The Pet Owner's Worst Nightmare: Why Dogs Run Away and How to Stop It

Why do dogs run away? This is a difficult question for any good pet owner to answer.

You feed them, care for them, provide them with a home, and pet them for hours every week.

When you love a dog and meet their needs consistently, it's hard to fathom why they'd want to run away.

In this article, we'll dive into some dog psychology to help you understand why this nightmare occurs so often.

I'll also provide actionable advice to help you reduce the odds of your dog getting loose, even if they're an escape artist.

But first, I want you to meet Boots.

See the big black dog pictured on top? He escaped two nights ago.

Boots was the longest resident of Petworks animal shelter located in Kingsport, TN.

After many months of effort, staff and volunteers finally found him a forever home.

Sadly, it didn't last long. Boots broke loose from his fenced-in yard on Friday night.

If you're local and want to help, here's a status update to share with your friends.

I'm not shocked. Boots acts like a giant rabbit. He hops like a bunny all day long.

Boots could easily jump over my head. Impressive, considering my height (6'3").

He either dug his way out or cleared the fence. I would bet on the latter.

Why would a dog want to run away?

Dogs aren't the most logical beings and often act against their best interest.

The #1 cause of dogs running away? Raging hormones. If you don't get them spayed or neutered, they'll hunt for a fling.

It could also be pure boredom. If they have energy that needs to be expressed, they'll go searching for an adventure.

If you locate your dog at a home with kids or other dogs, this means you need to find ways to keep them engaged.

Fear is another common problem. Sky booms, in the form of fireworks or thunderstorms, cause dogs to flee.

They don't understand the noise will follow them wherever they go. So they'll often end up far from home.

Here's a WebMD article that gets deeper into the psychological reasons why dogs run away.

Below, I'll summarize the most effective and efficient ways to keep your dog safe at home.

1. Invest in a microchip.

The odds of losing your dog outweighs the risk of side effects.

I used to have a beagle named Dixie. She was my best friend and "doggie daughter" for a decade.

My greatest regret in life? Failing to get her a microchip. She wasn't a runner, so I was unconcerned.

But that didn't matter. Somebody stole my baby two years ago and I have no idea what happened to her.

This is more common than you think. The American Humane Association reports 10 million dogs and cats are lost or stolen every year.

Side effects are possible, but the risk is minimal compared to the extremely low likelihood of finding your lost dog or cat without a microchip.

PetSmart doesn't provide microchipping services. You'll probably need to make an appointment with a local veterinarian to get your pet microchipped.

2. Get pet tags with contact info.

And don't forget to replace them when your phone number changes.

Unfortunately, people aren't nearly as honest and trustworthy as pets.

You can't trust a stranger to return your dog or cat, even if they have your contact info.

Just ask my girlfriend. During her childhood, several of her cats got kidnapped by a neighbor.

This is why I HIGHLY recommend getting a microchip in addition to customized pet tags with contact info.

That said, I'm aware some pet owners are too concerned about the potential side effects to listen, so this is an alternative.

Or you might not have the money for microchips right now. That's okay. Pet tags are cheap. You can get them for $5.95 on Chewy.com.

Please note you should include more info than your name and phone number. For example, medication they need to take. Here's more stuff worth mentioning.

3. Do NOT let dogs off-leash unless...

The freedom to let your dog off-leash isn't a given. It must be earned.

Does your dog stay by your side and obey every voice command?

Has your dog proven to be friendly with every canine he or she encounters?

Can your dog resist the urge to chase a squirrel, rabbit, cat, skunk, and/or deer?

Is your dog gentle with small children and obedient enough to not jump on them?

If you answered NO to any of these questions, your dog hasn't earned the right to be off-leash.

The only two exceptions? A private fenced-in yard or empty dog park. Otherwise, keep them leashed.

Invest in classes with a local dog trainer or teach them these commands before letting your dog roam freely.

4. Keep dogs crated when the door is open.

When people are coming in and out of your house, the risk of escape is high.

If you're man or woman enough to carry all the groceries in one trip, that's fine.

But if you require several trips back and forth, it's wise to keep your dog crated until you're done.

The same reasoning applies when many people are coming in and out of your home at a high rate.

Eventually, someone will be careless and fail to shut the screen door. One scratch of the paw and your dog is gone.

This is especially true when you have children whose minds aren't capable of understanding the risk this poses to pets.

No matter how well trained your dog might be, keep a crate for this specific purpose. Here's a cost effective option from Petco.

5. Search your fence for potential weaknesses.

Some dogs are accomplished escape artists. They'll find a flaw in your fence and exploit it.

This is exactly what Boots did. He jumped over the fence or dug a hole. Either way, the result is the same. He's lost.

If you can afford it, invest in a camera. Stick it outside to conduct surveillance and determine if your dog is a digger or jumper.

That way, you won't have to guess. You'll capture evidence of their preferred escape method and be able to focus in the right direction.

Here's a Humane Society article that discusses how to get your dog to stop digging. The basic idea is to give your dog an approved "digging zone."

And if you catch them digging anywhere but there: make a loud noise, say "NO DIG," and take them back to the digging zone. For bonus points, place rocks and chicken wire in unapproved areas to make them seem less attractive.

Lastly, here's an American Kennel Club article about how to keep a dog from escaping the yard. This is a detailed resource with advice designed to fit various escape methods including digging, jumping, climbing, and more.

Has your dog or cat ever ran away?

If so, you understand the danger and know how important this preventive advice really is.

Please share this article on Facebook or Twitter to save your friends from the tragedy of losing a beloved pet.

If you're new, click here to read a personal introduction from Daniel Wallen and discover why he's addicted to dogs.

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