it has done its job!
Stay Safe People!