What to Do When Your Dog Runs Away From You

By PetMD Editorial on Jun. 4, 2018

It can happen so fast. One minute, you’re on your regular evening walk, and suddenly, your dog runs away to chase after a squirrel. Or perhaps you left the back door open, just this once, and your pup takes off running in a flash after a delivery truck.

It’s every pet parent’s worst nightmare, and in the moment, it can be nearly impossible to know what to do. We with these tips from the experts, you’ll know exactly what to do in the moment to get your dog back safe and sound.

First Things First: Don’t Chase

It may go against every instinct you have, but it’s important not to chase a dog running away. With very few exceptions, most of us can’t outrun our four-legged friends. If your dog is afraid, you won’t catch him, and if he thinks he’s playing a game, you’ll only make things worse. “Chasing is never a good idea,” says Dr. Ellen Lindell, a Connecticut-based veterinary behaviorist.

Instead, Dr. Lindell recommends turning the game of chase around and convincing your dog to run after you. “Getting the dog to chase you can be fun for the dog,” she says. “Try running with a toy or treat, or even getting into your car if your dog likes to travel.”

Remain Calm and Positive When Your Dog Runs Away

Again, you have to work against your instincts. Although you’ll want to scream and yell for your dog, resist the urge and try to keep a cool head. You don’t want to add to the excitement or fear your dog is experiencing or make him think that you’re angry. 

“It’s counterintuitive, but you want to stay calm and try not to panic,” says Melanie Cerone, a Pennsylvania-based certified professional dog trainer. “Don’t scream or yell for the dog. Call him in your happy voice and make kissy noises while you turn, as if you’re going in the opposite direction.”

If your dog fears he’ll be in trouble once he returns, he’s less likely to rush back, so now’s the time to break out your best, “Who’s a good boy?!”

Use Your Recall Word

Ideally, long before you have a dog running away, you’ll have trained your pup to respond to an emergency recall word. This is a word or phrase that cues him to immediately return to your side, regardless of the stimuli around him. Although teaching a recall word is an involved process, it’s well worth the time, and there are a few secrets.

“When dogs respond to their recall word, you reward them big time,” says Cerone. “You have to make it worth their while to do what you want them to do. Use a super high-value food that your dog doesn’t get any other time. If he knows something absolutely fabulous will happen when he responds, such as bacon, he’ll choose you over what he’s chasing.”

When selecting a recall word, go with something short and snappy that you rarely say in everyday conversation, advises Cerone. “Come,” for example, is too common of a word and will lose its sense of urgency. “Bacon,” however, might be a good contender—it’s not likely to get worn out, and your dog may already associate it with something delicious.

Stop the Action

Having your dog run back to you is ideal. But this requires him to stop and reroute, which can be complicated. For a simpler approach, consider instructing him to stop and lie down. “One of the best skills to teach is a fast lie down,” says Dr. Lindell. “It’s easier for a dog to drop than to turn around and run back to a person.”

In fact, it could help to bring everyone down to ground level. Dr. Lindell recommends sitting down quickly yourself, then pretending to play with a toy to entice your dog to come check things out.

Prevent Future Run-Offs

As they say, an ounce of prevention is better than a pound of cure. While it’s impossible to prevent all emergencies, there are some steps you can take to make it less likely that your dog runs away.

Cerone says, unless you have a rock-solid recall word, it is best to never have your dog off-leash in an area that’s not confined. Stick to enclosed dog parks if there’s any chance your BFF will choose a squirrel over you.

It’s also important to know your dog and extra important to make sure your fence is secure and your doors are shut tightly. The same goes for dogs who are not yet spayed or neutered—not even bacon will deter them from trying to meet up with a mate.

As always, ensure that your dog’s ID tags and microchip are up to date. If, worst case scenario, he keeps running, you want him to be able to get home as quickly and easily as possible.

By Monica Weymouth

Featured Image: iStock.com/Barbara Vallance

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