What to Do if Your Dog Runs Away

What to Do if Your Dog Runs Away

We’ve officially lost Baxter four times.

The first two times were very early days—three months into him coming to live with us—and due first to my arrogance in letting him off leash too soon and second to me not keeping a tight enough grip on the leash when he took off to chase something in the dark.

The first two times we lost him, my husband spent hours walking through the fields and woods around our property until he found Baxter and brought him home.

The fact that he found Baxter was mostly luck—with a big dose of stubbornness. There was no way my husband was coming home without our dog.

The third and fourth times involved Baxter’s independent nature and the kindness of strangers.

Knowing that we’ve been through a few runaway incidents, Lindsay asked me to write about what to do if you lose your dog.

First, I will say that solid recall, a strong bond with your dog and obedience training are all important.

You never want to lose your dog and basic training is your best foundation to prevent that. See my post: How to train a dog to be off leash.

But, if you do find yourself separated from your dog, here are some of the things that I’ve found helpful.

What to do if your dog runs away

1. If you see your dog going, try to capture his attention.

Usually I can tell if Baxter’s too distracted to be off leash by the position of his ears or his overall body language, and I’ll quickly clip a leash on him.

However, if your dog is out of reach or has already taken a few steps in the wrong direction, your first step is to try to help him tune back in to you. Clap your hands, call his name as loudly as you can, whistle, use your most excited voice.

As counterintuitive as it sounds, run away from your dog. This may make him think you’re playing a game and he may chase you.

During one of our early off-leash hiking classes, one of the dogs took off full speed down the trail. The owner called him and the dog didn’t slow down or look back at all.

Seeing the situation, our trainer called his name once in her loudest voice and then let out a piercing, high-pitched yodel. The odd sound got the dog’s attention. He looked back, turned around and this time when they called him—“Come on back, buddy. Let’s go!”—he came.

I’ve used this technique successfully once with Baxter. While I don’t know how to yodel, a big “Wooooo-hoo!” was the sound that came naturally to me. It’s not a sound I usually make on our walks and was enough to get Baxter’s attention.

If your dog does come back to you, reward that. Clip a leash on him and immediately give scratches and pats. Tell him he’s such a good boy. You want to recognize the correct behaviour—that he came to you. This is not a moment to punish him for running away.

2. Leave something of yours where you last saw your dog.

This tip came from my father-in-law who used to hunt with beagles. In scenarios where the beagle followed her nose and wandered too far away, my FIL would leave his jacket in the woods.

When he came back the next morning or at the end of the day, the beagle would be curled up on his jacket. The familiar scent attracted the dog and gave her a temporary home base.

3. Spread out.

My husband’s instinct is action. He wants to look for the dog, and he will walk and walk and call and call until he finds him. The group I hike with will do the same thing. Everyone takes a different route and walks out, calling for the missing dog. In this scenario, it’s helpful to have everyone’s cell numbers so that you can call off the search if someone finds the dog.

4. Wait where you are.

Inaction may not be your first instinct, but in my experience, Baxter usually hasn’t actually run away. He’s chosen his own adventure for a little while, and then he comes back to the trail.

I’ve learned his comfort zone can be up to 10 minutes long. Initially, I would stand on the trail and wait for him to come back. But I quickly learned that if I keep hiking, soon enough he will charge up the trail behind me.

5. Make sure your dog is identified.

Baxter never goes outside without his collar and tags. His tag has his name, our home phone number and my cell number. Dog tags are tried and true for a reason. See our post: What to put on a dog’s ID tags.

The two times Baxter has been caught by strangers, they have immediately called the numbers on his tags, and I have been able to pick him up right away.

Be aware that sometimes, your dog may become separated from his collar. Baxter also has a microchip, which identifies him as our dog and is associated with all of our numbers. The cell number is important because we’re not always at home, especially if we’re hiking.

Before a hike, I always make sure my cell is charged. Rather than packing my pockets, I like to use my Mighty Paw treat pouch to carry my phone along with my car keys and poop bags.

You might also want to consider licensing your dog.

6. Trust your dog.

The two times Baxter was picked up by other people, I feel very certain he would have found me if he had the chance. In one incident, he had dashed into the woods on our property during our evening walk.

Knowing he knew the neighbourhood very well and could find his way home, I walked back to the house rather than trying to battle through the thick forest.

I sat on the front stoop watching for him and had the phone at my side in case someone found him, which is what ended up happening. However, Baxter was walking in the direction of the farm when a driver picked him up and called me.

7. Contact all the shelters and pounds within several miles.

If you do not find your dog within a certain amount of time, obviously you will start contacting the local pounds/shelters in your area.

