How do you train a dog not to run away?

Recall Training

How do you train a dog not to run away?

Table of Contents


You want to enjoy fun nature walks with your dog, relaxing after a long day at work or even taking a weekend hike … but he keeps running off! You have tried calling him, scolding him and maybe even taken treats that he refused. What now?

How to train a dog to not run away

The first step to training your dog to not run away is to not let him off the leash when you think there is any chance that he could take off.

heeler running away with ball

Dogs build habits through repeating behaviors over and over. If you let your dog repeat the behavior of running off, it will become ingrained. The more ingrained a habit is, the harder it will be to change it – just like for humans!

You should start the training for calling your dog and keeping him by your side in an easy environment at first. This easy environment should not be a big field with rabbits, or the forest with wild deer. Instead, the training to not run off should start in your backyard or even in your living room.

Does your dog run away when called?

If your dog is taking off, you need to think like a dog:

Why is running away more enticing than coming?

No dog decides to run away in order to spite the owner. The dog just chooses whatever seems to pay off more. If you are in a very distracting area with a lot of smells and places to explore, it is likely that your dog sees a lot of value in running away and little value in coming to you. This is especially true if coming to you has in the past been followed by a bad experience: perhaps you scolded him or taken him home straight away.

It is really important that you are never negative when your dog comes to you, even if you are annoyed and frustrated because you have been calling him for a long time. Your dog will otherwise very quickly associate coming to you with being punished, and choose to just not come again in the future.

The world around him never punishes your dog. It is always welcoming and interesting. It offers him things to smell, maybe some trash to eat, wildlife to chase … if you want to be able to compete with the world around your dog, you need to be equally appealing.


My puppy runs away

You should start recall training already with very little puppies. It can begin the day that you bring your puppy home. Take a delicious dog treat and show it to your puppy. Back up just a few feet and wiggle the treat enticingly and call your puppy. When he runs after you, give him the treat and shower him with pets and praise. He should be wiggling with excitement!

You should play this game with your puppy every day. Soon he will not run away at all anymore, just in fact come racing to you when he hears his name called.

red merle aussie puppy gets treat

Consistency is the most important aspect here. It will not be beneficial to only play this once or twice and then stop. You need to give your puppy a lot of repetition in order to thoroughly learn the behavior!

  1. Start practicing your recall in a really easy environment. For some puppies even the backyard is too exciting. You can practice in your living room or hallway!
  2. Show your puppy a treat and back up a few steps. Call him and give him the treat!
  3. Show your puppy a treat and run away from him. Don’t go too fast or he will be discouraged and might not come. You always want to make this easy enough that you pup can catch you!
  4. Gradually take your game into more and more locations
  5. ALWAYS make sure to give your pup a delicious treat for coming!

You cannot teach a reliable recall to your puppy in a day, a week or even a month. You should consistently practice your recall a little bit at a time for the first year in your puppy’s life and always reward him for coming to you.

Why do dogs run away from their owners?

Adult dogs run away because they have rehearsed not coming when called many times. If you have adopted an adult dog, or you have simply had a dog all his life who never learned how to come when called, you should repeat the same steps as outlined above for a little puppy.

You need to practice many times, in very easy situations, to have your dog come when called and not run away. Again, remember: Dogs run away because there are so many other fun options for them out there. By reducing the number of options (and letting your dog experience how rewarding it is to come to you instead), you will be able to have him practice coming when called.

What breed of dog is least likely to run away?

shih tzu
Shih Tzus like to stay close to their owners!

Every dog will need consistent and positive recall practice. However, some are more less likely than others to take off. Dogs that are the least likely to run away as often are:

These are all breeds from the toy group, and as such were bred to stay close to their owners. On the other hand, there are breeds that are more likely to run away:

What breed of dog is most likely to run away?

Dogs from the herding group (click here to learn more about them), guard dogs, hunting dogs and their mixes are much more likely to run off. You should always keep a collar with tags on your dog and invest a lot of time into recall practice if you own any of these breeds:

border collie in a field

Herding dogs are very motion-sensitive and like to take off after anything that moves fast!

Should you punish your dog for running away?

No, you should never punish your dog for running away!

By the time you punish him, he has already returned to you. He will link the correction to coming to you, which is the exact opposite of what you want! You always need to teach your dog that coming to you is fun and rewarding.

Instead of giving your dog the opportunity to run away, keep him on a collar or harness and leash and only let him off in a safe and inclosed area. Work on recalling your dog diligently in enclosed spaces before ever letting your dog off-leash!

Can a dog jump a 4 foot fence?

Is your dog running away because he consistently gets out of your yard?

A 4 foot fence is not sufficient to contain a medium to large dog. Only very small dogs such as Chihuahuas can be contained by a fence. Your dog likely can jump a 4 foot fence easily and get away.

6 feet is a much better height for a fence – and you might want to make your fence even higher if your dog is an escape artist or has a history of getting out of contained areas.

It is very difficult to train your dog to not leave your yard and run away if he has the chance to – because he has likely learned that on the other side of the fence is a whole new exciting world. You need to keep your dog contained, both for his own safety and the safety of others.

The bottom line

Every dog owner should invest some time into teaching their dog to not run off and to come when called. This process is not instant – it takes time and consistent practice. Make coming when called a rewarding and fun experience for your dog and he will be much less likely to take off on you!