No matter if you’ve got an escape artist at home or a dog who rarely leaves your side – losing your buddy is a frightening experience. Whether that’s from a dognapping attempt, or a habit of chasing down smaller animals, or if your dog tends to spook easily. It’s enough to make you wonder: why do dogs run away? And how can you plan ahead for if (or when) they do?

Even if we do everything to keep them happy, healthy and by our side, sometimes our dogs get distracted, confused, or scared. (No matter how well-trained they are!) And sometimes, that can make them run away. Just thinking about it is enough to give dog parents nightmares. A lost dog may get into trouble, or worse – never find their way home.

So here are the top 6 reasons why dogs run away, what you can do to prevent them, and how a GPS dog tracker can help you make sure you never lose your buddy again.

Why do dogs run away? 6 Reasons

There are several factors which may lead to a dog running away. Let’s explore them in more detail below.

1) Fear & common dog triggers

Just like us, our furry friends feel fear. And when they do, it might trigger their fight, flight, or freeze response. If they decide on flight or flee, they’ll run away.

Infographic showing the 4 F of fear, or the different ways dogs might react when in a state of fear

Dogs are most likely to exhibit a fear/flight response when they encounter the following:

Every dog parent knows that loud noises may frighten dogs. Dogs have a very sharp sense of hearing, and can hear sounds between 15 – 50,000 vibrations per second. For comparison, humans can only pick up sounds between 20 – 20,000 vibrations per second.

Fireworks are one of the most common reasons why dogs run away. In fact, it’s one of the key reasons why dogs go missing around the 4th of July than any other time of year!1

If your dog gets scared by fireworks or thunderstorms, they will likely run away or find somewhere to hide. In either case, you won’t know where they are unless your dog has a GPS dog tracker.

Pay attention to the subtle signs that show your dog might not be comfortable in a certain situation. You can do this by learning to recognize the signs of fear in dogs.

brown dog wearing gps tracking collar

A GPS dog tracker without subscription?

Ready to start GPS tracking your dog for peace of mind, but don’t want to pay a monthly fee? We get it. That’s why we created a guide to GPS dog and cat trackers without subscription plans. (And why a subscription is worth the investment.)

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2) Separation anxiety

Some dogs will experience separation anxiety when their humans are away, which could lead to them acting a bit… off. Destroying things, chewing furniture, peeing indoors, trying to escape or run away – these are all symptoms of separation anxiety in dogs. Dogs with separation anxiety might not know how to handle their nerves, or might try to make friends and meet others when you’re away. (Or even more, they might even escape the house to come and find you!)

Find out more about separation anxiety in dogs, and what you can do help your dog in case it happens to you.

A dog with separation anxiety hiding beneath a bed

3) Mating instinct

Puppies don’t stay puppies for long! After sexually maturing at about 6 months, both male and female dogs have a strong instinct to reproduce. And if you’re not careful, you mind find yourself with a litter of puppies. This strong (and natural) urge is a very common reason why dogs run away.

“If your female dog is in heat, she may, unfortunately, try to get out and find herself a Prince Charming. I have had this happen, with my dog turning up five miles from home. Luckily, a neighboring farmer spotted her and gave us a call; I dread to think about what may have happened if that weren’t the case! We ended up with a litter of puppies, and a hefty bill for putting in better fencing!”

– A US-based Tractive pet parent

⚠️ Got around $6000 at hand for building a physical fence around your home? The average cost of setting up a fence can range from between $4000-$12,000 – and that’s just setup! (Without counting ongoing maintenance costs.)

Dogs who have not been neutered or fixed are especially prone to the mating call. For more information, learn everything you need to know about dogs in heat here.

why do dogs go missing? mating cycle in dogs infographic - proestrus, estrus, diestrus, anestrus

💡 Want to prevent your dog from wandering away without burning a hole in your wallet? We cover a smarter, more affordable alternative to physical fences just a little below.

