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Why do Labrador Retrievers run away?
Understanding why a Labrador Retriever might run away makes it possible for you to predict escape attempts and train against the problem:
- Prey drive. Like all retrieving breeds, Labrador Retrievers have a modified prey drive instinct that encourages them to find and bring things back. Labs may chase after things even if you don't want them to and even if it is dangerous.
- Lack of exercise. The Labrador Retriever is America's favorite dog, but not everyone who gets a Lab is a match for the breed’s energy level. Labradors that aren't given sufficient exercise may be prone to “joy runs.” These often result in them bolting out a door, or pulling out of the leash to run.
- Friendliness. Most Labrador Retrievers think that every new person or dog is their greatest new friend. Labs frequently bolt to try to meet somebody new.
- Fear. Labradors are generally pretty easy-going dogs. Like any dog, they're sometimes afraid of things. Labradors will nearly always tend towards flight over fight. So, if something frightens them, they're likely to run.
When do Labrador Retrievers run away?
You should always be on guard against your Labrador Retriever running away. However, there are certain times when it is more likely. If you know that your dog is a bolt risk or you have a new Labrador you'll want to be prepared. Here are some times to be especially careful.
Visiting or Having Guests Over
When you are visiting or having guests over, it is more likely that your Labrador will become overexcited or fearful. It always seems to happen just at the time when you are least likely to pay attention. It's a good idea to set up secondary barriers like keeping your Labrador in a room that doesn't have access to the front door or setting up baby gates during times like these.
Many dogs respond to fireworks, thunderstorms, and other loud noises by frantically trying to escape. If you are not sure how your Lab responds to loud sounds, be sure to keep them securely contained when there is a storm coming or on holidays that fireworks are set off.
When There are Lots of Distractions
Your Labrador may never have tried to slip out of the leash before, but when there are lots of other dogs, children playing, or other very enticing distractions, they may be a lot more likely to try to get away. Unfortunately, these are often the times that you least want your Lab to run off.
Labrador Retrievers experience behavioral changes when they go through adolescence. They may be more impulsive, instinctually driven, and have less self-control. During this time, your Labrador may try to escape even if they never have before.
How do I train my Labrador Retrievers not to run away?
Through regular and consistent training, you can do a handful of things that will begin to condition your Lab not to run away.
- Self-control training. One of the most important things for hunters training Labrador Retrievers is the non-retrieve. This is when a target is tossed out but the dog is told not to fetch it. These kinds of training exercises from the time your dog is young can teach them to resist impulses, which may prevent them from running away.
- Train a strong recall. Even a well-trained Labrador sometimes breaks, going out after the target before they're supposed to. Call your Lab regularly and reward with high-value treats from the time they are young. This training can enable you to call your dog back even if they start to run away.
- Exercise your dog. This is an extremely high-energy breed. Labs can hunt all day every day, not just for a few hours on the weekends. You'll find that you need to give your Labrador Retriever a seemingly extraordinary amount of exercise to keep them from wanting to run away.
The importance of formal training
If you haven't already, I highly recommend looking to formalized training. The benefits that you will reap from investing in training will be well worth the time and energy put into it in the long run.
Fortunately, professional training isn't nearly as expensive as it once was, thanks to online training.
Establishing some basic training creates a foundation for more specialized training later on!
Consider using a smart collar dog GPS tracker
It is important to understand that despite all of your best efforts, your dog may run away at times anyway. After all, they are instinctual animals. The right sound, scent, or idea may pop into their head and override any training that they may have previously appeared to have nailed down.
Knowing that this is possible, I highly recommend investing in a GPS tracking device for your dog. If on the off-chance they do happen to take off, you don't want to regret spending a little money that could potentially save their life.
I wrote an article highlighting the ones that I would recommend that you can check out here:
What to do if your Labrador Retriever runs away
There are few experiences more terrifying than watching your dog run away. Especially when you realize that they aren't about to come back to your call. Here are some things to do if you find yourself in this situation:
Call Your Dog
Call in a happy, high-pitched voice, and run in the opposite direction from your dog. This is the last thing you feel like doing when your dog is running away. However, these are natural cues for dogs to play with one another. It is more likely to make your dog want to run towards you.
Follow at a Distance
If your dog keeps running, you want to follow them but you don't want them to think you're chasing them. It may be practical to get in your car or use a bicycle to follow your dog at a distance.
Post Online and Show Pictures Around
Most communities have online sites on social media or in other venues where you can post that your dog was lost. You can also show pictures from your phone and print flyers. People who see that a dog was lost in their area can join in the hunt.
Leave Out Things That Smell Like You
If at the end of the day you still haven't found your Lab, try not to panic. Leave out things that smell like you and your dog's food, bed, and other things that they would recognize. Sometimes dogs circle back to their home, but do not immediately recognize the right place.
It is true that Labrador Retrievers do sometimes run away. When they are trained and exercised properly, it becomes much less likely. Be sure to know the times when running away is most likely. Take steps to prevent escape while you’re training, and you’ll have your Lab by your side for many years to come.