It’s a good idea to contact the shelters within a large range such as the next town or county over in all directions or even further. Especially in rural areas, Lindsay said she has heard of dogs that are turned into shelters or humane societies over 50 miles from where they were last seen.

This could be because the dog covered a large distance or because the people who found the dog drove quite a ways to a shelter.

The point is, contact all the shelters in your region and keep contacting them. Often.

8. Have a recent photo of your dog on hand.

Keep a recent photo of your pet on your phone or by email that you can easily pass along to animal control, use on social media or put on posters.

What ideas do the rest of you have?

Obviously, the environment where Baxter and I live and walk is more rural and wooded as opposed to cities or neighbourhoods. And I give my dog a lot of freedom with off leash hiking and no fenced yard. Vehicles and more people add different considerations when you lose a dog. I’d love to hear other people’s tips for finding a lost dog.

Losing your dog is scary no matter where you are. As dog owners, we want to do everything we can to prevent this dangerous, anxious scenario. However, if the worst happens, I hope that these tips on what to do if your dog runs away will help you reunite with your dog.

Have you ever lost your dog for any amount of time?

Do you have any recommendations on what to do if your dog runs away? Let us know in the comments.

Julia Thomson is a blogger at Home on 129 Acres where she writes about her adventures of country living and DIY renovating. She and her husband live on a 129-acre farm in Ontario, Canada.

Related posts:

What to know about off-leash hiking with your dog

Safety tips for hiking with your dog

Do dogs need a fenced yard?

Finding Your Dog’s Comfort Zone (and yours) for Off-Leash Hiking

Finding Your Dog’s Comfort Zone (and yours) for Off-Leash Hiking

When I think of the word “comfort zone,” I think usually of physical space. The environment where I’m most comfortable. How close someone can get to me before I feel like they’re in my personal space.

With humans and our dogs, we also have comfort zones.

One of the things I’ve had to come to terms with as I’ve embraced off leash hiking with Baxter is his large comfort zone.

I’ve written before about my independent dog. Some of the dogs we hike with need to have their owner in view at all times or will walk right beside their owner. That is not the case with my dog.

In fact, I’ve come to learn that my dog’s comfort zone is defined not by space, but by time.

Finding your dog's comfort zone

If Baxter dashes into the woods, I check my watch. I know that approximately 10 minutes later, he will reappear beside me. Often it’s less, but I’ve learned that 10 minutes is usually his maximum.

The realization that it’s time not distance that matters most to my dog came from another member of our hike group. He talked about a friend and his husky.

The husky would take off, and the owner came to learn that in 5 minutes, the dog would come back. That was when I started watching my watch. Sure enough, Baxter always came back at almost exactly 10 minutes.

Understanding this part of my dog’s behaviour gave me great reassurance for hiking.

I stopped worrying when he went off trail to enjoy the sniffy woods. I even was able to be calm if we encountered a deer or another animal the dogs felt compelled to chase.

Dog's comfort zone for off-leash hiking

And I stopped tromping through the woods anxiously calling my dog’s name. I didn’t feel the need to pause the hike to stand on the trail and wait for my dog to come back.

For me, it’s important that my dog have the freedom to make his own decisions and choices.

Off-leash hiking allows him to run and sniff and play and, in my opinion, be a dog.

And it’s incredibly rewarding to see the bond I’ve built with my dog when over and over he chooses to come back to me. See my post: How to train your dog to be off leash.

Hiking one Saturday this fall with five other dogs, there were three instances throughout the two-hour walk where I had no idea where my dog was.

Once, he was gone just a couple of minutes, reappearing on the trail in front of us, almost saying, “You know, if you cut through the woods here, you end up back on the trail and save yourself some walking.”

Twice, he came charging up behind us after a merry 10 minutes of choosing his own adventure. One of my hiking mates asked me once if I wanted to stop and wait or go back and look for him. I said, “Nope. He’ll be along shortly.” Sure enough, there he was.

Dog comfortable off leash

I’m not sure how Baxter always finds me. He appears to have some hound in him, so I’m sure he can sniff out our trail. Plus we’re a chatty, barky bunch, so if he listens, he can usually pinpoint our location.

Because Baxter has such a large range, it’s important to be thoughtful about where we hike. I tend to like more remote locations where there’s no chance he’ll find his way to a road or even where we’ll encounter many people.

In order for my dog to find his way back to me on his own, I need him to not be caught by someone who assumes he’s lost. (This has happened once.)

