Why Do Dogs Run Away? And How To Tether Their Attention

Picture of a dog running away

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We provide our dogs with nutritious food, plush shelter, and endless adoration. Not to mention belly rubs on demand. So why would they choose to cruise? Whether they dig under the backyard fence, or dash out the door when pizza arrives, our dogs send our hearts into a tailspin when they run away. Grab your leash while we walk through the reasons why dogs run away, how to keep them home, and how to ensure a heartfelt reunion if they escape despite your efforts.

Reasons Why Dogs Run Away

1. The Need To Breed

When an un-neutered male detects a female in heat miles away, he will follow pheromones right over the fence.1 Intact females also move mountains to find love when the time is right. Dogs have been known to jump fences, tear through garage doors, or leave frisbee partners mid-toss, all in response to hormonal urges.

2. Boredom Meets Opportunity

Dogs need adequate exercise and mental stimulation. This is especially true for high energy and working breeds.2 A dog left in the yard may have fresh air, but without a play partner or other enrichment, their attention will wander. If opportunity arises in the form of a weak fence, open gate, or loose collar, dogs may seek adventure in the big outside world.

3. The Thrill of the Chase

Squirrels and rabbits and deer, oh my! My dog may be hyper-focused in a group game of fetch at the park, but as soon as a squirrel catches his eye, he’s off and running. Prey drive can lead your dog over the hills and through the woods.3 Some dogs even chase cars or delivery trucks. Regardless of the target, many dogs won’t stop until they tree a squirrel or lose sight of a vehicle.

4. Anxiety and Fear

My parents’ second night in their new country home was the Fourth of July. Their Bernese Mountain dog bolted at the first ear-shattering crack of fireworks, set against the backdrop of a raging thunderstorm. He was found five miles away by a kindly stranger, soaked and scared. A dog terrified by a thunderstorm, fireworks, or even a stranger will do just about anything to find refuge. Unfortunately, a petrified pooch may run to unfamiliar territory, becoming lost and even more scared.4

5. Previous Attachments

Dogs sometimes acquire new families, whether due to an owner’s death, a move, or allergic family members. We think our “rescued” dogs are lucky to have our warm and loving home, but they may pine for their previous surroundings. Dogs have been found miles from their new homes, waiting on their former doorsteps. They may also go looking for a favorite doggie playmate who moved away.

The good news is that we can take steps to help prevent unscheduled jogs after loose dogs. Keep reading for advice on how to keep your dog from running away.

How To Keep Your Hound at Home

The Big Fix

First, if your dog has not been neutered or spayed, talk to your vet. Sterilization will curb the urge, and eliminate impromptu doggie dates.5 Breeding dogs should be well-contained in a yard that defies canine ingenuity in the face of pheromones.

Exercise, Enrichment and Training

A well-exercised dog is less likely to take a self-guided hike.6 Consider a mid-day dog walker in addition to your morning and evening walks. Find a fenced place to let your pooch fetch off-leash if you aren’t up for a jog yourself. If your dog is new to your family, nurture new bonds through play, belly rubs, and training classes. Agility classes give dogs purpose and reinforce your bond.

Obedience training is especially important. Practice commands such as “stay” and “come” in varied situations. Teach your dog an emergency recall, where they expect a very high value reward upon their return. Always praise and reward your dog when they respond to your calls.

Secure the Borders

Opportunity may be the only motivation for a curious dog to escape. Make sure your fence is high enough to contain jumpers, and reinforce weak spots. Prevent front door escapes with pet gates, indoor leashing, and training.

For car rides, load your furry pal while in the closed garage if possible. Always transport your escape artist in a dog crate to keep him from bolting when you open your car door. It’s impossible to remove critters from your neighborhood, but secure fences, doors, and cars, along with an appropriate collar or harness, can all help keep your best friend safe.

Develop a Plan for Anxiety

Talk to your veterinarian well in advance of an anticipated anxiety trigger such as fireworks or thunderstorms. Many dogs respond well to the Thundershirt, natural calming supplements, and desensitization training. Your vet may recommend prescription medications. A calm dog is less likely to bolt out of fear and out the door.7

How To Ensure A Safe Return

Simple measures can ensure a safe and prompt return if your pooch becomes lost. Make sure your dog has a microchip implanted and that their ID tags are current. When my parents’ dog got lost on July Fourth, I learned that they had not updated his microchip information or ID tags! After calling multiple shelters and vet clinics, we learned he’d been dropped off with a local vet. My parents must have aged ten years that night while out looking for him in the driving storm.

For chronic wanderers, consider a GPS tracking collar, and keep current photos of your dog. The Humane Society of the United States has great tips for what to do when your dog is missing.

Understanding why your dog may run away can help guide preventative steps toward keeping your pooch by your side, regardless of the weather. So go ahead and order pizza, just remember to click the pet gate closed before answering the door.

You may want to check out our list of resources on dog fences or dog harnesses if you’re having issues with dogs running away.

Article Sources

Pet News Daily uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.

  1. Llera R, Yuill C. Estrous cycles in dogs. Vcahospitals.com. Accessed April 11, 2022.
  2. American Veterinary Medical Association. Selecting a pet dog. Avma.org. Accessed April 11, 2022.
  3. Johnstone G. How to channel & control your dog’s prey drive on walks. Akc.org. Published March 2, 2021. Accessed April 11, 2022.
  4. American Veterinary Medical Association. July 4 safety. Avma.org. Accessed April 11, 2022.
  5. American Animal Hospital Association. When should I spay or neuter my pet? Accessed April 11, 2022.
  6. American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. The benefits of walking your pet. Aspca.org. Published January 10, 2019. Accessed April 11, 2022.
  7. Beata C, Beaumont-Graff E, Diaz C, et al. Effects of alpha-casozepine (Zylkene) versus selegiline hydrochloride (Selgian, Anipryl) on anxiety disorders in dogs. J Vet Behav. 2007;2(5):175-183. doi:10.1016/j.jveb.2007.08.001
Dr. Jacqueline Dobranski
Dr. Jackie Dobranski earned her veterinary degree from the Cornell University College of Veterinary Medicine in 1997, and completed her internship at the University of Pennsylvania in 1998. She has practiced in Virginia, Washington, DC, and Maryland, and has been the medical director of two practices. In 2015, she earned a Graduate Certificate in Shelter Animal Medicine. She served on the board of the Humane Rescue Alliance, as an advisor for Earthwatch, and as a volunteer at the National Zoo. In 2016, she created a children’s board game called <a href="https://www.brixiples.com">Brixiples</a> to promote ethics and safety. She resides in Washington, DC with her husband and two sons, rescue dog, and two house rabbits.