How to Stop a Dog From Running Away When Off Leash

Key takeaways

Some dogs can run a little wild when you let them off the leash. This isn't only frustrating and stressful for you, but it can put your dog in danger.

It's important, as responsible dog owners, to have control over our pups. This is why we're offering our top 6 expert tips to stop your dog from running away.

We'll also look into why your dog may be behaving like this and ways to keep them safe.

Quick Navigation

  1. Key takeaways
  2. 6 ways to stop your dog from running away
  3. Why your dog may be running away
  4. How to keep your dog safe
  5. FAQs
  6. Final thoughts

6 ways to stop your dog from running away

Dog training can be difficult, especially for an adult dog. And when we see our dogs run away for the thousandth time, not only are we afraid for their safety, but we can feel pretty frustrated, too. But don't worry. These things take time, and you will get there! Use our 6 top tips for stopping them from running away.

1. Dog whistle

Training your dog to a dog whistle has plenty of benefits. But how do they work? Well, when blown, they emit an ultrasonic sound too high for us humans to hear. However, our pups and their impressive hearing can pick up this range. Dogs can hear frequencies of up to between 70 and 100 Hz, whereas the highest frequency humans can hear is 20htz. (source)
This sound will naturally be intriguing to dogs because of its high frequencies, meaning it's very effective at getting their attention. It's also a sound that is unlikely to be replicated in day-to-day life, so can be a clear marker of a command.
To train your dog to stop running away using a dog whistle, you'll need to initially use another command, like 'stay' or 'come back.' Once you have taught your pup what that means, you can practice the command in a safe and secure area. Use the following steps:

Let your dog off their leash

Use the command 'stay' or 'come back'

Blow the whistle after you say this

When they come to you, reward the behavior with a treat

Repeat this often until you only need to use the whistle instead of the other commands. This will mean you can use the whistle over long distances instead of shouting for your dog.
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Top Tip: Positive reinforcement is key, and remember to keep practicing in a safe space before taking it to the outside world.
German shepherd running away from its owner

2. Practice in a fenced yard

Often, our dogs may run away because they aren't used to freedom. The excitement of no longer being on the leash may cause the zoomies, and before long, your furry friend is bounding off in the distance.
To prevent this, they need to be accustomed to being off the leash. Make sure your backyard is secured, and let them sniff around and explore off the leash. Every now and then, call them to you. If they come, reward them with a treat. If they don't, clip their leash on and walk them back to where you were standing and make them sit.
Repeat this until you no longer have to guide them back yourself, and as always, reinforce good behavior with a tasty treat. Make sure you are consistent and use the same command every time.
A dog in a garden

3. Practice from a young age

Training a puppy is incredibly important to prevent future behavior issues. It's much easier for a puppy to learn new commands rather than an older dog who's more set in their ways. This is why, as a dog owner, you should prioritize training time when you get a new puppy.
Puppy classes are a great option. It's easier for your furry friend to pick up on cues and commands if they can watch other dogs doing the same thing.
This will also prevent them from learning the wrong behaviors, which are difficult to correct later on in life.
Alongside this, allowing your puppy to experience lots of different situations can help them feel calm and confident, reducing the risk of them getting spooked and running away. For example, if you take them to a busy town center when they are young, they're unlikely to be afraid of loud noises or people.
Some important scenarios for your pup to experience so they don't grow up to be reactive include:

Meeting young children

Visiting a dog park

Walking your dog off leash

Taking your dog to new homes

Traveling with your dog

A child playing with a puppy

4. Neuter your dog

Unneutered male dogs can run for miles if they pick up on the scent of a female dog in heat. This is an instinct they simply cannot ignore. And, because dogs have such a keen sense of smell, able to detect a scent from 20km (12 miles) away in perfect conditions, it's quite likely your dog will follow a smell.
Similarly, if you haven't had your female dog spayed, then they can also run away to try and find a male dog to mate with. It is not advised to let your female dog in heat outside. They will attract too much attention and are at risk of being hurt, injured, or becoming lost.
By neutering your dogs, you will reduce their instinctual need to mate. It's not a 100% guarantee, but it's very likely to reduce running away behavior. It can also help prevent future behavioral and health problems, so there are multiple benefits.

It is not advised to let your female dog in heat outside. They will attract too much attention and are at risk of being hurt, injured, or becoming lost.

A dog being neutered by a vet

5. Visit a secure dog park

Dog parks are the perfect place to prioritize your dog's safety while introducing some light training sessions. Here, you can let your dogs run free, knowing you are in a secure environment surrounded by other like-minded dog owners.
This is a great place to try letting your dog off leash. The most interesting and exciting things will be happening within the dog park, so they are unlikely to want to escape. It's also an easy place for you to keep track of your furry friend so you can relax. This is an important aspect of off-leash training. Dogs can pick up on our emotions and stress, which can distract them and prevent them from feeling confident and comfortable.
At the dog park, allow your dog time to fully explore the area, make friends, and run before you try any recall training. This environment will make it difficult for your dog to learn any new commands because of all the distractions, but it's a good place to practice those they have already learned.
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Top Tip: Remember to pay attention to leash laws in the area and bring lots of yummy treats along with you.
A dog exploring a dog park

6. Don't chase them

The worst thing you can do when your dog decides to become an escape artist is to chase them. This immediately signals one of two things to your dog: it's a game, or they're in trouble.
If they sense that you are angry, then they may become fearful. If their fight or flight instinct is triggered, they are very unlikely to return to you. Instead, they will continue running until they find a safe place to wait and hide. Interestingly, when they are in 'survival mode,' they can temporarily forget their owners and are unwilling to trust anyone. This makes it very difficult to find them and get them out of hiding.
Alternatively, if they think running away is a game, they will soon learn to behave like this as much as possible because, to them, it's fun! This can damage your training efforts so far and can be a very difficult thing to reverse.
Instead, you need to stay calm and do the following:

Stand still

Offer treats

Call their name gently; don't allow yourself to sound annoyed, angry, or frustrated

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Expert Insight: We know this is against our own instincts. If we see our beloved pup running away, we just want to keep that dog safe! But the safest thing you can do is stand your ground.
A puppy chasing a butterfly

Why your dog may be running away

To know what to tackle in your dog training, you need to know the root cause of the behavior. Below are some common reasons that can cause your dog to run away.

