The guidelines given on this web page are only suitable for those dogs with reasonably low levels of stress, and should not be attempted with dogs with high levels of stress (their senses and memories are impaired by the high levels of adrenaline in their bodies).


Owners of these dogs should instead first concentrate on reducing the dog's long-term stress levels and having Managed Walks instead. They can progress later to off-lead walks, when they are more aware of their surroundings.



One of the benefits of a dog's ability to follow ground scent (and air scent if the wind is in the right direction) is that dogs will retrace their own tracks back to where they last detected their handler's scent, if they become lost or disorientated after following a really exciting track or chasing prey.


Therefore, if a handler is walking the dog in a new location, and the dog has no environmental photos of where the handler usually walks, it is very important that the handler remain in the vicinity of where the dog last smelt or saw them before it went off and got lost. The dog can then retrace its steps back to the handler (see * below for advice about whether to call to your dog in such situations).


If on the other hand you are walking your dog where your have walked it before, the dog will be less likely to retrace its steps back to the handler. Instead it will use its nose to find a familiar photo of a location where it has been rewarded by the handler in the past and will remain in that area until the handler arrives. This explains why many dogs return to their car if they become lost or tired.


I use this instinctive behaviour to retrain dogs that run off and don't come back. I do this by consistently rewarding the dog with a tasty treat from the airtight treat box in two or three very specific points along the walk that we usually take (eg. When I sit down on a bench; at a junction between two paths where I vary which route I take).


I just stand silently* waiting for the dog to meet up with me at these locations and reward the dog with a treat for finding me there. After two or three weeks of consistently rewarding the dog only at these locations I often find the dog running eagerly to the next rendezvous point waiting for its reward rather than running off to find its own amusement. Eventually the dog becomes so conditioned with the environmental photo of these "rewarding" locations that it cannot help stopping and waiting there, whatever distractions are happening around it.


* To call or not to call - that is the question.... Let me explain -

One of the most misunderstood aspects of dogs running off and not coming back is that the handler calls to their dog in the hope of getting the dog to return to them. What the handler fails to understand is that by giving a vocal clue of their whereabouts the dog has no need to run back to them - it knows where they are by the sounds that the handler is making and it will only return to them when it has exhausted all the opportunities to explore or chase prey.


The handler's voice (or whistle) acts like a lighthouse to the dog. It knows exactly where they are and can relax in the certain knowledge that it has not lost its human.


However, if the handler does not call or make a noise the dog is obliged to remain closer to the handler and the path so that it can "check in" with the handler to make sure that it has not lost THEM (which is really turning the tables on the dog!) This does not mean that the dog will run all the way back to the handler, just close enough for it to see, scent and hear where the handler is going next.


By combining this silent approach with the two or three reward locations on the walk, both dog and handler relax in the consistency of what each is doing and can enjoy the whole experience without raising their levels of stress.



This web site has been written by Sally Hopkins (unless the author of the web page is stated otherwise).


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