Having a dog that likes to run away is a constant stress and a fear they will book it every time you open the door. Bigger and stronger dogs can be harder to contain, some dig under fences or leap over shorter ones. Their immense energy and speed make them quite difficult to catch. Sometimes they think it is a game. Sometimes they run because they enjoy the feeling of pure freedom. No matter how you slice the pie, if you keep them there when they do not want to be there, they are your captives. No matter how much you love them, how well you treat them, or even in general how happy they are, some dogs may feel that way and always try and escape.
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The Root of the Behavior
So the question becomes why do they want to escape? What can we do to make our canine feel more at home and a part of the team? I have some anecdotal experience that applies here. Two dogs, both females of different ages, different litters and arrived in the home at different times both consistently ran away. The action always started with the alpha, a Golden Lab who was the bigger of the two. Curiously the smaller of the two dogs would always look back, seemingly confused as to who was in charge but would always end up following the Lab anyway. As the Lab became older and got sick, she began running away less and less. Eventually no longer running away at all. When she stopped running, the other dog stopped running as well. Where now you can let them outside with no fence around the house and they will not leave the yard and always return when called for. This story demonstrates a few major concepts here. First, the alpha dog is the only dog in the house you need to get to stop running. The other dogs will follow suit. Second, exercise is typically the way to solve this problem.
It is unclear whether or not she thought running away was a game or what, as they always returned eventually, however as she got older she lost energy. She became fatigued more easily and so our walks became enough to sufficiently wear her out. If she thought it was a game, she certainly did not think it was fun anymore. The lesson you should take from this is, if you want to correct the behavior of a dog who constantly tries to escape, the cure is simple. Pick your biggest and strongest and fastest dog and just try to wear 'em out. Take him for long runs, or better yet have the neighbor kid do it. Play fetch with him until he can barely walk anymore. Regardless of why he is running, this is your best immediate solution.
Encouraging the Behavior
Truth is, they usually think it is a game. A lot of the time they believe this because of our own actions. Most dog owners will pet and encourage a dog who comes back to them after they have run away. Although this seems like the logical thing to do, you should not do this. It is counter-intuitive but if you reward a dog who has just run away, they will not be able to differentiate running away and returning and believe they are being rewarded for the entire act and everything they did was okay. Punishing them seems like the appropriate step but again, it is not the way to go about it. You do not want to inadvertently discourage them from returning to you. The fact of it is, you have to address the root cause of the issue. If they are running because they are bored, you need to give them something else to do. If they are running because they have too much pent up energy, then you need to exercise them more and if they are running because they think it is a game, then you need to stop any rewarding or encouraging behavior when they return.
Other Solutions and Considerations
This article has recommended exercise to get them to stop running away. Many will tell you a shock collar will be easier and more effective. It is hard to argue with because it's true. A shock collar will likely be very effective in this manner. However, think about the dog you want to have. Do you want to have a dog that runs away every time the batteries die in his collar or do you want a dog that will always stay around without even a leash required? A shock collar will not teach your dog to do this and may, in fact, harm the dog while it is trying to teach them something far more rudimentary. If you are looking for an easier solution, hiring a dog training professional is going to be very effective and cost you less the installing a fence or a wireless shock collar system.