What to do if your dog escapes

posted in: Clicker Training, Dogs, How To | 4

Yesterday while I was outside playing around with my phone, I heard a commotion across the street. I listened to two kids and an adult all shouting excitedly. I looked. The neighbor’s dog had escaped and hidden in some bushes next door. The father was impatient and getting angry. The kids were getting louder and more excited. The dog retreated further into the bushes.

I stood up, and went back in my house. I grabbed a bag of treats and got Noelle’s leash off the hook. Noelle got bouncy and happy, and was disappointed when I told her to wait. It took me longer to walk across the street than it did to collar the neighbor’s dog.

Since Vivian was hiding in the bushes, I figured that she was scared by all the commotion and just wanted a quiet place to hide. I joined her in the bushes, and offered her a treat. Vivian came out to see what I had. While she was investigating the treats on the ground, I made a slip collar out of my leash and grabbed the metal clip.


Three Methods to Get Your Loose Dog Back

Method One: Get Your Dog to Chase You

If your dog us out and frolicking, happy to be running around off leash, do not chase your dog. Your dog loves playing chase and you can use that to your advantage. Make a happy noise to get your dog’s attention, and then take off running the other way. Laugh like you are having the best game ever. With any luck, your dog will spin around and follow you to find out what fun game you are playing. Hooting noises, arm flapping, quacking like a duck, anything that will get your dog to run after you is fair game. And don’t care what the neighbors think. Have the dog chase you into the car or into your home.

Method Two: Look What I Found

If your dog is watching you, but staying out of range, drop on the ground and start digging in the grass. “Look what I found. This is so amazing.” Hopefully, curiosity will encourage your dog to come check out the neat thing you found.

Method Three: Hide with your dog

I used Method Three to get Vivian back. She was stressed out and scared from all the yelling. What she needed was calm quiet reassurance. If your dog is under the bushes, she’s scared and not having fun. Yelling and commotion will add to her fear. Climb in the bushes, or sit down by the bushes, and offer treats in a quiet voice. When the world is scary for your dog, be an island of quiet safety.


What Not To Do

Don’t yell in anger. Dogs aren’t like kids who actually stop when we yell at them. Our angry voices might make a dog freeze in place for a moment, but then they’ll bolt in the opposite direction. The last thing we want to do when our dog escapes is frighten them.

Don’t chase your dogUsain Bolt can run 100 meters in under 10 seconds. A greyhound can run 100 meters in 5.2 seconds. You have little chance of catching a loose dog by chasing after it. 

Do not punish your dog. You think you’re punishing your dog for escaping. Your dog thinks you’re punishing him for coming back. So, even if you’re freaking out, or angry, or frustrated, throw a party for returning.


This is a Drill, This is Only a Drill

When we were kids, we had fire drills at our schools. At my school we also had tornado drills. They gave us a chance to practice the skills we would need in a real emergency. Like the time a tornado touched down by our school and the lights went out, we were in the hallway, covering our necks with our hands. We were scared, but we knew what to do.

You know your dog best. During your dog’s last escape, was she on a wild frolic, a sniffing meander, or scared and hiding? If your dog goes on a frolic, practice having your dog chase you around the house and yard. Make this a fun, happy, exciting game. You just launch off a chair and race around like a goofball away from your dog. The game ends in happy petting and a high value treat party. If your dog knows this game already, and is loose, if you start the happy chase game, guess who will be ready to party?

Snoopy on the other hand follows his nose. In that case, you can practice getting his attention in an emergency. Before you go for a walk, bury a high value treat somewhere

unusual, and then dig in the dirt and pretend to find it on your walk. Your dog will think that you are a hunting genius. Next time your dog is loose and sniffing, when you dig in the dirt, your dog will remember that you find the best stuff and come check it out.

With a fearful dog, build confidence through obedience training. Find a well run class and spend time together. Your dog will blossom and so will you.


Preventing your dog from escaping is of course your best option. But that’s my next post. Don’t forget to subscribe.


