By Dr. Becker
If your dog takes any opportunity to dash from your home and head for the hills, there could be a very good reason for it. In an interview with VetStreet, Dr. Sharon Crowell-Davis, a professor at the College of Veterinary Medicine at the University of Georgia and an expert in canine behavior, explains:
“When dogs run off, it could mean they’re really not happy at home. It's not necessarily that they have a bad home life, but as a species, the majority of dogs are curious and want to be active and explore and discover. If you only take them out to potty and for a 10-minute walk, dogs may run off simply to seek activity and stimulation.”
Of course, this doesn’t reflect the behavior of every dog who is cooped up in the house a lot.
Why Some Dogs Are Runners, But Others Aren’t
Dogs have personality and temperament differences just like humans do. Some simply prefer to stick close to home for any number of reasons. Others either don’t have the build or the lung capacity to race out the door and down the street, for example, brachycephalic breeds. These are dogs with “pushed in” faces, who also often have heavy bodies and short legs not well-designed for running.
According to Dr. Crowell-Davis, however, the tendency to escape is more often a result of a dog’s early life experience and how it has been raised. Well-socialized dogs generally have the confidence needed to venture out into the world and explore. But puppies that haven’t been adequately and safely exposed to a wide variety of stimuli in the environment may grow up fearful of new discoveries.
Recently, I became the new mom of a stray Dachshund we found running around our rural county’s back roads (no one claimed him despite all our efforts to find his owner). After living with him for one day, it was very clear he was the type of dog who would bolt out the door at the slightest opportunity. After six months in our home, we realize Lenny is a happy, social little dog who just loves to run. In fact, if we don’t put his leash on inside the house, there’s a chance he’ll escape and head straight into the woods. When he gets outside he has only one mission: sprint fast, straight ahead, until he hits a wall or other solid barrier. He doesn’t look back, he doesn’t respond to our voices or his other pack members -- he’s in his own little world.
Focusing Your Runaway’s Energy on Positive Pursuits
Certainly, the best way to channel your runaway dog’s energies is to provide plenty of daily opportunities for exercise and play. Almost any physical activity you do with your dog will stimulate both his body and mind -- including long meandering walks, power walks, hikes, jogging, and games of fetch. If your pet is an athlete, you can also get him involved in organized events like agility, flyball or dock diving.
An activity that is fabulous for almost any dog is K9 nose work. Nose work can be a great supplement to a behavior modification program. It can also help reactive dogs learn to be around other dogs, help shy dogs learn confidence, and encourage distracted dogs to focus. Nose work is also a great activity for senior dogs, dogs with mobility, hearing or eyesight problems, retired service or working dogs, and dogs that are hyperactive.
Dr. Crowell-Davis suggests also providing a fun home environment for a dog that tends to run off. She recommends puzzle food toys for the mental stimulation they provide. In my house we use Dr. Yin’s Treat&Train®.
Training Your Dog to Come When Called
Another must for runaway dogs is obedience training and refresher classes as often as needed. It’s extremely important for your dog’s safety that she comes when called. In addition, cooperative canine companions are much easier to be around – and much more welcome by friends and family – than pups with poor manners.
Dr. Crowell-Davis has some suggestions for making your dog “recall ready.” First, you need to give her a really good reason to come to you. Translation: food treats.
It’s important to give treats and lots of praise even if she doesn’t respond immediately. A common mistake dog owners make is growing angry when their dog doesn’t come right away when called. If you punish your pet when she finally comes or you catch up with her – even if it’s just a verbal reprimand – you teach her to associate coming when called, or being caught after being called, with punishment. As you might expect, this can turn into a vicious cycle very quickly, so it’s important not to make a mistake in this area. Even one instance of punishing your dog for not coming when called can sabotage your efforts.
The goal is to teach your escape artist that coming when called means yummy treats and lots of praise and affection. Once she makes this positive association, she’ll respond to your calls – perhaps not 100 percent of the time, but hopefully often enough to preserve her safety and your sanity!