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Why Do Some Dogs Roam

Did you ever have a dog that liked to roam or wander? Most of the dogs in my past (and…

Did you ever have a dog that liked to roam or wander?

Most of the dogs in my past (and currently) are more than happy to hang out with Mom and Dad, whether on or off-leash. But I did have a few dogs in my past that were roamers. They were all rescues. No doubt these dogs became homeless because it was nearly impossible to keep them contained.

Millie was a black lab mix that just showed up at our house one day. No one claimed her, so we decided to give her a home. Millie could easily jump the fence in our yard. We would get calls from concerned neighbors all over the small town we lived in reporting a “Millie sighting.” She learned to trip the automatic door at the nearby Kroger and run through the store raising havoc up and down the food aisles (once with a head of lettuce in her mouth!). Another time, she was reported entering the open doors at a local church one Sunday morning and making her way up to the preacher, jumping on him while he was trying to deliver a sermon. I would have loved to have been in that congregation!

Millie was always on the go. I don’t understand it. She had a good home, a nice yard, a warm place to sleep, plenty of affection, and food and water at her constant disposal. Millie seemed happy. She truly seemed to adore her new family. Why is it that some dogs roam – like Millie – and others would never even consider such a thing?

That’s the only life they know

With exception to Millie, my other roaming dogs came from out in the country. “Free-ranging dogs”, as they are sometimes referred to. They were probably born outdoors – maybe in a barn or similar outbuilding – with no restrictions. They could go where they wanted to go and do what they wanted to do. That’s the only life they knew. Attempting to keep them inside a fence was futile.

As pet lovers, we want so badly to give strays and free-ranging dogs a good home. Depending on their environment, that may be very difficult, if not impossible. Dogs roaming from farm to farm in the country, sleeping in barns and outbuildings, eating scraps gladly provided by residents, probably do not have a desire to commit to one home. They are living large, in dog terms. However, a city dog that has trouble finding food or shelter may welcome a home and family.

It’s instinctive

I have had several beagles over the years. They loved going for walks out in the country. Most would run off the beaten path now and then to follow a scent, but they would always catch back up with us. But two of them were not so disciplined. They were roamers. When on a scent, Barney and Otis were gone! One time they went missing for three weeks and we thought we would never them again, but fortunately, they were found, skinny and tired.

Holiday Barn Pet Resorts‘ Professional Dog Trainer, Dickie Martinson, says, “It is natural for dogs to roam as it is a hunting instinct and territory check thing. Some breeds are known to wander more than others. Breeds that are bred for more independent work like hounds and huskies are more prone to roam and run off.”

So it makes perfect sense that a hunting dog, like a beagle, would tend to roam. They cannot help but do what comes naturally to them. At the scent or sight of prey, they instinctively follow or chase, and that could lead them anywhere and any distance. While your non-sporting and toy breeds may be more content to stay home, even while off-leash, a hunting dog will need more incentive to stay put.  That means better enclosures and fencing, and – more importantly – better training.

They’re bored

Isn’t it reasonable that some dogs would leave their home and roam just to find something to do? If an active dog is not given the stimulation they need at home, they may try to find it elsewhere. A lack of canine enrichment at home makes everywhere else seem pretty interesting. Whether they are looking for someone to play with, are curious, or just feeling adventuresome, the grass looks so much greener on the other side, right?

Too often our busy lifestyles cause our dogs to become bored. We may not have the time to exercise them properly or to provide the enrichment and stimulation they need. Despite the domestication of today’s dogs, they are still animals with needs and desires. We can’t forget that.

Pent up energy

Similarly, a dog’s need to exercise can make them run – literally – away! Burning off all that pent-up energy is a necessity. They must have an outlet. If an outlet is not provided, they will make one for themselves. A jack russell I once had would run huge circles around the neighborhood when he accidentally got loose… between houses, through yards, crossing the street (eeek!), and doing the same thing on the other side of the neighborhood. Apparently, we were not providing him with an adequate outlet for all of his energy.