4) Boredom

A very common cause of dogs running away is boredom. Very smart dog breeds are the most likely suspects! It starts out with them wanting to get to that squirrel over there. Or go down the road to make friends with the neighborhood kids.

why do dogs go missing - brown dog in field

Dogs are naturally curious creatures with a need for daily activity and stimulation. If you’re not exercising or entertaining your dog enough, they may get bored and try to create fun for themselves by escaping and running away.

Cheeky, but scary!

💡Skip ahead to pick up some ways to keep your dog entertained, active, and happy. (And potentially save their lives.)

5) Hunting instinct

Every dog has a hunting instinct or prey drive. Some are more inclined to follow it, while others are better described as “cuddle hunters”. In any case, this drive can be tough for dog parents, especially during autumn, when dogs can easily pick up the scent of wild animals and try to chase them. Or in winter months, where snow can actually mess with your dog’s sense of smell.

So because of their natural hunting instinct, your dog might easily run away and lose track of where they are. If you’ve got, say, a snow-loving dog like a Golden Lab, they might run away to dive into the nearest snow pile – or chase down a woodland animal to make friends.

A man hunting with his dog in an autumn forest

Why do dogs love to hunt? Well, there’s two main reasons:

1) Some breeds have been bred to hunt. For example, Beagles, American Foxhounds, Pointers, Setters, Shepherds, and even Retrievers.

2) Hunting is simply fun for them. It releases healthy adrenaline and happiness hormones in your furry friend.

Not sure where to begin when it comes to handling your dog’s prey drive? Find more information and tips to handle the hunting instinct in dogs here.

Track My Dog With Tractive GPS

6) Unfamiliar surroundings

Another reason for a dog running away is being in a territory they don’t know well. Especially during vacations, the risk of your dog running away increases. New territory, smells and distractions can easily cause your dog to go and explore the area and get lost.

So you might come across most often this if you’ve shifted homes with your dog or have moved to a new neighborhood.

A dog inside an unfurnished house looking outdoors

Now that we’ve covered the main reasons why dogs run away, you can plan ahead that much better.

But are there some dog breeds that are more likely to run away?

Dog breeds that run away

Some dog breeds are more likely to run away than others. Like, for example:

  • Labs,
  • Australian Shepherds,
  • Jack Russels,
  • German Shepherds,
  • Spaniel breeds,
  • Terriers,
  • Border Collies,
  • …and maybe yours?

Now you might be thinking that your dog is way too chill or well-trained to run away. But like we’ve covered above, your dog’s inner instincts or factors in their environment could lead them to bolt the fence or run off during a hike. And more often than not, your dog’s instincts might even override their training.

💡Some dogs are even natural runners – so a dog running away may be a sign that it’s time to start a new fitness routine together – to let them run out all that extra energy!

So while it’s important to be extra careful if your dog falls under one of these breeds, we’d recommend planning ahead no matter what. Because:

  • Every dog is vulnerable to mating or hunting instincts.
  • Training your dog to overcome their flight response to fear can take years.
dog wearing GPS dog tracker sitting next to man outside house in field

Besides running away, close to 2 million dogs are stolen by pet thieves per year – in the US alone! And in the end, only around 10% of them are reunited with their families. Some of the dog breeds more likely to run away (like Terriers) are also more likely to be dognapped.

So you could set your mind at ease with an extra tall fence around your yard or garden – or a GPS dog tracker which lets you track your missing dog in real-time. Or set up a virtual “safe zone” and immediately get a notification on your phone if your buddy’s snuck past it – so you can intervene and bring them to safety.

packaging of the Tractive GPS DOG tracker

Always know where your dog is

Follow every step in real-time with unlimited range. Get alerts if they wander too far. Keep them happy & healthy with Wellness Monitoring. And let others – like walkers or sitters – keep an eye on your dog too.

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What to do if your dog runs away?

If your dog runs away, stay calm. it’s important to not panic, as that could just frighten your dog further and make it more difficult for you to find them. Follow these tips as soon as possible to bring a lost dog home safely. One of the first steps? Check your home and immediate surroundings. It’s possible your dog might not have escaped too far from home.

