Why Do Dogs Run Away? Top 5 Reasons

Key takeaways

There are 5 main reasons why dogs run away, which include their instincts, neglect, a routine change, moving house, and fear.

Knowing the most common reasons for lost dogs means you can keep your dog safe by preventing this behavior.

We explore how you can keep your pup happy before offering a step-by-step action plan to take if your dog has run away.

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  1. Key takeaways
  2. Top 5 reasons why dogs run away
  3. How to keep your dog safe
  4. What to do if your dog runs away
  5. FAQs
  6. Final thoughts

Top 5 reasons why dogs run away

As pet owners, we can feel as if we've failed when our dog runs away. However, most of the time, it is out of our control. The most common five reasons are a mix of instinctual behavior and environmental factors.

1. Instincts

No matter how well trained your dog is, they will still respond to instincts. After all, they are animals with urges that they can’t control.
The three main instincts that cause dogs to run away are:

Hunting: Even though our pups are fed well, cared for, and very far from survival, they still experience the urge to hunt. Different breeds have different prey drives, which basically means how strong their hunting instinct will be. You've seen how quickly our dogs can sprint when they see a squirrel. Sometimes, our furry friends will chase their prey for so long that they become lost.

Mating: Our best buds also experience a strong urge to mate. While neutering our pups can help control this urge, it won't get rid of it completely. If a male dog picks up on the scent of a female dog in heat, they can run for miles to try and find them. Our clever pups can pick up scents from up to 12 miles away, so they have the potential to get lost following a smell (source).

Curiosity: Dogs are neophillic, which means they are attracted to new smells. They instinctually follow any new scents they pick up to find out what they are. We see this curiosity often on walks. If they are on a new walk, this instinct can take over, and they may run away.

A puppy chasing a butterfly to indicate their hunting instinct

2. Neglect

If a dog is feeling neglected, their fight or flight instinct can kick in. This means they can go into 'survival mode' where they focus only on food, shelter, and safety. Usually, this safety means avoiding any contact with other people and animals.
Examples of neglect include:

Not feeding them enough

Not exercising them enough

Not offering them adequate shelter

Not grooming them

Lack of stimulation

Lack of exercise

Leaving them alone for too long, causing separation anxiety

If a dog is neglected enough, they will run away to find a safer situation.
A dog lying on a bed on their own

3. Change in routine

Dogs love a stable routine. Knowing their territory, schedule, feeding times, and exercise times comforts our furry friends and allows them to thrive.
Uncertainty can distress our sensitive pups. Without the safety of knowing what’s next, they can experience stress, which may trigger their instinct to run away.

4. Moving house

Knowing every little nook and cranny of their territory is important for dogs. Recognizing familiar scents, marking their territory, and constantly surveying the area are all part of a dog's instinctual job. Without a clear territory, they will feel displaced and distressed.
For this reason, if you move house, your dog will have to learn and mark their territory all over again. However, this isn't always how it goes. If you let your dog off the leash recently after moving house, they may try to return to your old place by following the scents they recognize.

5. Fear

Sometimes, there is nothing we can do to prevent dogs from running away. This is certainly true when it comes to fear. A very common reason for dour pups to take off includes loud noises, like fireworks or construction work.
However, these aren't the only things that can frighten dogs. In fact, it all depends on your pup. Some dogs are carefree and unfazed by most things. However, if you have a more timid, skittish dog, it's worth remembering the following things can frighten pups:

Strangers in their territory

Construction work

Loud music

Loud visitors

Loud neighbors

A scared dog hiding outside after running away from fireworks

How to keep your dog safe

Keeping your pup happy and healthy can often prevent them from running away. Sometimes, as pet owners, we can become complacent. It’s natural and normal, but it’s important to check ourselves and make sure we’re making our dog’s life as comfortable as possible.

Treat them with respect

Your home is your dog's home. We know how stressful it can be when our environment is disrupted, so imagine how it feels for your pup! Respecting their territory is essential in keeping them safe.
If you intend to bring a new animal or person into their home, be sure to introduce them gradually. Do your research and find out what will be the least stressful scenario for your pup.
Treating their wellbeing like it’s as important as yours will keep them safe and prevent them from running away. Keep a regular routine and keep them healthy, well fed, and stimulated.
An owner sat on the floor with their dog comforting them


Despite not being able to ignore their instincts, a good level of training will be a big help when trying to prevent your pup from running away.
Recall training can be a good option that won't necessarily stop your pup from running but will help them come back to you.
Top Tip: Consider taking your dog to classes or read up on pup behavior to make sure your training is as effective as possible.
A German shepherd running away from its owner

Neuter them

If you aren't looking to breed your dog, then the sensible thing to do is to have them neutered. This is not only a good solution for behavioral issues, but it will also reduce the risk of them running away and help other dogs control their mating instinct.
If you have not had your female dog spayed and they are in heat, their scent can attract other dogs in the area who may run away from their owners in order to satisfy their urge to mate. To prevent this, keep your dog indoors, keep windows closed, and keep doors secured.

