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A woman looking for her lost dog in the forest

How does a dog feels when lost and disorientated?

How do you find a lost dog? Understanding 'survival mode'

If you've ever been on social media and seen posts about missing dogs that are sighted several times in various locations and wondered why the dog doesn't simply run to the safety of a potential rescuer then read on.

Many lost dogs can easily go into what is described as 'survival mode'.

When a dog goes missing survival mode can be brought on by way of the dog being frightened, tired, hungry and being in a constant state of alert. In this state, it is not unusual for a dog to become so disorientated and confused that they become wary and may not take the time to determine if an approaching person may be potentially helpful or even their owner. The longer the dog is missing, the more likely that survival mode may kick in.


Lost dogs act differently

It should be established that all lost dogs may act differently and although it is more probable that the more nervous dog may be more likely to have their survival instincts kick in, it really could happen to any dog dependant on the conditions and the length of time that the dog is missing.

So is there a 'best practice' when approaching a missing dog?

Yes there is. When encountering a lost dog, even if it is your own dog, the following advice is a good way to try to ensure that the dog feels less threatened and more likely to approach.

  • If possible, sit down.
  • Turn your body side on to the dog or even turn your back to the dog.
  • Avert your eyes and maintain your head in a bowed position so as to look as non-threatening as possible.
  • Remain quiet or silent.
  • Toss treats such as hot dog sausages or cheese (bite size) several feet to the side of you or behind you.
  • Wait for the dog to approach YOU and be sure not to make any sudden movements.
  • Once the lost dog has approached be patient and take the time to build trust. Do not make a grab for them straight away!
  • The dog may still be wary. Speak softly and if the dog backs off a little then stop speaking and gently entice the dog with more treats and resume the trust building until you can determine when a gentle approach to tether the dog can be established.


Tips to get your dog back

  • Look in places familiar to your dog. You know where your dog likes to be and the walks you both frequent, it's likely that he will be in one of those spots.
  • Leave an item of clothing belonging to the owner in the general area where the dog was last seen, especially if your dog is a spaniel or other hound. Your dog should pick up the scent and return to that area, which means you can narrow down your search. Several owners who did this were delighted to find on returning to the item of clothing that their dog was there sitting on it!
  • Contact your local dog rescue centres and vet clinics. If someone has found your dog there is a high possibility that he has already been taken to a local rescue or vets. Contact them all with a detailed description of your dog including any distinctive markings or mannerisms that may help identify him.


How to avoid losing your dog

  • Secure your garden. If you have a garden, check that it is completely fenced off and without holes or spaces where your dog can escape. Carry out regular inspections to make sure the fence is in good repair.
  • Keep your dog on lead when walking. Always walk your dog on a strong and secure lead to prevent him from running away. If you want your dog to be able to explore and run freely while you keep him on a leash, we recommend using a recall lead for extra security.
  • Train your dog in recall and basic obedience. Make sure that your dog responds to basic commands, such as ‘come’ or ‘here’. Proper training strengthens the bond between you and your dog and can help keep your dog safe. Our article how to teach your dog to come when called will help you with basic recall. This is especially important if your dog has a tendency to chase animals or objects.
  • Use an ID collar. Make sure your dog wears an ID tag on his collar that includes his name and your phone number. It will make it easier for someone to contact you quickly if he is found.
  • Get your dog microchipped. We can’t emphasise this enough. A microchip is a small device implanted under your dog's skin containing your contact information which can be scanned by a local vet or rescue.


Main photo by Siim Lukka on Unsplash


Have you ever lost your dog? Did you find them or did they make their way home? Tell us below.

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