Dogs are smart, but they can also be very curious. That's a good thing and a bad thing. Smart dogs often get themselves into trouble, and curious dogs always want to explore new things. This combination can lead to disaster when your dog manages to get off the leash and run away from you! In this blog post, we'll cover the least effective ways to retrieve a lost dog. They're attempted more often than you might think!

Non-Effective Methods for Retrieving an Off-Leash Dog

When your dog takes off, most of us instinctively react with panic, especially when they seem to be ignoring our every effort to get them back. Unfortunately, many of our instincts do the exact opposite of what we want. Here are the least effective methods for retrieving an off-leash dog.

Balu had so much fun in the sand and couln’t stop running around. At the time the picture was taken he was already tired … but that couldn’t stop him from running around and having the time of his life.


It’s hard not to shout at your dog when they are exhibiting unwanted behavior. Not only does shouting not help, it often makes the problem worse. You must stay calm and in control when retrieving a dog.

Here are a few reasons why shouting is an ineffective way of trying to retrieve a dog:

A dog will pay more attention when your voice is calm. They are sensitive to your tone of voice, so they can tell if you’re happy, angry, or upset. When you yell at your dog for running, they stay away because they sense you are angry.

Pets understand the tone of voice but not the content of your words. When we scold our pet, their instinct will make your dog run in the opposite direction.

Talking isn’t a dog’s preferred form of communication. Dogs understand body language and visual cues better than spoken language.

Running After Your Dog

Running after your dog when they take off is another ineffective method of getting your dog to come back. Dogs like to chase things; it’s why they run off in the first place. Whether it’s a ball, a squirrel, another dog, or the neighbor’s cat, chasing things is a game for most dogs. Getting chased is also a really fun game.

When your dog runs, and you chase him, your dog isn’t thinking you’re trying to catch them. They think it’s a fun game. So they run faster and farther. The problem is that most dogs can outrun you before you ever catch them.

Repeating “Come” Over and Over Again

It can be tempting to repeat “come” to your dog over and over again to get your dog back when they have gotten off leash. This is not only ineffective at getting your dog to come, but it’s also setting you and your dog up for some bad habits in the future.

Repeating and yelling commands creates confusion in your dog. Dog owners must stay calm when trying to retrieve their dog. The yelling could make the dog run farther away and is not a good method.

Dogs are intelligent and learn quickly, but they’re not as logical as humans. When you repeat a command, it can be difficult for the dog to remember which time you mean it. Do you mean “come” the first time? Or do I only have to listen the third time you say it? This causes them to lose focus on their task and makes them more likely to ignore your requests!

If your dog isn’t fully trained on the “come” command, you shouldn’t use it unless you can force obedience. This means practicing on a long leash where you can pull your dog in and only using it off-leash in a controlled area until your dog’s recall is reliable.

A German Shepherd runs towards the camera.


While it may be tempting to utter threats to your dog when they misbehave, it’s a waste of time and energy. Dogs don’t understand most of your words, and they don’t understand the concept of “now” and “later.”

Telling them they won’t get a treat when you get home unless they come back makes sense to you, but not to your dog. By the time you get home, your dog has forgotten they ever ran in the first place. They certainly at least don’t understand the reason why they don’t get the treat.This is also a bad method to retrieve your dog if they have gotten off leash.

Going Home

If your dog has run so far that you no longer know where they are, it can be tempting to go home and hope they will come back on their own. This is an irresponsible action as a pet owner.

If you don’t know where your dog is gone, by all means, notify your neighbors and others in the area in case they see your dog. The most likely scenario is that your dog may look for you where they last saw you. If you are not there, they may look in other places that you are not at.

OMG! It's a basset hound running! Look at him go!!!

Effective Methods to Retrieve an Off-Leash Dog

We’ve covered the least effective method of getting your dog to come back; now, let’s look at what you should do instead.

Use a Ball or Treat to Lure Them Back

If you can, try to get the dog to focus on you. Use a treat or toy as an incentive and be friendly and calm. Try to get the animal to focus on you, so they don’t notice what's happening around them while following your instructions.

Get Your Dog to Chase You

Chasing your dog turns it into a game, but so does your dog chasing you. The difference is that your dog can actually catch you, rather than the other way around in that game of chase. If you get them excited enough about chasing you down, they may forget they were ever running away in the first place. You can try running in the opposite direction. This method has been known as a way to get a dog back.

Use a Cheerful, Calm Voice

It is crucial to use a cheerful, calm voice when calling your pet back. If you yell at or scold him, he will not want to return to you. Instead of yelling “Get over here!” in an angry tone, simply say “Come here!” in a friendly manner.

Avoid using any high-pitched voices or sounds that may scare your pet away from approaching you. Also, avoid using harsh voices since this can cause fear and anxiety for your pet.

Walk Backwards

The first thing you should do is walk backward away from your animal. Keep the leash in one hand and the other free to carry treats or toys. It's important not to make eye contact with your dog while they're chasing you, as this will only encourage them more.


Sometimes they will respond to a whistle better than a voice command. They are curious about the high-pitched noise, so they move toward it. You can also try squeezing a toy that has a noise. The toy may entice your pet and allow you regain control of your pet's attention.

Stiggy-pigs enjoying the beach as always ...

Walk Around the Block and Watch for Your Dog

Walk around the block and watch for your pooch rather than going home. If you're lucky, your dog will be sitting on someone's porch waiting for you to retrieve him.

If not, go around the block looking in alleyways and under cars in case they’re hiding from other dogs (or squirrels) or have gotten tangled up in something. Look for a collar or leash that might have been lost during the escape attempt.