Want to give me a treat, or stick me in a kennel? Write a comment below.
DoGently needs your help to spread the word about this blog.
Please share this post with your friends.
See you soon, and remember, do gently with your dog, and yourself, too.

Please follow and like DoGently:

4 Responses

  1. Tina

    as always good info and a delight to read. you right so smoothly your instructions come off more of as a story.
    Anyways quick question for you regarding the chase game.

    So yesterday I was walking Lilydog and a runner who was very light footed surprised me from behind. I didn’t even hear him until he was within leash range (6 foot leash). Lilydog is a gigantic fluffy ball of ‘pet me’. I don’t believe she would ever be cable of hurting a human unless she was defending me. So this runner surprised me and a actually jumped a bit to find him so close behind me again – within 6 feet. He was running so the time between me noticing him and me starting to reel Lilydog in from the tree she was sniffing 6 feet away in the park grass was less an a second. Lily, like many dogs, has a prey instinct that kicks in occasionally when things move very close to her. Bikes, runner, rabbits, squirrels, children running, large trucks – all these things will get her excited if they are in her reach of the leash. Not aggressive but she will want to chase them.
    So here is this runner, a very impressive runner, sure footed, stealthy, and agile. I didn’t have time to get ahold of the loop on her leash closest to her collar. She still had about 3 feet of slack. The runner passed within a foot of me and Lilydog tugged toward him causing him to have to do a little skipping hop thing to avoid her.
    Her tail was wagging, no heckles, mouth closed, ears perked and forward – she was ready to play.
    The runner kept running and I continued with my walk.
    When I got home I posts the story on my neighborhood Facebook page.
    I didn’t out the runner by describing him. I just shared it like I did above.
    Then I added a plea/request to other runners and cyclists who ride on park sidewalks to get to trailheads.
    PLEASE don’t sneak up on a dog and owner from behind.
    I said if a runner, cyclists, or walkers are coming towards me and my very large dog I will always move aside and be sure my dog is restrained so she doesn’t lick people or trip them with her leash.
    AND I am happy to move aside for those coming from behind me IF I know they are there. So I just asked that runner and cyclists shout out something like “on your left, or passing, or behind you”.
    I didn’t think it was a big deal and I thought it was a way to keep all community members safe.

    OH the trolls that can come out if you post something that makes sense.
    Aside from being yelled at for suggesting a runner should have to shout while running I was told my dog is a nuisance and a threat and I would be liable for injury if my dog bit, tripped, or knocked a runner or cyclist down since I admitted in my post that she will try to chase moving things that come so close to her.

    I don’t believe those nutters are completely right, I think the runner or cyclist who surprised a pet and owner from behind and did not make any effort themselves to stay clear of a properly leashed dog would likely be found negligent and at least share some of the blame if they are injured. most the nutters didn’t agree and insisted that I should clearly keep my unpredictable dog on a shorter leash or stay home.

    But my question to you is – if my dog already has an instinct (like most dogs I think) to give chase, if I reward her for chasing me won’t that increase her desire to chase runners, cyclists, children, etc?

    I’m still working on her recall (using your training tips) although I’ve not been able to test it outside our home since I don’t have a fenced yard and the dog park by us is always full of dogs, many of which have absolutely no training. Since I don’t know if she will come when I call outside the house I do like to have some back up plans if she bolts.

    Thank you my dear sweet friend for sharing your expertise with us.

    • Marie Smith

      Getting startled from behind is going to happen to you because you don’t have eyes on the back of your noggin, Tina. How long is your leash? If you are walking on a Flexi leash, throw that in the garbage, because you have no control over your dog when it is more than six feet in front of you. Assuming you are using a normal dog leash, there’s not a whole lot you can do if surprised from behind. The jogger was being an idiot. Startling a dog from behind, and then passing within three feet is not smart. It will happen again, though, so you need to be prepared.

      There is a type of leash that has two handles One handle is a normal six foot lead. The other handle is a short traffic control lead. Having both handles will allow you to maintain good control over your dog in an emergency. Speaking of emergencies, the chase me game is an emergency behavior. You want Lilydog to think chasing you is fun and worth doing should she get out of the house. Now, a dog that is reactive to things with wheels, and things that go fast needs an outlet for that behavior.

