“Fido! Fido! Come here, Fido! Where are you??” Are these words familiar to you? Do they make you feel stressed and disappointed? If so, you might have a runaway dog problem!
In this article, we’ll reflect on reasons why dogs run away from home and what we, their humans, can do to make them want to stay home with us instead.
You may or may not be surprised to learn that most of dogs’ wanderings have to do with boredom, craving more attention, or getting away from something they fear.
How very human of them! Keep reading for some suggestions on how to handle these “disappearing acts.”
7 Ways to Prevent Runaway Dog Problems
The simplest-seeming solution to preventing a dog from running away is to put up physical barriers, the most common of which is a fence. But, as we’ll discuss below, barriers tend not to address the root causes of errant dogs.
Add a Fence or Reinforce an Existing Fence
A physical fence (made of wood, metal, vinyl, etc.) can solve the runaway dog problem at least temporarily–and for some dogs, permanently. And it will be a great source of relief for you.
In fact, you’ll be relieved right until your dog breaches the fence. This could be by jumping the fence for a larger dog, digging under it for a smaller one, or just waiting until the gate is open and bolting.
For some reason, the dog just wants out. So, you reinforce the fence, probably in one of the following ways:
- By tethering the dog in the yard
- By extending the top of the fence
- By burying chicken wire or metal rods under the fence
- By creating a “digging zone” and training the dog to use it
- By adding or replacing the existing fence with an “invisible” dog fence
Be aware, though, that none of these solutions is foolproof. If your dog has a nagging problem, he might just keep looking for new ways to escape.
Make Sure the Dog Is Getting Enough Attention at Home
You really need to figure out why the dog keeps trying to run away. Could it be that you’re not giving her enough attention (or at least that’s how the dog perceives it)? So, it might make sense to spend some more time walking and playing.
You might not realize this, but it’s been shown that dogs have a limited range of emotions that are similar to those of very young humans–up to about age 2½.
These emotions include fear and anger, which could explain how the dog might feel about not getting enough human attention–and why he might seek it elsewhere.
Give the Dog Some Intellectual Stimulation
No, we don’t mean you need to teach your dog Shakespeare or physics. But she does need some engaging and challenging activities, such as new commands, a game of fetch, or some puzzle toys for when you’re not home.
If it’s possible to take your dog to work with you, or daycare, that would be great. Most dogs enjoy interacting with humans and other dogs.
Don’t Leave Your Dog Alone in the Yard
There’s nothing like boredom to make a dog start thinking of new activities on his own–such as trying to get involved with what’s happening outside the fence.
“Who’s in that yard next door? What’s happening on the sidewalk? I wonder how high I can jump.”
But if you’re watching from nearby, you can catch the dog before the “great escape” and perhaps that escape won’t even be attempted if the dog knows you’re there.
Besides, there are all sorts of risks to your dog when left alone in the yard. Escaping is just one of them. But what if the dog becomes dehydrated from sitting in the sun or is injured somehow? What is your dog is kidnapped??
A Dog Escaping Might be Escaping from Something
As we mentioned above, dogs feel fear–and feel it acutely. It might be a fear of loud noises, especially fireworks. It might be anticipatory separation anxiety. Or it might be bullying by another household pet.
And there’s a fair chance that bully is a cat, especially if it’s a larger cat and a smaller dog. Why? The dog might be too assertively playful for the cat’s liking, or the cat might be interested in eating the dog’s food. It’s hard to tell.
Maybe in this situation, pets are like human kids. You need to mediate without picking favorites until things settle down. Repeat as needed, making sure no one gets hurt.
There Was Something Interesting to Chase
Maybe it was a mail carrier. Maybe it was a squirrel. Whatever it was, it was more interesting to your dog than whatever she was doing at the time.
As you might already know, dogs also like to chase cars. If ever there was a reason to prevent your dog from escaping, this would be it. Maybe they think of cars as other, really big dogs. Or maybe it’s just that cars are moving objects.
Seeing a beloved dog who has been hit by a car, whether injured or dead, is one of the most memorable and heartbreaking sites anyone ever has to see. Think of this the next time you let your escape artist dog out to roam on his own.
The last reason for dogs running away that we’ve thought of is probably the most obvious: they had the opportunity. There was a fence to dig under or jump over, a gate left open, or something else.
Dogs, like humans, are curious creatures. And if there’s a ready opportunity to do something new and different, chances are a dog will be on that in a heartbeat.
And It Was a Dog Who Answered, of Course
Opportunity knocked, and the dog answered.
Don’t ever punish your dog for running away. She wouldn’t understand since guilt isn’t something dogs experience. Instead, reward her for coming back home. That’s where you want her to be, isn’t it?
If your dog has escaped and then returned, delivered by a neighbor, or even by the police, welcome her back with open arms. Maybe give her a treat. This is positive reinforcement that tells your dog this is where she is wanted and loved.
That’s what she wanted all along.
And by the way, if you’re fascinated by pet behaviors or just love pets generally, keep reading our blog and let us know what you think of the articles.