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As a dog owner, there are any number of things to prepare for when it comes to ensuring your dog has a healthy and happy life. You get him checked at the vet, purchase the right kind of food, offer lots of toys, love, and affection, and do your best to keep him safe. But even the worst case scenario can’t always be prevented. A busy holiday weekend with guests coming in and out of your house may be a recipe for disaster when it comes to a particularly adventurous pup. The temptation to bolt out the door or leap out of the backyard is sometimes one that not every dog can resist and can be extremely dangerous, especially in places where traffic is busy or other animals may be roaming around. Your dog’s safety is the most important thing and should definitely not be taken lightly.
Running away from home is a common behavior problem for many dogs, though it’s easily one of the more dangerous issues to deal with. A loose dog can get into all sorts of trouble including injury, illness, or even worse. As his owner, your dog depends on you to keep him safe, even if he isn’t so keen on making it easy for you. But while this problem can be hard to deal with, you may be surprised as to the ways you can keep your dog from running off. These methods are best done while your dog is a puppy to solidify the training early on, as working with an adult dog with established habits may present a challenge. It’s not impossible, however, to slowly adapt your older dog to new habits as long as you approach with patience and caution.
First, ensure that front doors are not left open unattended and that backyard fences are high enough to prevent your dog from leaping over and cannot be dug under. Close off his escape routes where you can and get your dog a collar with a tag and microchip, if possible. Identifying information is important, especially if you have a dog that runs off frequently. The easier it is for someone to return your dog to you, the better chance you’ll have that your dog will make it home okay.
For training, you’ll need some fun and stimulating toys to keep your dog occupied. Things like puzzle toys and Kong toys work well. You’ll also need some treats and the ability to train every day. Repetition is the only way your dog will form new habits.
The Prevention Method
Find out why your dog runs
In most cases, you may be able to determine what is causing your dog to run away. It can be anything from boredom to smelling another dog nearby. Try to really pinpoint the source, if possible.
Keep your home interesting
Create areas for your dog to specifically explore and play in. A room or kitchen that has been sectioned off from the rest of the house may work well. Scatter toys around or provide tasty treats in various places.
Keep your dog active
Your dog may run simply because he has excess energy to burn. Take care of this energy by going on frequent walks or runs or working on a sport and tire him out as best as you can before leaving him to his own devices.
Provide the essentials
If your dog doesn’t have enough water or a comfortable bed during the day, he may tend to run away to find one. This may also happen if he’s hungry. Be sure that your dog has everything he needs to be comfortable and happy throughout the day. Provide regular mealtimes so he knows when food is coming.
If you know your dog has a tendency to run off when you open the door for guests, prepare him for a guest’s arrival beforehand. Separate him in another room until the guest has entered the home and the door has been closed.
Establish a routine
If you know what normally sets your dog off running, be sure to repeat the steps you take to keep him from doing so as often as you can. Make sure you determine a routine for yourself and for him to follow whenever the temptation to run away is present. Repeat and practice this routine often.
The Callback Method
Never chase your dog
Chasing your dog when she has run away from you will usually only seem like a game to her and will likely only result in her running farther and faster.
Have treats at the ready
Practicing a good return to you is important for a dog who runs. Be sure to have plenty of really good treats to associate returning with good things.
Get your dog’s attention
Without approaching her, call her name and get your dog to look at you. Wave the treat in the air. An extra smelly treat may work better, as she’ll be able to smell it better from a distance.
Put a word to the command
In an excited voice, call your dog’s name and say ‘come’ or ‘come here’. The more enthusiasm you have, the more likely your dog will be interested in returning to you.
Run the opposite direction
Dogs love to chase even more than they love to run away. Running in the opposite direction with a treat in hand will entice your dog to run after you.
As soon as she closes the distance between you, even if she’s not immediately within your grasp, toss the reward to your dog. She’ll begin to associate running in your direction with receiving a treat and be much more likely to return to you regularly.
Even if your dog never has another escape attempt again, you can practice her recall out in the backyard or even on a long leash. Reward frequently for coming back to you until she is returning to you reliably. Don’t forget to use the verbal command!
The Wait Method
Find a boundary
Determine where in your house you’d like your dog to stop and sit rather than approaching the door. You can mark this area mentally or with a visible marker like a piece of tape, if necessary.
Perfect the ‘sit’
Work on a reliable ‘sit’ with your dog behind the boundary you’ve set for him. You may choose to use a dog bed or a cushion as a marker for where you’d like him to sit.
Work on the ‘wait’
Similar to a ‘stay’, a ‘wait’ command will let your dog know when you’d like him to remain in one place before you say it’s okay to move. While your dog is sitting, tell him to ‘wait’ and take one step towards the door. Immediately return and reward him for staying in place.
Increase the wait time
Each time you step away, go farther towards the door and for a longer period of time. Do this in increments while rewarding with every success. Work your way up to you being right at the door while your dog sits and waits for you.
Open the door
Little by little, work on the ‘wait’ command with an open door. Open it just a crack at first and slowly advance to having the door open halfway and then all the way. This may take several repetitions and several training sessions for him to understand. Be sure to take safety precautions beforehand and use a leash if you’re nervous about him running off.
Keep treats near the door
A ‘sit’ and ‘wait’ is almost always more effective if you have treats available in a pinch. Keeping a bowl of them near the door will help both you and any guests be prepared to reward your dog for not running off.
By TJ Trevino
Published: 12/28/2017, edited: 01/08/2021