Every pet parent has experienced that all-consuming anxiety that comes with having his or her pup wiggle out the front door, get loose from the leash, or go missing from the backyard. Instantly your mind goes to the worst possible scenarios—and then you’re frantically searching the neighborhood, desperately calling your dog’s name! We spoke to Scott Sheaffer, CDBC, CPDT-KA, a dog behavior specialist and founder of USA Dog Behavior about how to keep your doggo from doing a disappearing act.
If your pup is bolting out the front door
Generally, dogs try to escape because of the novelty of being off the leash. “The vast majority of urban and suburban communities have a leash law. Couple that with the fact that the majority of dogs aren’t walked and the front yard starts looking like forbidden fruit,” says Sheaffer. “Each time the dog bolts the behavior gets reinforced, increasing the likelihood that the dog will do it again.”
How to prevent it:
There are a few options for how to banish the bolting behavior, according to Shaeffer. First off, if you have children, make sure that they know the rules about opening the door and letting the dog(s) out. The next thing you can do is remove the novelty of being off the leash. Hang out on your front porch or stoop letting your dog wander around on a retractable leash. Just sit for a half hour regularly and let your dog get used to it. It also helps to teach your pup a command like "go to place." Pick a spot about 15 feet from the door where your dog sits and wait while you open the door.
If you’re outside and your pup gets off their leash
Again it’s a novelty issue. “If you take a dog that hasn’t been outside and doesn’t get a ton of exposure to novel experiences, they’re itching to see what’s out there. When they go outside they want to explore and get overly excited,” Sheaffer says.
How to prevent it: The more exposure you give your dog to the outside world, other people, and other dogs, the less interested they’ll be in breaking free and running after rogue Frisbees. So walk your dog frequently in different environments. As a pet parent, your relationship with your dog is important too. “When your dog gets to spend quality time with you and that bond exists, you can’t get rid of them. They’re really social animals,” says Sheaffer. Meaning if they do wiggle out of their collar or off the leash they’ll still want to stay by your side.
If your pup disappears from your yard
Leaving your dog in a fenced in yard or corralled by an electric fence—while they’re meant to keep your dog in—isn't always effective. But the bigger issue is that your dog shouldn’t be left out for long periods of time alone. It may increase a dog's desire to escape because the relationship with its family is not reinforced so the pup seeks other interaction. “Again your dog wants to be with its human family, so if you're outside, the dog can be out too, just don’t always stick them outside alone,” says Sheaffer.
How to prevent it: Check your perimeter fences to make sure they’re secure. You can even have a third party come in and triple check them too. And don't leave your dog out alone for long periods of time. They should only be out for fifteen to thirty minute windows or while they’re eating or eliminating, says Sheaffer. If the worst case scenario happens and your dog does get out make sure they’re wearing an ID tag and they’re microchipped—it greatly increases the odds of your dog being returned to you.
What to do when you find your dog
Don't go running and screaming after your pup! “It will make the dog nervous or they’ll think it’s a game,” says Sheaffer. “Even though it might be hard, stay relaxed and walk in an arc instead of a straight line towards your dog because it's less threatening. Act like you could care less and give off the sense that nothing is wrong.” Also, teach your pup to obey the “come” command outside and in distracting environments to ensure that when you need it, it will work. When you recover them, "whatever you do, don’t punish. What does your dog learn? When I come back after I’ve been out I get punished,” says Sheaffer. “While it may seem counterintuitive, praise the dog to reinforce his decision to return.”