While I was washing the dishes earlier today, I looked out the window and thought, “Oh, the dogs are out.” Then, I realized the dog I was watching relieve himself in the backyard was not one of mine.
Long story short, the stray (Spot – changed to protect the frightened!) is terrified of strangers, and even though I went armed with hotdog pieces, he decided fleeing was a better alternative than taking food from a stranger. Not a bad idea if you’re a child, but a terrible idea for a stray dog.
Spot ran away from me, but luckily his owners had placed an ad on Craigslist. I called and, after helping in the search, they’re still looking for him as I type this. Hopefully, Spot will sleep in his own home tonight.
Turns out, he was a recently adopted rescue dog and had escaped yesterday. The ad even states that he is shy with strangers.
So, how can you stop your dog from winding up like this? Dogs running away is a fact of life – luckily, there are a few things you can do to decrease the chances that your dog will run, and that he will accept help if he does.
Make sure your dog knows the lay of the land! Most dogs escape from their own homes, and those that go on very few walks can’t always find their way home after chasing the neighborhood cat for a mile or so. Take your dog everywhere, in every direction, around your neighborhood, and those surrounding it. In fact, have someone drop you off a ways away (especially a park, or wooded area that may be enticing to your dog) and walk home together. One time around the block just won’t cut it.
Next, teach your dog the strongest Recall command possible. Make coming to you as much fun as it can possibly be when you say “Spot, Come!” We’re talking treats, praise, toys, anything that gets your dog excited!
When teaching a Recall, remember to use it in positive manners – meaning, do NOT call your dog to you in order to punish him, to bring him inside (thus ending his fun), or to take something away from him that he values. And, if you must call him to bring him inside or to take something from him, practice the Come command 10-15 more times immediately where only positive things happen.
Using a long line (15-20ft. leash) outdoors and in unfamiliar environments will help you gain control over your dog in the event that he should become distracted while learning. Use it to gently remind him to go in your direction, then release him back to his fun after he comes.
If he does not come to you, try running away from your dog. That’s right – away from him. This brings out the dog’s natural chase/prey/play instincts and gives him a good reason to follow!
The next most important thing to teach your dog is that strangers are not enemies, or people to be feared. Strangers may well be your dog’s only hope at ever becoming reunited with you in the event that he gets away.
Socialize your dog to every kind of person you can think of! Have a fearful dog? Approach strangers (start with friends), and ask them to give a few treats to your dog without making eye contact, or speaking directly to him. Once your dog gets used to the idea that people on the street are treat dispensers, have them slowly and gently pet your dog on the chest, or under the chin (still not making eye contact), and work up from there. Practice on the sidewalks and in neighbors yards – anywhere your dog may be if he gets lost.
Have a dog who barks at people? Use treats during walks to distract your dog from looking at the people. Reward your dog any time he looks at someone without barking. Once you can start passing people on the opposite side of the street barkfree, work up to passing on the same sidewalk. Then, start having your dog Sit as people walk by, and you say hello to them. Keep working on it until you can have strangers toss your dog treats.
Any little bit helps. Anything you can do to teach your dog about his surroundings, to teach him to come back when he is called, and to introduce him to all the neighbors will go a long way in leading to a safe return.
(Also – make sure your dog is wearing identification tags. Tags can be broken, so make sure he is microchipped as well. Check the Humane Society of Indianapolis or F.A.C.E. Clinic for cheap prices on microchipping.)
If you have any questions you would like to ask a Certified Dog Trainer, you can submit them right here at Naptown Buzz. Elizabeth Wilhelm, Certified Dog Trainer, will tackle the submitted questions, and give practical advice to solve common dog behavior issues. For more information about Elizabeth, you may visit her website at www.TrainingKarma.com.