Do dogs come back when they run away?

According to estimates, about 7% of missing dogs will never be reunited with their family2. But two things seem to make a happy ending much more likely. When dogs who run away do return home, it’s usually because:

  • they were found while searching the neighborhood
  • they were wearing an ID tag and/or microchip

So the earlier you begin your search, the quicker you’ll be able to find your dog. And the more vigilant you are about your dog’s movements, the less likely it’ll be that you lose them in the first place.

A GPS dog tracker is the number one way to stay on top of your dog’s movements – and ensure you can find your dog if they do run away.

Top tips: how to prevent a dog from running away

The following tips can help you to prevent your dog from running away, and make sure your beloved buddy is always by your side.

Keep your dog safe and calm

Knowing your dog’s habits and temperament can help you catch on more quickly when they’re scared. So keep an eye out for how your dog behaves when in “stressful” environments. (Like, for example, large, loud crowds – or during “noisy” festivals like New Year’s Eve or with constant foot traffic like Halloween.)

A woman hugging a dog on a couch
  • Close your windows when you see lightning outdoors and keep your dog close to you. The sounds can spook them.
  • Train your dog with gradual departures. This can help you prepare them to be better able to handle when you leave the house. For example, put on your shoes and pick up your keys, but don’t leave right away. Repeat this several times, decreasing the amount of time before you leave the house each time.
  • Consider anti-anxiety supplements from your vet. These can help if you know your dog will be going into a stressful situation, like getting on a plane.
  • Create an enriched home environment for your dog. No need for any complicated setups. Even a long-lasting treat or toy can help keep your dog occupied while you’re not home
  • Make a cozy, safe space in your home that’s just for your dog. Consider leaving something of “yourself” behind for them – like a sweater or old shirt with your scent on it.

Plan ahead for mating & hunting instincts

There’s no denying instincts – every dog’s got them. But you do have a say on how they act on them.

  • Have your dog neutered. Spaying and neutering decreases sexual roaming in 90% of cases3.
  • Refresh your dog’s training. Re-training your dog with basic commands can be a great way to keep them mentally active. Or try a new method, like clicker training, which is based on positive reinforcement. Else, consider investing in obedience or recall training.
  • Keep your dog on a leash while walking. We’d recommend checking the leash laws in your state or country, as walking your dog on a leash might be mandatory in some parts of the world.
A family walking their dog on a leash in a field

Secure your home and yard

Invest in better fencing if your dog manages to escape your yard – ideally wooden panel fencing with a cement foundation in the ground to avoid any breakouts. (To prevent your smartypants dog from digging under it to escape.) Besides, you could also consider using secure screens, security bars, baby gates or door barriers to discourage them from venturing too far outdoors. And of course, be extra careful to close all doors and windows when leaving home (especially if you’ve got family or friends entering and leaving frequently.)

⚠️ Vets strongly discourage using invisible dog fences or e-collars that rely on static shocks to “train” your dog not to wander. There’s always the risk of causing your dog unimaginable pain – and over time, it might lead them to trust you less. Besides, your dog might also bite, struggle, or react aggressively in self-defence.

A smarter, more affordable option to setting up an expensive physical fence around your house? Tractive’s Virtual Fence. With it, you can set up a “safe zone” for your dog – and get an instant alert on your phone if your dog tries to sneak past it. Perfect for foiling an escape attempt or catching on quickly if your dog has been picked up a pet thief. Plus, no shocks involved. Making it a humane alternative to e-collars and invisible fences.

Tractive GPS Virtual Fence

Protect My Dog With Tractive GPS

Keep your dog entertained, active & happy

Let’s face it – your dog might run away simply because they’re bored. But the good news? Preventing your dog’s boredom isn’t just easy, it’s also a ton of fun!