Looking for a sweetheart

Dogs that are not spayed or neutered will go on the hunt for a mate when they reach sexual maturity. A female will instinctively seek out a male when in heat. That means she might try to sneak through an open door or gate. Unneutered male dogs will follow the scent of female dogs in heat. After a dog is spayed or neutered, the desire to seek a mate generally subsides, making them less likely to run off.

Unhappy at home

Dickie says, “I believe that some dogs tend to wander off or want to run off if the pack leader (human) is not giving them what they need. Dogs live in packs and if they feel safe, they have food, and they have bonded with their pack leader, they do not have the desire to go look elsewhere for it.” Pack leadership is important to a dog. With proper hierarchy, they are content with their place in their pack. Lack of hierarchy tells a dog they are on their own and can make their own decisions, even when that means running off. If they do not have a suitable leader, they may wander away and search for one, whether it be another person or a dog.

A dog that is afraid of its owner, is abused, neglected, or feels isolated may begin to roam. As much as we don’t like to talk about it (or even think about it), some dogs live with abuse. Many will try to run away from an abusive home, but even more sad, many will tolerate the abuse as they are loyal and want to please their owner.

Unintentional neglect can happen even in “good” homes. As mentioned above, when a dog’s family is simply too busy, the dog is sometimes ignored. The dog is probably taken care of in a humane and responsible way, but they need more than that. They need attention, affection, and a sense of belonging from their family.

It’s an accident

Some dogs will get an invitation – via an open door or window – to check out what is on the other side. And while their intention is not to “roam” or get lost, one scent leads to another, and the next thing you know, they can’t find their way back home. These dogs aren’t really “roamers” in the obvious sense, but the fact that they strayed away from home with no thought of turning back puts them in a similar category.

Separation anxiety

As we discussed in “Me and My Shadow – Part 11”, some dogs will try to escape their surroundings in search of their owner when they are away. Although the motivation for their escape is to find their owner, the result can be a lost or wandering dog.

When a dog suffers from separation anxiety, they are truly in agony when separated from their person. It’s not just a simple matter of a dog being disappointed because its owner left the house. Separation anxiety is a serious condition and can incentivize a dog to run off in search of their person.

Fear and panic

Many dogs will panic when they hear a loud noise. Whether it be fireworks, thunder, or some other noise, a type of survival instinct kicks in. It’s called “fight or flight” and happens when an animal feels threatened. Dogs feel they must get away from whatever it is that is threatening them. Naturally, many dogs start running away from the threat and keep going until they feel they have escaped the perceived danger. Afterward, they may find themselves miles from home.

What to do if you have a dog that roams

First of all, try to figure out the underlying cause for your little wanderer. As we discussed, there are so many possible reasons why your dog could flee from home. Your solution could be as simple as providing a more secure environment, or it may be as complex as behavior modification from one of our professional dog trainers. Go through each of the above scenarios and ask yourself if any could pertain to your dog.

It’s always a good idea to take your dog to the veterinarian for a good checkup. Could there be a medical reason for your dog’s behavior? Possibly. Dogs will sometimes stray from home if they have a significant medical issue. If an animal is very sick, they may seek a safe, quiet place to be alone. If anything, talk to your veterinarian about microchipping your little Houdini. At least you’ll have a better chance of finding them if they were to get lost.

Providing your dog with the exercise they need goes a long way in preventing roaming. While walking or participating in other forms of exercise, they get to explore their world, taking in the scents, meeting other dogs, and satisfying their natural curiosity. If these simple, innate desires are fulfilled, your dog will be more content staying within its own surroundings during downtime.

Is your dog neutered? According to the Humane Society of the United States, neutering a male dog will decrease sexual roaming by 90%. That’s pretty significant. Spaying a female dog prevents them from going into heat, and thus represses their desire to run off to find a mate.

We can help

There are so many ways that we can help with your wandering dog at Holiday Barn Pet Resorts. If you feel your dog needs more activity, we offer dog daycare and an enrichment program that will occupy your dog’s mind and provide the mental and physical stimulation he/she requires. If your dog suffers from separation anxiety, or you are simply unable to determine why your dog is roaming, please contact our Professional Dog Trainers for help. Our team is happy to help.

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