Using technology to help

If you have a pooch that often likes to take off if given the chance, there are tracking options that may be beneficial to you. The Fi GPS Smart Collar offers location tracking so if your dog got off leash, you can use the location tracking as a method to retrieve them. The app will tell you what direction they went and what direction they are going.

The Fi also offers activity tracking and sleep tracking that you can use to measure your dog's steps and rest. This helps you to know whether your dog may  or may not be getting the exercise they need.

This device is helpful in giving dog owners an idea of what their dog does during the day and where the dog has gone. The Fi collar does not offer any training and will not shock or alert your dog when they run away. The advantage is that you will have the ability to track them if they get too far from you.

Preventing Your Dog from Getting Off Leash in the First Place

Work on Recall

If you have a dog who gets off leash often or that tries to run away, we recommend working on recall. This is a very useful skill for any dog owner to train their dog. You don't want your pet running around loose in the neighborhood and possibly endangering itself or other animals or people.

Recall means your pet will come back when you are calling them, even if they're excited about something else that has caught their attention, like another animal. Your pooch should learn that coming back to you when you call can lead to good things like treats, a toy or walks in the park, where he may get more socialization time with other dogs/humans. It's also important because recall will help prevent a lot of issues down the line as well!

The first step is teaching your pooch what "come" means by using positive reinforcement techniques such as treats and toys (if any are available). Start out with a short distance between yourself and your pup, so he doesn't get overwhelmed by too much space and you have control —you can gradually increase this distance once he learns the basics of come command.

Always use the same command ("Come!"), preferably no more than three syllables long so it's easy for him to remember; just keep practicing until he comes running every single time you call!

You'll also want to bring a treat, such as tiny pieces of high value treats enough to motivate and train them to return quickly after hearing their name. Treats are very effective in dog work and help control their focus.

Keep Your Dog on a Leash Outside

The easiest way to keep your dog from getting off-leash is to always keep them on one. This may be only a temporary solution, but it is usually the best one until your dog has a reliable recall. Make sure the leash is securely attached to the your pet's collar. If the leash is not fully clipped to the collar, that could be a problem during the outing.

Labrador Dog Fetching Ball in a winter environment in the park / garden

Train Your Dog Not to Run Out Open Doors

A dog that runs out the door each time you open it will continue to do so unless you teach them otherwise. The best way to do this is by training your dog to go to a specific place when the door opens. This can be accomplished by teaching your dog basic commands such as sit and stay, then rewarding them with treats when they comply. After some time, train them so that they run over to a spot next to the door on command instead of running off into the yard or down the street.

Once your pooch knows what it needs to do in order for you to feed their favorite treat (or give lots of praise!), he'll start doing it every time he sees a door open or hears someone say "go home" or "sit."

Will My Dog Run Away if I Let Them Off Leash?

No, not necessarily, but there are a few things to think about before you let your dog run loose. You should understand your pet's behavior before ever trying this. If your dog gets nervous or spooked, that could make the situation different and make it hard to get him back.

Does Your Dog Understand Basic Commands?

While there’s no guarantee your dog will stay safe, it’s much more likely if your dog understands basic training commands and has a solid foundation of obedience training. Your dog should have mastered:

  • Loose leash walking
  • Heel
  • Reliable recall
  • Leave it
  • Drop it
  • Look or watch me
  • Stay
  • Go to its bed/mat/corner/crate

Can Your Dog Come When Called?

If you're letting your dog off leash and he's not coming when you call him, that's a problem. If there are any issues with recall, the dog will be less likely to listen to you when on a leash. It's important for dogs to be trained to come even if they don't want to do so.

A few things can help:

Make sure the game is exciting enough so that the dog wants to come back! For example, if they're running after a rabbit and then they realize their owner wants them back—they'll probably want something more fun than just standing around by their owners.

Don't move too far away from where the recall was called from, this way, there isn't any distance between them and their handler, which makes it easier for them just run right over when called upon or even see who or what else might be there in order for them not feel threatened (which could lead to them running away).

In general, dogs who don't come when called tend to have poor recall (that's what we call it!). This may be because they have an inherent tendency towards independence or because they haven't been properly trained yet; either way, getting them trained with positive reinforcement methods like clicker training is usually enough to help resolve this problem long-term!

Other Tips to Prepare Your Dog for Off-Leash Walking

Add value to staying by your side through treats or praise.

Practice “look” or “watch me” to get your dog’s attention quickly. Ideally, you will teach your dog to walk a certain distance away and check back in with you every few minutes. This gives them the opportunity to explore but keeps their focus on you when walking.

Challenge your dog gradually by adding more distractions each time you are training.

Carry high-value treats to reward good behavior

Let your dog off leash in safe areas first (like fenced dog parks) before venturing out in the open.

Problem Off Leash Behavior

It’s very important to understand your dog’s instincts and the behaviors they tend to exhibit. Some will never be 100% reliable off leash, as there are certain distractions they can’t resist. Dogs with high prey drives are particularly high risk. Here are some behaviors that put dogs at risk off-leash:

  • Squirrel/Rabbit/Cat tracking
  • Car chasing – This is particularly common with herding breeds like Border Collies or Heelers
  • Anxious dogs who get scared by loud noises
  • Reactive dogs
  • Scent hounds who aren’t reliably trained can lock onto a smell and wander for miles

Working with a dog trainer can minimize some of these behaviors, but they won’t always vanish completely. If you have doubts about your dog’s abilities to behave off-leash, the best thing to do is keep the leash on.

Final Thoughts

Hopefully, you now have a good idea of the best and worst ways to retrieve an off-leash dog. It’s important to train your dog for off-leash walks and avoid letting your dog off leash before they are reliably trained. This may take some time, but it is well worth it when your dog is obedient and well-behaved off-leash. Plus, you can strengthen your bond with your dog while you do it!

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