Case Study: The Runaway Dog

What should you do if your dog makes a habit of running away? The Dog Trainer has 4 reasons for your dog's escapes and 4 solutions for keeping him home. 

Jolanta Benal, CPDT-KA, CBCC-KA
5-minute read
Episode #136

A Facebook fan recently wrote about her family dog, an 8-year-old Black Lab named Molly. Molly and her guardian, Jim, have just moved to a large city. Molly bolts out of the yard whenever the gate is left open, and this happens even though Jim “ ‘takes her down’ in a nice controlled way” as soon as she gets home. What’s up with Molly, and why aren’t those take-downs working? This week, 4 reasons dogs might run away, and 4 ways to get them to stay home instead.

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Reason #1: Dogs May Run Away Out of Habit

I don’t know what Molly’s life was like before the recent move, but if she was free to roam then, she has no reason to understand that things have changed now. Unless she’s been taught not to leave by way of the nearest exit, she’ll keep on doing it.

Reason #2: Dogs May Run Away to Mate

This one applies more to male dogs, especially intact (un-neutered) male dogs, than to Molly, even if she’s not spayed. A female in heat might roam, but generally she can count on her milkshake bringing all the boys to the yard.

Dogs are living creatures with social needs; they may run away if they’re bored and lonely.

Reason #3: Dogs May Run Away Because They’re Bored and Lonely

A friend who runs an animal shelter tells the story of a man whose dog got picked up by animal control officers over and over and over again after escaping out of the owner’s yard. Why, my friend asked him finally, do you even have a dog? “I like to look out the kitchen window and see him there,” said the owner. 

Dogs are not lawn ornaments. They’re living creatures with social needs; they get bored and lonely. Out there in the big world, there may be other dogs to play with, people who will scratch dogs behind the ears and share bits of pizza, and squirrels to chase. A dog who spends much of her life by herself in the yard has little incentive to hang around.


About the Author

Jolanta Benal, CPDT-KA, CBCC-KA

Jolanta holds professional certifications in both training and behavior counseling and belongs to the Association of Professional Dog Trainers and the International Association of Animal Behavior Consultants. She also volunteered with Pet Help Partners, a program of the Humane Society of the United States that works to prevent pet relinquishment. Her approach is generally behaviorist (Pavlovian, Skinnerian and post-Skinnerian learning theory) with a big helping of ethology (animal behavior as observed in non-experimental settings).