Finding your dog's comfort zone

He also tends to range farther, and I tend to worry less when we’re on a route we hike regularly. In new environments, he’ll stay closer—though he never loses his overconfidence. Once he’s more familiar with a particular trail, he’ll explore and I’ll let him go.

Understanding my dog’s comfort zone has made hiking more enjoyable for both of us. He can sniff and run as he wants, and I can walk as I want. And occasionally, we’ll even do those things together.

How would the rest of you?

What is your dog’s comfort zone like? How about your own comfort zone? Let us know in the comments.

Julia Thomson is a blogger at Home on 129 Acres where she writes about her adventures of country living and DIY renovating. She and her husband live on a 129-acre farm in Ontario, Canada.

Related posts:

Off-leash hiking with your dog

Get your dog to pay attention off leash

How to Motivate A Low Energy Dog (Dare We Say Lazy?)

How to Motivate A Low Energy Dog (Dare We Say Lazy?)

A few weeks ago Lindsay wrote about how to tire out an energetic dog.

When we were in the process of adopting Baxter, the scenario she described was the life I envisioned (although I did hope it wouldn’t be quite so frenetic).

My husband and I committed to two walks a day. I read up on food puzzles and bought a stash of Kongs. I was excited to start running again.

And then Baxter came home.

Running was a no-go right from the start. Two walks a day were fine, but they had better be leisurely. The first time my husband walked Bax, our new dog walked into the ditch and laid down. Kongs were just too much work. And besides, food wasn’t all that interesting.

Over our five years together, we’ve come to understand each other, and I appreciate my lazy dog so, so much. But, I do have a dog, not a pet rock, and I like to be outside and active.

So here are my tips for motivating a low energy dog

How to motivate a low energy dog

1. Understand your dog’s activity needs.

We quickly learned that Baxter didn’t need a lot of stimulation in his life.

He wasn’t hyper or destructive or bored. He was happiest in his bed asleep.

In fact, too many people and too much activity is too much for him. If my dog removes himself from a situation and finds a spot to lie down, I respect that.

2. Try all the toys.

Baxter didn’t really understand toys when he first came to live with us. Balls, Frisbees, ropes… no thank you.

Eventually, he learned to play with soft stuffed toys with squeakers. My husband or I would squeeze the squeaker to get Bax’s attention and get him (a bit) excited. Then we’d toss the toy and Baxter would bound after it. Now, when we come home, he shows his joy by presenting us with a toy to throw—for about three tosses.

3. Respect your dog’s stopping point.

When Baxter is done with fetch, he’ll take his stuffie and go lie down in his bed. He may chew on his toy to hear a few squeaks a few more times, but usually he’s had enough. It’s not enjoyable to get him up to play more fetch.

There are lots of times where the stuffed animal has sailed across the living room one too many times only to be left all by himself as Baxter heads to bed.

4. Train in small doses.

As with play, we are attentive to Baxter’s boundaries and limit training to short sessions that are fun for both of us.

When we were doing classes with Baxter, there was one exercise where our trainer had us get our dogs to hop onto a concrete retaining wall, and then we guided them as they walked along the wall. The exercise was about trust, agility and confidence.

Baxter could not have been less interested in jumping onto the wall, let alone walking along it. He wasn’t scared. He just didn’t see the point. Our trainer worked with us to coax him up, but Bax hopped off after a few steps. We tried a couple more times, but she cautioned us about pushing him too far because she was worried he would shut down on the class entirely.

There’s a fine line between earning your dog’s respect and earning his dislike.

5. Have an activity routine.

Baxter knows he’s going for a walk every morning and every afternoon. And he loves his walks. As walk time approaches, he’ll get up or start to watch for a sign I’m ready to go outside.

Before I was working from home for myself, our morning walks started at 6am—way too early for Baxter. There were lots of mornings where I was sticking my hands underneath him, trying to pry him out of his bed. Or once I had him up, he’d try to sneak behind me and go back to bed.

Now that I’m not commuting, we can wait until the sun comes up to walk, and as soon as he hears the jingle of keys, he’s ready to go.

6. Play when your dog wants to play.

It’s easy to get busy or caught up in our own lives. If Baxter gets a toy, or his stick, or shows signs of wanting to go outside, I try to respond to that. He asks for very little, and walking and playing gives both of us joy, so I try to take advantage of his energetic moments.

7. Find activities that are interesting for your dog.

Baxter loves off leash hiking. It gives him a chance to sniff all the smells and usually meet other dogs. On group hikes, he greets every person with howls because he’s so excited to be there. Our hikes are an hour to two hours.

For a low energy dog, a two-hour hike is a lot of activity. On hike days, he will not be interested in a second walk, and he usually refuses to walk too far for the next few days. Baxter also loves car rides, shopping, fetching his stick and sunbathing.

