If you like to be out and about, then you'll need to know how to get your dog to stop running away on walks, especially if you plan on going without a leash at some point. Sure, they can explore and sniff around. But they obviously shouldn't be disappearing into the distance, or not listening when you call them to come back.
Dogs can get distracted pretty easily, and once they're free to explore a beach or park, it doesn't take much for them to pick up an interesting scent or spot an animal, and follow it without thinking. It can be stressful if they start to run away, but there are quite a few things you can do to get their attention.
Even though it may be your first instinct to chase after them, pause and "call him or her," Rhonda Leonard, an experienced dog trainer with Follow My Lead Dog Training, tells Bustle. "Make a loud noise (clap, pat your leg), and begin running in the opposite direction." This will encourage your dog to follow you, since they instinctually want to chase.
You should also use a happy, high-pitched voice to get their attention, Steffi Trott, a professional dog trainer with SpiritDog Training, tells Bustle. "You can clap your hands to entice him even more," Trott says, and turn it into a fun game. Acting all excited will make it seem more appealing to come back, instead of yelling or being angry.
Of course, it's best to train your dog to stay nearby in the first place, which means keeping them on a leash until you're 100% sure they're trustworthy. "This is a safety issue for both you, your dog, and the safety of other people who you might be around," Leonard says. This also means only letting them free in areas that are truly secure, like a beach where dogs are allowed to run around.
One way to train them to stay close is by using "engagement cues," Leonard says, like the words "focus," "eyes," or "watch me," which you'll use to get them to look at you, instead of whatever else is attracting their attention. "You can practice this at home by wearing a leash attached to your body," she says. "That way, your dog can learn to respect the leash and how far they can go while they're on it." Walk around together like this and use these commands until they become second nature.
Tasty snacks can also be a great motivator. "While your dog is learning to not leave your side, you should always have dog treats with you," Trott says. "Feed your dog a treat every time he walks by you or looks at you," and he will quickly learn to stay close. You can also give them a treat while out on a walk but only after you tell them to sit or shake hands, Trott says, as this will reward them for listening and paying attention.
It's also important to teach your dog to come when they're called, otherwise known as recall. "Until your dog is trained on a recall behavior, it is essential to keep your dog on leash," Stephanie Mantilla, a positive reinforcement-based animal trainer at Curiosity Trained, tells Bustle. "If your dog is used to having some leeway, you can get a long leader leash that is 15 to 20 feet long. Your dog will still have room to explore but you have control of them should you need to rein them in."
An emergency recall is also something you'll want to practice, which you can use in open areas, and if they happen to be running away. "This involves a special sound or noise you only use during this recall," Mantilla says. "This noise means they're going to get a high value treat item." With practice, they'll learn that hearing this sound (like a loud whistle, or a certain command) means they're about to get the most delicious treat or the most exciting toy — something you know they'll choose over whatever caught their eye.
"Properly training this behavior requires consistent effort being put in over a long period of time," Mantilla says. So remember that practice is key when it comes to teaching your dog to stay close and to always come when they're called, both of which will help keep them from running away.