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Why Dogs Get Lost (and how to stop the cycle)


Every year, countless dogs end up lost, injured, at a shelter or (in many cases) euthanized, because they escaped from their loving homes.

I’ve written this article to address the causes and to provide some helpful suggestions on how to avoid your dog feeling the need to jump the wall or rush out of the front door and hightail it down the street never to be seen again. Some of the suggestions are what is known as “management” rather than “training”.

Let’s look at some of the most common reasons why dogs choose to jump the fence, bolt out of the door or sneak out of the garage when you’re not looking:

[heading style=”2″ color=”#996633″ style_color=”#996633″]Breed Specific[/heading]

Some breeds are more prone to want to escape than others. These include the Northern Breeds (e.g. Siberian Husky, Alaskan Malamute,  Shiba inu, American Eskimo, Spitz and numerous hound types to name but a few), hunting dogs (e.g. terriers of any kind), territorial/guarding breeds (e.g. Doberman, Rottweiler), and many more.

Some breeds are naturally more physically able to escape than others (e.g. Treeing Walker Coonhound).

[heading style=”2″ color=”#996633″ style_color=”#996633″]They’re Not Fixed[/heading]

Unaltered dogs (those who are not spayed or neutered) are more likely to escape the yard. Males can smell a female in heat from miles away and will pursue her for days, even going without food or water if necessary.

See this fascinating video documentary about dogs in pursuit of a female in heat in South Central Los Angeles:

[youtube url=”https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UToSTrHQi9o”]

Females in heat are also likely to escape when they are ready to mate.

[heading style=”2″ color=”#996633″ style_color=”#996633″]They’re Bored[/heading]

This is a big one! Dogs who are left outside for long periods while their owners are away can become frustrated and bored easily.

Life inside the yard must seem so boring compared with what’s going on outside the fence – people, other dogs, squirrels, birds, moving vehicles, the neighbors dogs and kids, etc all passing by. Often dogs will escape simply because they are bored.

[heading style=”2″ color=”#996633″ style_color=”#996633″]Fear[/heading]

Dogs who are afraid of storms, fireworks and loud noises might attempt to run away to find safety.

Separation anxiety is another reason why dogs leave the comfort of their homes and yards. Dogs who are very stressed by being left alone might escape to go looking for their owners

[heading style=”2″ color=”#996633″ style_color=”#996633″]Careless Visitors[/heading]

Whether it’s a well-meaning neighbor, gardeners, or pool service people – there are times the gates are just accidentally left open. Keep in mind that there are plenty of pranksters around who think that opening an unlocked gate is just funny. It’s not. Keep a padlock on your gate at all times. This will protect your pet from getting lost. 

There have been cases reported of people stealing dogs, either because they feel the dog is left out too often, or because they have intentions of selling the animal.

[heading style=”2″ color=”#996633″ style_color=”#996633″]Because it’s Fun![/heading]

The dog gets to run around the neighborhood experiencing lots of new smells, sights and sounds and he is far from bored. He probably has a good chance of engaging in a lovely game of “chase” with his owner trying to catch him!

Getting out of the car – owner opens the door and the dog bolts.

[heading style=”2″ color=”#996633″ style_color=”#996633″]Practical Prevention is Key[/heading]

Make sure your dog is microchipped and the company has your current address and phone number listed. Lots of dogs have microchips that contain inaccurate outdated information so they can’t be reunited with their owners.

Use an “ex-pen” near the front door to keep the dogs away from the door when you have to open it.

Don’t fool yourself that a collar is enough. Most dogs who might have started out with a collar on, end up being found without it. They just come off!

Your collar should have tags showing rabies vaccination information and your phone number. I like these collars that are embroidered with the phone number:

Keep gates locked at all times – from the inside. If you don’t have a locked padlock, at least have something that physically prevents the gate from being opened by dogs jumping up and hitting the catches. Lots of dogs can open gates.

Puppy Bumpers: For small dogs and puppies who could easily slip through a wrought iron fence or small gap, try a Puppy Bumper. These help ensure pets can’t squeeze through the small openings in gates or wrought iron.

Make sure your fencing isn’t easy to climb. Wooden fences should have struts going horizontally at an angle that makes it difficult for dogs to get a foothold.

Restrict Access to Fence: It’s a good idea to block off your dog’s direct access to the side of the house where he can stand and look through the gate – just putting some distance between the dog and the gate reduces their inclination to challenge the gate. Any home improvement store sells very affordable plastic coated wire fencing which can be easily set up. I use this to protect air conditioning machines from destructive puppies too!


For determined proven escape artists you might want to install “coyote rollers”. Read Fencing Solutions to Keep Dogs Contained for some wonderful ideas (and to learn more about coyote rollers).

Make sure your gates have an “auto close” spring attached to close the gate automatically.

[heading style=”2″ color=”#996633″ style_color=”#996633″]Suggestions to alleviate the underlying causes[/heading]

I don’t recommend you leave your dog outside unattended for long periods of time. They are safer in a large crate in the house.

If you must leave Fido outside then please make sure he has adequate shade and water and try some of these suggestions:

  • Spay or Neuter your dog
  • Alleviate Boredom – Boredom Busters are things that can keep your dog occupied in a harmless way, here are some examples:
  • Stuffed Kongs – see my Kong Stuffing Recipes under the Files section in my Facebook Group called Be Kind To Dogs.
  • Scatter kibble and/or treats around the yard.
  • Leave lots of different types of toys around.
  • Hide kibble/treats around the yard. You can hide small morsels of food on window sills, under old buckets, in treat dispensing toys (Tricky Treat Ball, Kong Wobbler, tennis ball with a hole in), under stones, even in a dispenser hanging from a tree – get creative!
  • Provide a small paddling pool filled with water.
  • Fill a paddling pool with sand and hide toys with treats in so your dog can dig for them.

If your dog is naturally fearful, be sure to provide a safe place for them to hide when he gets scared. This might be a crate, shed or large dog house. Whatever you choose, it should be sturdy, large enough and protected from all the elements and have a comfy bed inside.

Don’t allow your dogs to dash out the door of your home. You should make sure your pets understand an open door is not an open invitation to leave. Read Training Diaries: The Dogs and the Door for a fun look at how you can train your dog to avoid the door. If you still need more info, this is a nice video demonstrating how to teach your dog to not bolt out of the door:

[youtube url=”https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zX3ChYTrpYs”]

Teaching a reliable “come” – fun method for teaching your dog to come when you call no matter what!

[youtube url=”https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1T1a3_1ouqY”]

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