So we’d recommend you:

  • Play with your dog regularly and give them plenty of cuddle time.
  • Spice up your dog’s play area. For example, hide balls or treat-dispensing toys around your garden. Puzzle toys and games are a great way to keep your dog mentally active.
  • Get a pet sitter to keep your pup company. (Or better yet, another dog – it’ll help especially if your buddy has separation anxiety.)

One of the best ways to prevent your dog from running away? Making regular exercise a priority. Which doesn’t just keep your dog healthy, but also prevents them from getting bored. Besides, regular walks and playtime also helps you spend quality time with your buddy.

Most importantly though, regular exercise can help you catch on to your dog’s health issues early on. Vets even recommend tracking your dog’s everyday activity to spot any drop in mobility.

So with Tractive’s Activity Monitoring, you can set goals for your buddy, make sure they’re getting enough exercise – and take action early if you notice a dip in their energy.

screenshots from the activity monitoring in the Tractive GPS App
Sebastian Raab, Product Manager at Tractive

“It can be easy to miss out on changes in your dog’s or cat’s regular activity – or just if they’re on the move more or less than usual. So we’ve set up Activity Degradation alerts for when your pet’s active minutes drop significantly. They can help you intervene in a situation where your pet might be struggling with an infection or even just pain.”

– Sebastian Raab, Product Manager at Tractive & occasional pet-sitter

Be prepared in case your dog does run away

Even with all this planning and prep – your dog might still run away. Here are a couple of important steps that’ll help you find them that much quicker:

  • Make sure your dog is always wearing a collar with an ID tag and your phone number. Keep this up to date.
  • Microchip your dog. This can help a vet or a local shelter identify your dog if they scan the microchip. Keep your microchip information up to date on your local database.
  • Use a GPS tracking device for dogs to always know where your dog is – and follow their every step. With Tractive, you can track your wandering dog in real-time and know just where to go to pick them up.

Find My Dog With Tractive GPS

For more ideas, check out our post on how to stop your dog from running away.

How to prevent your dog from getting lost – with Tractive

Dog parents around the world are investing in Tractive’s life-saving technology – to find their dogs, stay on top of their location, and maintain their health and wellbeing. With Tractive’s unlimited range and live tracking, you just need to glance at your phone to know where your dog is – every time.

Because there’s no experience more terrifying than watching your dog bolt off away from you – and not knowing if you’ll find them again. Like the story of Happy, an off-leash Golden Retriever who ran off into the woods on his first hike. Despite panicking, his mum Francesca immediately switched on Tractive’s LIVE Mode – and found him in no time.

Two women hiking kneeling down next to golden retriever dog in a lake in the mountains

“Happy is a good dog and at the end of the day, he always comes back. Well, except the time I brought him for our first time to the Siusi Alps. These mountains are known for the intricate paths and the beautiful flora. I was there with Mac, Happy and my family when Happy got lost. Whether this happened because he went after a deer, or not, this is still not clear to me. What was clear is that he was gone.

Then I remembered that Happy had the GPS tracker clipped on. I immediately switched on the LIVE Tracking mode and started breathing more easily the closer I got to his position. I could follow his path, live, directly on my phone and the position was so accurate that… finally there Happy was, sipping water from the source on a mountain’s edge.”

– Francesca & Happy, Italy

Track My Dog With Tractive GPS

Read: Tractive reviews on Trustpilot

Wrapping up: Why do dogs run away?

So why do dogs run away? It’s hard to say exactly why – but the reasons could range from:

  • Fear
  • Separation anxiety
  • Mating instinct
  • Boredom
  • Hunting instinct
  • An unfamiliar environment

Often, more than one of these factors combined can cause your dog to run away. (Yes, no matter how well-trained or well-behaved your dog is.)

So as responsible dog owners, it’s important to be aware of the common reasons why dogs run away and what you can do to stop it from happening. By following the precautions, you can make sure your dog never goes missing. Even if they do, you’ll have tools you need to be reunited again.

Got a friend or a loved one with an escape artist dog at home? Share this post with them – and never worry about losing your dog again.