8. Do things you both enjoy.

Maybe I don’t get to go running with my dog, but Baxter’s love of the outdoors and sunbeams has encouraged me to spend more time sitting in a lawn chair with a book. It’s a lovely camaraderie to just be together.

I mostly feel blessed that I have a very lazy dog. It makes our lives very relaxed. In between all of our napping, we’ve been fortunate to find the activities that work for us and that we all enjoy.

Does anyone else have a low energy dog?

What are your tips for motivating your dog? What activities do you like to do together?

Julia Thomson is a blogger at Home on 129 Acres where she writes about her adventures of country living and DIY renovating. She writes regularly for That Mutt.

What Does it Mean When My Dog’s Hackles Are Up?

What Does it Mean When My Dog’s Hackles Are Up?

In the early days after Baxter came to live with us, I noticed that often when we met other dogs, his hackles went up.

I had always heard that hackles were associated with aggression, but Baxter didn’t seem at all aggressive. In fact, he was wiggly and excited and friendly any time we encountered other dogs—although he did it with his hair in a Mohawk.

Our trainer put my mind at ease. She likened Baxter’s hackles to human goosebumps. In looking at his body language overall, she said he was just excited, which made his hackles come up.

Hackles—that strip of hair along a dog’s back—can rise in a number of different situations: fear, anxiety, excitement, nervousness or anger.

Alexandra Horowitz in the book Inside of a Dog describes the reaction not as aggression, but more generally as arousal.

“The hair between the shoulders or at the rump—the hackles—may be standing at attention, serving not just as a visual signal of arousal but also releasing the odor of the skin glands at the base of the hairs.”

dog's hackles are up

For dogs, for whom scent is so important, I think the smell component is a really cool feature of hackles raising.

It’s important to pay attention to your dog’s body language and try to learn what he’s saying if he raises his hackles. Your dog may be reacting in fear or aggression, so you have to be prepared to manage that situation.

For us, Baxter’s hackles will go up sometimes if he hears a noise outside and feels like he needs to be on guard. Usually, he and his Mohawk go running to the dining room window and survey the farm until he’s sure there’s no danger—and then his hair relaxes again.

Hackles are also an example of why it’s important to look at body language as a whole, and not just one particular part of your dog.

Horowitz says, “For dogs, posture can announce aggressive intent or shrinking modesty. To simply stand erect, at full height, with head and ears up, is to announce readiness to engage, and perhaps to be the prime mover in the engagement.”

When meeting other dogs, while Baxter’s hackles may be up, his tail is wagging so fast his entire back end is wiggling. In looking at his ears, his face, his overall posture, I can usually assess how he feels about a particular situation.

Dog's hackles are up

I can also learn what Baxter is saying by looking at the other dogs around him. They aren’t hesitant to meet him or aggressive towards him. They usually return his friendliness and sniff enthusiastically.

As adapted as dogs and humans are to live together, we still communicate very differently. Figuring out what he’s feeling and thinking is a fascinating process. And it’s important to not make assumptions based on what we think we know. I love working on deepening my understanding of my dog.

Do you notice your dog raise her hackles? When?

Julia Thomson is a blogger at Home on 129 Acres where she writes about her adventures of country living and DIY renovating. She writes regularly for That Mutt.

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Why does my dog shake his body?

My Dog Tries to Chase Turkey Vultures

My Dog Tries to Chase Turkey Vultures

My dog’s nemesis

Baxter loves most things. People. Animals. Soft surfaces—even hard surfaces sometimes. However, there is one thing he despises. Turkey vultures.

Occasionally also known as buzzards, these birds are relatively plentiful around the farm. Every so often they swoop down and perch on the roof of the barn. And Baxter loses his mind.

Hackles go up. There is barking, growling, charging. The only problem is that he is on the ground and they’re on the barn many, many, many feet up in the air.

Yes, my dog is ridiculous.

If he can convince them to take off and leave the barn, he will pursue them. Once again, him on the ground and them in the air.

Watching Baxter run through the fields while looking up at the sky is one of the silliest sights I’ve seen.

Once he’s satisfied the birds are a safe distance away from the barn, he will return to the house, happy to have run off the marauders.

My dog tries to chase turkey vultures

Turkey Vultures

Baxter and turkey vultures

Who is your dog’s nemesis?

Does your dog ever chase anything that’s unattainable?

Julia Thomson is a blogger at Home on 129 Acres where she writes about her adventures of country living and DIY renovating. She writes regularly for That Mutt.

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Baxter following scent through the air

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