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How to Train Your Dog Not to Run Away

Haley Young photo

Haley Young

February 01, 2024

Dog Training

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Picture this: A sunny day at the park, the breeze rustling through the leaves, and the joyous laughter of time spent with your dog. You decide to let your furry friend off the leash for some well-deserved freedom… only to find yourself in a heart-pounding chase as your pup takes off on an unexpected sprint as fast as they can.

Many dog parents have experienced the anxiety that comes with a dog's inclination to explore, especially when it means they’re headed far away from us. We’re here to help!

Read on for some tips to train your dog not to run away (and an overview of what to do if they do make a successful escape attempt).

Situations your dog might be tempted to run away from you

Fear or anxiety

Dogs may try to escape when they are frightened or anxious. Loud noises, thunderstorms, fireworks, or unfamiliar environments can trigger fear and prompt a dog to run away. Adrenaline can make it possible for scared dogs to perform feats they usually wouldn't be able to, like scaling physical fences. (You read that right. Some pups really do turn into fence climbers when they're desperate to get somewhere else.)

You can read more about dog anxiety in this piece.

Lack of proper exercise and enrichment

Excess energy

Dogs with excess energy make escape attempts if they are not getting enough exercise and mental stimulation. Regular physical activity and playtime help fulfill their need for stimulation. Sometimes daily walks won't be enough!

Boredom

Dogs left alone for extended periods without mental or physical stimulation may become bored. Boredom can lead to restlessness, which can result in these pups becoming known as escape artists.

You can read more about canine enrichment in this article and healthy physical exercise in this one.

Boredom can be especially trick for dogs who are contained by an invisible fence or form of electric fence in their own yard. They can still see other people, pets, and stimuli passing by — and they don't have a real fence barrier which makes it even easier to escape. If the promise of adventure outside the invisible fence perimeter seems exciting enough, these dogs might blow right through their containment collars. This can hurt them and be dangerous to others in your neighborhood, too.

Attraction to other animals

The presence of other dogs, wildlife, or even specific scents may attract a dog's curiosity and prompt them to follow or chase, potentially leading to running away.

Chasing prey

Dogs with a strong prey drive may be tempted to chase after small animals, birds, or moving objects. If off-leash, this chasing behavior can lead to them running away — and on rare occasions, a pup might be so motivated that their escape attempt involves getting past a physical fence.

Separation anxiety

Dogs with separation anxiety may make frantic escape attempts when left alone. The anxiety and distress they experience when separated from their pet parents can result in a strong desire to try to find their way back to you. Separation anxiety can be a serious condition that needs thoughtful positive reinforcement training.

You can read more about separation anxiety here.

A dog parent is about to unclip their dog's leash outside

Benefits of sharing off-leash time with your dog

There are many benefits of off leash exercise for pets and people alike. These include:

Moving freely is great for your dog's physical health

Being off leash lets your dog exercise in ways that aren't possible when they are on a leash. They're not wild animals anymore — we've domesticated them for generations and generations — but that doesn't mean they don't still love to run freely, swim, or hike at their own pace without feeling pressure from a physical tether. Plus these activities can offer higher intensity exercise than most leashed walks or runs with your dog, which is perfect to maintain strong muscles.

Off-leash dog training can also give young or elderly dogs a better opportunity to take breaks and listen to their bodies. All these can be important contributors to your dog's health!

Off-leash exploration can improve your pup's mental health

Off leash activities give your dog the freedom to roam, explore, and sniff new things. This provides your dog with some much-needed mental stimulation, especially in challenging environments. Living in a modern human world — and always having to stay at the end of a short leash — can be tough for companions whose ancestors used to cover miles in a single day.

Having fun with your dog off leash can build your relationship

Choosing to do off leash training with your dog means taking the time to teach them cues that will ensure their safety, such as “sit,” “stay,” and “come.” This training builds trust between you and your dog. The work you put in ahead of your adventures — and the joy you share on your outings themselves — ultimately lead to a closer relationship.

