Which approach is least effective in retrieving a dog who has managed to slip off their leash? And what is the best way to catch your off-leash dog?

dog running away

Have you ever experienced that moment where your pup slips off-leash, and in a split second, they get away? That utter panic starts to arise, your heart starts pounding, and you begin to chase them as fast as you can, shouting at them to come back. You see them heading for the road, and all you can think about is, “what if they get hit by a car?!”

Sadly, I have experienced this a few times with my coonhound who can’t help but chase critters when she sees them. With lots of training—and some growing up—she’s gotten better. But honestly, it still happens from time to time. And every time… my heart sinks. I am so terrified that I might lose her forever.

If you’ve ever experienced this, I am so sorry for the panic you’ve gone through. And if you’re worried about the day this will happen to you, let’s figure out the best way to prepare for the inevitable. And how to best get your precious pup to come back to you.

dogs running

What is The Least Effective Way to Retrieve a Dog Who Has Slipped Off Their Leash?

So here’s the tricky part. Dogs will naturally run toward something else that is moving or running… like squirrels, rabbits, etc. And they will run away from whatever—or whoever—is chasing them. But our natural instinct is to chase our dog because they’re getting away.

Sometimes they will run away because they think you are angry with them. And sometimes they’ll run away because they think it’s a game.

You definitely don’t want to lose sight of them or let them get too far off. But running and screaming at them will typically cause them to panic more—especially if they started running away out of fear in the first place.

How Do You Best Catch an Unleashed Dog?

  1. You’ll want to entice them to come back toward you or run after you. You can lure them toward you with a treat or a toy. Or you can even try to get them to chase you by playfully running away. Again, you don’t want to get too far away from them, so be careful with that.
  2. And instead of screaming at them, try to keep a calm, happy tone in your voice. This will help your dog to calm down. And they won’t think you are upset with them. Just make sure that while your tone is calm and not anxious, that it is still firm—to remind them that you are the confident leader.
  3. You can also try sitting or kneeling as they approach you, to show that you are being calm and inviting. Just keep that leash ready behind your back. And if they are wearing a collar or harness, you can gently grab onto that first.
  4. If you’re sure that you are securely holding onto their collar or harness, and they are not getting away, then quickly connect their leash back on. But if you’re not sure how securely you’ve got them, you can quickly and easily use their leash to ensure security. Basically, you’ll use it in a loop like a lasso—just feed the leash loosely through the handle, so you can be ready to loop it over their head.
dog off leash

How Can I Get My Dog to Be Trained Off-Leash?

Training your dog ahead of time to listen to recall—coming back to you when you call their name—is the best way to avoid a situation where they run off. While some breeds will learn this more easily than others, it is possible to teach all breeds. It just takes a lot of time, patience, consistency, and intentionality. But in the end, it’s well worth it!

  1. Train your dog in a calm, distraction-free environment. If you have a fenced-in backyard, or know someone who does, this would be best! If you don’t have that, you could even start training inside your home.
  2. Make it into a game. If your dog thinks the training is fun, they will be more willing to learn.
  3. Use lots of treats and positive reinforcements. Your dog will always want to come back to you if you’re giving them treats and praise. And they will associate “coming to you when you call” with positive feelings.
  4. Use the same command word each time. Whether you want to say “come” or “here,” stay consistent. Once you’ve called them a few times, they may start to understand the command. If they start to come back to you on their own, use the command word as they walk toward you, and reward them again.
  5. Try playing “catch me.” After you’ve practiced at home, take your pup for a walk with an extra long leash. At some point, start to walk backwards a few steps and use your command word to call them toward you. Again, make sure to bring treats to reward them.
  6. Play hide-and-seek at home. To continue reinforcing your command word, walk into a different room in your house, and call your dog to “come” to you. It’s a fun game, and it reinforces the command.

Taking the time to train your pup to come might be a pain in the moment, but it could save their life later on.

For more helpful articles about pet-parenting tips, check out the Off Leash blog at TryFi.com.

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