      You said you don’t have a fenced yard, do you have a friend who has a fenced yard? Because that would help her if you could just borrow that yard for an hour. If not, I’m not a huge fan of the electric fences, but is that a possibility? We have a critter fence. https://www.critterfence.com/poly-garden-fence It’s temporary and doesn’t spoil the view. Getting a chance for your dog to go for a run would be helpful for her, because she needs something to chase.

      Some dogs have a high need to chase things. Think of what a sheep dog is supposed to be doing for 10 hours a day. Chasing stuff and gathering it into a pen is what herding breeds are supposed to do. 400+ years of selective breeding has made herding dogs what they are, and that’s a good thing… assuming you’re a shepherd. Which, you probably aren’t. Now we put these exquisitely selectively bred dogs in an urban environment and wonder why they want to lunge after skateboards and screaming kids, joggers and bikes? They have a genetic switch in their brain that says, get that moving thing over there, chase it and gather.

      Your dog needs an instinctual yes. Each of our dogs was bred for a specific job, and when we give them an outlet for their natural desires, it makes our dogs easier to live with. What will make a herding breed happy? Chasing stuff. A fantastic toy for a herding dog is a flirt pole. Have you ever seen a cat toy on a string? Imagine a much, much larger version of that. Here’s a video. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JjYzxaIggE0

      Now, your dog is supposed to chase this thing and grab it. While she has the toy in her mouth, put a piece of liverwurst on her nose. Wait for her to eat it and drop the toy. Ask for a sit, take a breath, and play again. A flirt pole teaches impulse control, and will wear your dog out mentally and physically. This is an instinctual yes behavior, and I love finding those. Lilydog wants something to chase, so let her have something wonderful to chase. Give her a chance to be in her genes, so to speak, and the desire to chase the wrong stuff will fade. Besides, a flirt pole is exhausting. Get her tired, and then go for a walk.

      I’d actually be willing to try a flirt pole in an unfenced yard, along with very high value treats, because the movement of the pole is so incredibly stimulating, running away doesn’t cross the dog’s mind. Assuming she likes it in the house, try it outside. Set a timer for one minute, play, reward, drag the toy behind you and go back in the house. Praise like crazy and have a treat party for following you in the house. A treat party in our house is where I actually shout, Treat party! And fling about 15 or 20 small dog treats in the kitchen. My dogs love treat parties.

      If you’re going to try a flirt pole in the yard, go for a very short time because you don’t want her to get distracted, and then have a panic attack if she got away. One minute, build up from there. But, a friend’s fenced yard would be ideal. Good luck, I hope this helps.

  2. Frances

    I have watched it happen so many times – happy dog dashes away from owner; owner shouts crossly and pursues dog; dog decides human is not safe to approach and keeps away; human gets crosser and crosser; dog finally comes, now very unhappy and throwing out every possible placatory signal; human punishes dog and drags it away; dog is more and more convinced that coming when called is a Bad Thing. And a cheerful tone plus a few scraps of chicken would have made everyone’s life so much easier…

    The only thing I would add to your excellent advice is to avoid making coming when called a predictor of the end of fun. Calling your dog to you during off leash walks and rewarding with a treat or a fun game, and then sending them off again to sniff or play really helps to make coming a Good Thing. I once had to work very hard to call Sophy away from a party in our shared grounds – a barbecue with sausages and chicken and burgers and children dropping food… canine heaven. When she finally came, I praised her and immediately released her to go back for a few minutes before we went home – I could practically see the light bulb think bubble flashing! When I called her again she came immediately and happily followed me home to bed.

    • Marie Smith

      Frances, the Come/Go back to what you were doing game is another thing to practice for sure. And Sophy being distracted by a picnic, coming back to you, and going back to the picnic was good training on your part. Recall should predict the beginning of the party, not the end of it. We played so many recall games when Noelle and Francis were puppies, that we can get the kids back easily. But, I don’t know about a picnic. That was impressive!