Sniffspot Dog running on field

Get safe exercise for your dog by renting a private dog park near you

Key components of off-leash training

Recall: Your dog comes back when you call

Of all the things you can teach your dog, teaching them to come when called, known as a reliable recall, is arguably the most important. The outside world can be unpredictable despite your best efforts. This cue will help keep your dog safe and keep you from chasing your dog at the local park!

You can read more about recall specifically in this article.

Not running away: Your dog stays nearby while unleashed

Another part of safe off-leash time is your dog having a default understanding that they should stay near you. That’s the focus of this article!

How to train your dog not to run away from you

First things first: Use a leash in the beginning!

Management is great.

Begin with a long leash or training lead to give your dog some freedom while maintaining control. This allows you to reinforce their cues if needed, like if they get distracted.

You can also practice in a safely fenced in area. But remember, your dog might still be able to escape in certain situations — and it can be harder to get their attention back on you if they're running completely loose. We usually recommend easing into full off-leash time even in "secure" areas.

Build up a strong relationship

If you and your dog have a strong relationship, they’ll be more likely to care about what you’re doing out on off-leash adventures. This means your pup will have a natural impulse to check in more regularly!

Here are some ways to build your bond:

  • Play together
  • Pay attention to your dog’s body language and try to listen when they ask for something or express a preference

Reward your dog for staying nearby

When your dog stays close to you voluntarily, reward them with favorite treats, praise, or play. Reinforce the behavior you want to encourage!

Consider using environmental rewards

Allow your dog to explore the environment as a reward for staying close. Use natural elements, like sniffing or exploring an interesting area, to reinforce their positive behavior.

Gradually provide more freedom

Gradually increase the distance between you and your dog as they become more reliable in staying close. Continue to reward them for choosing to stay nearby. Pay attention to your dog's body language. If they show signs of distraction or are about to wander too far, use the recall cue and reward them for returning.

Practice around distractions

Move to different environments and gradually increase the level of distractions. Practice in various locations, introducing new scents, sounds, and sights.

Always ask if your dog will be successful before letting them off leash

Patience is crucial. If your dog doesn't stay close immediately, avoid punishment and focus on positive reinforcement. Make staying near you a positive and rewarding experience.

A dog happily runs off leash playing frisbee

Get your dog the safe enrichment they need by renting a Sniffspot

Sniffspot Dog swimming in pool

Safety measures in case your dog ever does get away from you

No matter how hard we train, manage, and set ourselves up for success, sometimes flukes happen. We can’t always control the world around us. If your dog ever does run away, it's crucial to have safety measures in place to increase the chances of a safe and speedy return!

Here are some things to think about:

Make sure your dog wears clear identification

Ensure your dog is wearing a collar with an ID tag that includes your current contact information. This is a quick way for someone who finds your dog to contact you directly.

Microchip your dog

Have your dog microchipped. A microchip is a permanent form of identification and can be crucial in reuniting you with your dog. Make sure the microchip information is up-to-date with your current contact details.

Keep recent photos of your dog

Keep recent and clear photos of your dog. These photos will be valuable for creating lost dog posters and sharing on social media to help spread the word.

Understand your local resources

Know the locations and contact information of local animal shelters, veterinary clinics, and animal control offices. If your dog is found, they may be taken to one of these facilities.

Prepare a lost dog kit ahead of time

Prepare a lost dog kit that includes a recent photo, description of your dog, your contact information, and any relevant medical information. Keep this kit readily available for quick access.

Trainer Review of this Article

There is so much misinformation out there, and we want to make sure we only provide the highest quality content to our community. We have our articles reviewed by qualified force free trainers.  

This is the trainer that reviewed this article:

Brittany L. Fulton, CTC
Founder and Trainer, Dances with Dogs, Silver Spring, MD, www.dancesdogs.com - Certified in Training and Counseling (CTC), The Academy for Dog Trainers

Sniffspot Dog running on field

Get safe exercise for your dog by renting a private dog park near you

Haley Young photo

Haley Young

February 01, 2024

Dog Training

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