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How can I discourage my dog from running away?

Pets who run away can get lost, injured, or stolen. Although some dogs have a natural tendency to roam, there are many precautions you can take to prevent your furry friend from fleeing.

Spay or neuter your pet

Intact pets have an innate drive to reproduce, so hormones can override good sense. Male dogs likely will seek out a nearby female in heat and intact females will search for a male mate. Spaying or neutering your pet when he is young removes the hormonal desire to roam. Most pets can be altered after six months of age, but ask your veterinarian about the appropriate age for your pet's size and breed. If your pet is older, your veterinarian likely still can perform a spay or neuter procedure, although once established, hormone-driven behaviors can become a habit that surgery may not change.

Build a fence around your yard

Pets never should be allowed to roam freely and should be walked on a leash or let out into a fenced yard for bathroom breaks. Although electric fences keep some pets from running away, if something desirable is on the other side, such as another dog, a squirrel, the mailman, or playing children, your pet may decide to risk it and run through. Put up a tall, sturdy fence to prevent your pet from climbing or jumping over it to escape. Walk the fence perimeter daily to check for potential escape routes, such as holes, snow piles, and fallen branches.

Teach your dog basic commands

Teaching your dog to obey basic commands can come in handy if he decides to chase something that catches his eye. Most importantly, teach him the commands “come” and “stay.” Start with “come” and reward your pet with praise and treats when he obeys. After he masters this command, ask him to stay in one spot by holding out your hand and saying “stay.” Expect your pet to stay for only a few seconds at the start, then work up to longer time periods, issuing the command from farther away.

Provide adequate exercise opportunities

Pets with pent-up energy are more likely to run away, so provide exercise opportunities every day to stimulate him physically and mentally, such as:

  • Walking around the neighborhood
  • Playing a game of fetch or frisbee in your backyard
  • Hiking in your favorite park
  • Running an agility course
  • Solving interactive food puzzles
  • Hiding treats around the house for your dog to find
  • Building a sandbox for digging

Providing safe outlets for your dog’s energy will make him less likely to run off in search of adventure.

Keep your pet safe from loud noises

For dogs with a noise phobia, fireworks are anything but fun—shelters overflow with dogs who run away during loud festivities. An unexpected loud noise can make your dog panic and bolt before you realize he’s gone. Never take your dog to celebrations involving fireworks. Instead, leave him in an interior room with doors and windows closed to buffer the sound, distract him with a treat- or peanut butter-filled toy, and use a "calming" jacket or shirt designed to apply pressure.

Other loud sounds, such as thunder, gunshots, and backfiring cars, also can scare noise-sensitive pets. Keep your dog safely on a leash or in a fenced yard when outdoors so he can’t run if he's scared by a loud noise. During storms, bring your pet inside and follow the tips above to reduce noise and keep him calm. If your dog still becomes anxious during fireworks or storms, ask your AAHA-accredited veterinarian about antianxiety medication.

Prepare your pet for the worst

Even if you take appropriate precautions, your dog still might run away, so prepare for the worst and ensure he is properly identified. Your pet always should wear a collar and identification tag with your current contact information. Consider investing in a GPS tracking device that has a long range and battery life. A permanent option is to implant a microchip in the skin between your dog’s shoulder blades. Microchip implantation is a simple procedure your veterinarian can perform during a routine office visit. After the procedure, your information is registered with a microchip company so you can be contacted if your lost pet is found or ends up in a shelter.