Stress or fear

When our dogs experience fear or stress, their fight-or-flight instinct is activated. Most of the time, this results in them running away and hiding, and it can be very difficult to find them again.
Common external causes of fear or stress can be:

Meeting new people

Loud noises

Busy areas

New environments

Other animals

However, if nothing has seemed to cause your dog to run away, then they may be experiencing ongoing stress in their life. This can be caused by:

Being left alone for too long

Feeling neglected

Not getting enough food

Not feeling safe in their home

A dog being scared by fireworks

Instincts

As much as we can train our furry friends, we can't override their instincts. These are chemical cues passed down for thousands of years. They include:

Mating: As we discussed earlier, a dog's mating instinct can be very strong. This can cause them to run away if they pick up on the scent of another dog.

Hunting: Different dog breeds have different prey drives. This basically means whether they have a strong desire to hunt or not. If you have a pup with a high prey drive, then nothing is stopping them from chasing that squirrel!

There is little we can do when our dogs' instincts kick in. Good recall training will help, but to prioritize your dog's safety, make sure they aren't off the leash in places where they can get into trouble.

Learned behavior

We briefly mentioned earlier that it is much easier to train a puppy. This is because our dogs can learn behaviors very quickly, and it can be nearly impossible to get them to stop.
If you have allowed your dog to run away or don't show them that that behavior is wrong, then they won't think there is a problem. This is not their fault, and it's not fair to punish your dog for running away. Instead, you need to enact positive reinforcement.
Start training your dog in a fenced yard, and they'll begin to learn a new behavior. But remember to be patient!
A german shepherd running away

How to keep your dog safe

Training sessions can take a while to be effective. You're not going to be able to trust your dog 100% the day after their first lesson. So, you need to take measures to keep them safe if they do run away.

Microchip

If your dog runs away, it's likely they will be reported and picked up by an animal shelter. These animal shelters are very overrun and underfunded, which means if a dog is not claimed, they risk being euthanized.
This is the worst-case scenario, but it is a very real scenario. But you can easily prevent this from happening. Every shelter, vet, and animal rescue organization will scan an animal for a microchip when they are found.
If your dog has a chip with your up-to-date contact details on it, then they can call you straight away, and you will be reunited with your buddy!
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Top Tip: Microchips will only ever keep your dog safe, so if you haven't already, get them chipped! It's a simple procedure where a tiny chip is inserted between your dog's shoulder blades. It's quick and painless.
A dog getting a microchip scanned

Collar

It may sound like an obvious suggestion, but we can't stress the importance of this one enough. Ensuring your dog wears a collar is essential for their safety.
If your dog runs away without a collar, then people will assume it is a stray. They will either ignore it or report it, risking your dog's life and reducing the likelihood of you being reunited with them, especially if they aren't microchipped.
Also, if your pup does run away with a collar on, then a member of the public will soon be able to read the details on it and contact you to let you know where your pup is. This means you will be reunited as quickly as possible.

GPS tracker

Believe it or not, it's super easy to track your dog using GPS. There are multiple companies providing a GPS tracker along with an app so you can keep a close eye on your pup.
They are usually small devices that clip onto your dog's collar. Once they are on and activated, you can download an app that will show you a map. Here, you can see your dog in real time.
It's the perfect solution for those living rurally and who like to give their dog freedom to roam. But it's also the ideal piece of tech for owners whose dog escapes regularly and is in the training process. It can give you that extra little bit of peace of mind, knowing you'll be able to see their exact location 24/7.
Two people taking their dogs for a walk in the woods

FAQs

Do dogs grow out of running away?

Many dogs, with the right training, will grow out of running away. Puppies won't understand how to control their instincts, but as they grow up this will become easier.

How do you get your dog to come back after running away?

You can get your dog to come back after running away by offering them treats, calling their name gently, and using a recall word or sound. Make sure you don't chase them!

How do you train a dog to stay by you when off leash?

You can train a dog to stay by you when off leash by practicing this in a secure area to a certain command and positively reinforcing good behavior.

What dog breeds tend to run away?

Certain dog breeds are more likely to run away than others. For example, huskies and German shepherds have a high prey drive and will find it difficult to ignore their instincts.

How long do dogs usually run away for?

When a dog runs away, their fight or flight instinct may kick in. This can cause them to hide. Most dogs will be found between 24 hours and 48 hours after they have run away.

Is it normal for dogs to run away from home?

No, it is not normal for dogs to run away from home. This is usually an indication that your dog is not happy and their fight or flight instinct has been triggered.

Will my dog run away if I let him off the leash?

If you haven't previously trained your dog to stay, then they may run away when you walk them off leash.

Final thoughts

Not being able to trust your dog off leash can be stressful for dog owners. But training your dog not to run away isn't as difficult as you may think. With patience, dedication, and hard work, you can help your dogs build habits that will stick for a lifetime.
So, don't just accept that you have a runaway dog. Be proactive and help them learn!

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