Microchip them

While microchipping your dog won't prevent them from running away, it will keep them safe if they do. In many countries, it is now law to have your pup microchipped, and this is for good reason.
Unfortunately, it's likely your local animal shelter doesn't have the space or money to care for dogs when they are handed in. This ultimately results in euthanasia. However, you can avoid this risk by making sure your furry friend is accounted for. This means they have an owner who is contactable.
A dog getting their microchip scanned after running away

What to do if your dog runs away

It's easy for owners to panic if their dog runs away. However, to have the best chance of a safe reunion, you need to remain calm and practical. Otherwise, you'll risk your judgment being clouded, making it difficult to think clearly about your next steps.
However, we're human. Sometimes, it's impossible to avoid being overwhelmed with emotion in these situations. That's why we're breaking down the steps you should take.

Don't chase them

It's not just dogs that suffer from their natural instincts. We do, too! If we see our beloved pup running away, we're almost definitely going to chase them. But stop. This can make a bad situation worse.
Unfortunately, this can make your dog's 'flight' mode even stronger, making them run away further and faster.
It may also break the trust between you and your pup. They may begin to fear you or feel as if they are in trouble, making them more resistant to coming back.
So, instead, you should remain calm and call your dog's name in a gentle and kind tone of voice. Don't let your frustrations or fear be heard.

Report your missing dog

Sometimes, reporting your dog missing can be left as an afterthought. However, it should be one of the first steps you take to ensure their safety.

Call your microchip company: Firstly, you should contact your microchip company to report your pup missing and make sure the contact details on the chip are up to date.

Call local animal shelters: Next, contact the local animal shelters in your area and provide a detailed description of your dog alongside your contact information.

Contact a dog warden: Most locations will have a dog warden. This is someone whose job is to respond to stray dog reports, meaning they are usually well connected with local shelters and veterinary practices. Making sure they know your dog is not a stray but is a missing pet will make sure they are kept safe.

A busy animal shelter full of dogs that have been found after running away

Search for them

Now, you need to search for your dog. It's no good assuming they'll be able to find their way back. Being proactive is the most effective way to find a lost dog.
So, use the following checklist to make sure no stone is left unturned:


Outbuildings (sheds, garages, bin stores)

Abandoned buildings

Town centers

Local shops

Neighbors' houses

Under cars

Local parks

Quiet backstreets

Wooded areas



Next, start a PetRadar search. This will ensure thousands of your neighbors are aware of your missing pup and will be keeping their eyes peeled, ready to report sightings that you can follow up.
We use social media advertising to show your digital missing dog poster to over 4,000 people in your area. From this sponsored post, they can report a sighting, save it for later, or send it to a friend. You will be able to manage your search and keep an eye on all the sightings from your personal dashboard.
We also offer:

Constant personal support and guidance

Free printable missing dog poster

Free listing of your pup on our website

PetRadar's free downloadable and printabe missing dog poster


Do dogs randomly run away?

Yes, dogs do randomly run away. This can be because they have picked up on a scent or are hunting a small animal.

Do dogs come back when they run away?

While 90% of lost dogs are found, only 20% come back on their own. They can find their way home, but they are usually found or picked up by animal shelters before they do this.

How do I get my dog to stop running away?

To get your dog to stop running away, you'll need to practice recall training. Keep them on the leash on new walks, and don't give them complete freedom until you know they will come back to you.

Is it normal for dogs to run away?

Many dogs run away, meaning it's quite normal to experience this as a pet owner. Often, it is just because of hunting or mating instincts. However, it can also indicate that your pup isn't too happy.

Where do dogs go when they run away?

When dogs run away, they will often seek quiet and secluded places where they can hide for safety. However, if you have a particularly sociable pup, they may run away to the local park or town center.

Can a dog find its way home?

Yes, a dog can find its way home. They have very advanced homing abilities because of their powerful sense of smell, hearing, and sensitivity to the Earth's magnetic fields.

How do I train my dog to stay with me and not run away?

Positive reinforcement associated with a certain sound can be effective in training your dog to stay by your side and not run away.

[[faq-question]Why do dogs run away and not come back?[[/faq-question]]
[[faq-answer]]Dogs may run away and not come back for many reasons. Common causes include fear, neglect, instincts, and moving house.[[/faq-answer]]

Final thoughts

At PetRadar, we always strive to make sure our customers have a happy ending despite the stressful times. We put your pup’s safety first by spreading the message of your lost dog to thousands of people in your area so you can have the extra help you need to find them.
If you're worried about your dog running away, make sure you consider the several factors that can keep them safe. Are you doing all you can to make sure your dog feels secure? Could they benefit from more training? Are you walking them enough?
It's always good to check up on ourselves rather than becoming complacent. You can find plenty more helpful articles in our Support and Guidance section of the website that should answer any questions you have about owning a dog.

Written by

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Lauren Jeffries

In this blog, I combine my two areas of expertise: pets and writing. I share my personal experiences alongside plenty of animal behavior research to help owners look after their pets. I have always lived with furry friends and am now a loving cat mum to two orange kitties.

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