Understanding the Dog Behavior After Being Lost

Last Updated on July, 2024

Understanding lost dog behavior isn’t complicated. There are a set of emotions that every dog will feel when they find themselves lost. Rarely do you find kind people who will offer a lost dog some water and food. 

The best bet a dog has of surviving is being caught by animal protection, who patrol the streets for strays. At least that way, they have shelter, food, and the possibility of finding a NEW HOME!

Lost dogs are some of the SADDEST creatures in the world! Not only have they wandered too far and gotten lost, but only after getting lost do they realize the beautiful life they once had, being cared for by humans. 

You would find a host of emotions such as fear and aggression in lost dogs. They behave aggressively or fearfully, because they have been stranded alone and have had to scavenge food.

Reading this article word to word will provide you with the intel of understanding lost dog behavior. This intel could help you SAVE your beloved pooch’s life, ensuring they never find themselves lost in less than favorable circumstances.

Quick Summary

Understanding lost dog behavior involves recognizing the emotions they feel when they are lost, such as fear and aggression.

Preventing a dog from getting lost involves taking precautions at home such as closing the gate and using an invisible fence system.

GPS trackers are a great way of preventing a dog from getting lost and making it easier to locate them in real-time.

Why Would Your Dog Get Lost?

beagle lying on the ground

Either you forgot to close the gate, or maybe you NEVER had a gate, to begin with. Regardless, a lost dog is lost partly due to the carelessness of the pet owner. 

How a dog behaves will tell you whether it is safe to leave your dog with an open gate or no fence. Many dogs love the home that is provided for them and won’t just stray.

They don’t stray because they are properly trained and loved. Even if these pooches wander, with a bit of luck, they will find their way back home.

Some dogs go missing because they try to ESCAPE the home they live in. If your dog was mistreated, there is a good chance that it will find a way to break free and escape the confines of your mistreatment.

This may mean a lack of proper feeding or unnecessary leashing. 

Even if your pooch was loved and would never run away from home, a little squirrel may have caught your dog’s attention, and it may have chased this squirrel halfway across town and then realized, ‘oh, oh, I don’t know the way back HOME…‘ in the voice of Scooby Doo. 

There are various reasons why your dog may have found itself lost. Regardless of whether they ran away or unintentionally got stranded and lost, it would be time to start searching and get the search going for your LOST PUP!

I got you covered in my ultimate guide to “How Does a Dog Get Lost?

How to Understand Lost Dog Behavior?

beagle walking on the ground

Breeds of dogs will behave in varied ways when they find themselves lost. Pets (dogs and cats) have the tendency to chase.

They chase one another, and they chase others. It would be easy for strangers to lure away untrained dogs. The fight is in training your dog!

FEAR is something that is present in almost all lost dogs. At the onset, they feel fear and are fearful of their unknown and new surroundings.

The fear they feel is very similar to that of humans. If you find yourself lost somewhere, the fear you feel is what even your dog would feel in such a scenario. 

They would also have hope. Hope that someone may help them now that they are HELPLESS. As a dog owner, you should know that wherever your beloved pooch is, be it an animal shelter or the streets, they are SCARED and lonely without you. 

Food would be scarce, and they would be looking for food as they would find themselves hungry. They may find foster homes, but they will still have that distant memory of you; be it HAPPY or SAD.

Certain breeds showcase varied behavioral patterns. If your dog were a mean PITBULL, surely the element of FEAR would be sidestepped by AGGRESSION. However, even the meanest of them will be left tamed when they have no food and are hungry. 

A stray dog, or stray dogs in general, does not have the same appearance or health as a dog that is cared for. The dog’s owner may be out looking for the dog.

Pet owners distribute flyers and even organize rescue groups to find lost pets. However, your dog doesn’t know a rescue group is out there looking for it. (UNAWARE)

This will lead to a FEARFUL dog, a PANICKED dog. A wary dog may not even approach rescuers, even if offered food.

Aloof dogs, on the contrary, would understand when they have been saved. However, aloof dogs are more likely to travel greater distances. 

Small dogs have the tendency to be more panicked. Panicked dogs have a greater chance of hurting themselves in the panic.

A panicked dog could find itself in a car accident. Animal shelters would have a hard time even catching panicked dogs. 

a dog standing on the ground

XENOPHOBIC dogs are considered the most fearful of dogs, who have been made that way due to mistreatment. These dogs may find themselves startled by loud noises. 

A domesticated pet may find itself in survival mode, especially if it is a xenophobic dog. Remember, when in the open outdoors, your dog, when lost, is basically a WILD ANIMAL.

Because a lost dog is in survival mode, it may exhibit fearful behavior. A local shelter or animal control may stumble onto a stray dog and be able to rid this animal of the fear they feel in exchange for being caged up. 

Either your dog reached an escape point due to mistreatment or loves human contact but strayed due to curiosity; the physical search should be on to find lost dogs because they are either lonely or dangerous to humans.

(A PITBULL on the loose is a WILD ANIMAL – Proceed with CAUTION)

What Do Dogs Do When They are Lost? 

They long to be rescued. Either that or they are happy to finally break free from the mistreatment. Depending on the reason why your dog ran away, they would be doing various things. 

If they ran away from mistreatment, they wouldn’t be feeling sad. However, they may find themselves in shelters, and animals in shelters are fed; however, they are caged up. 

Hence, when dogs are lost, they try not to get caught unless they are very tame creatures who mistakenly got lost because they were chasing a squirrel. Such a dog would be a friend of a welcoming hand who is open to taking care of it. 

The fight for survival and the strangers around them are primarily the reason for fear in lost dogs. If the rescue proves successful and the search leads to finding your dog, you should take your dog to the vet. (Weeks lost may have taken a toll on your poor dog’s body.)

Dogs that find themselves lost for weeks will have to search for food and WATER. The food search can take a toll on dogs. Usually, your domesticated pet would not have to search for food.

The fact that a now lost dog will have to search to fill its tummy would make things very difficult for your beloved pooch. 

Depending on the breed, your dog could be looking for food or roaming the rural farmland. Lost dog behavior will tell you what to expect if you encounter a stray. A missing dog could either be aggressive or in need of care. 

A lost dog will find it difficult to feed itself and to stay dry, warm, and clean. Hence there is a good chance that even that mean PITBULL would be a lost dog, a missing dog, in need of human care.

How to Stop Dog From Getting Lost?

a dog running on the ground

A lost dog is lost due to the carelessness of the pet owner. A missing dog or a lost pet would be difficult for any pet owner. 

It would be easy to tell you that a mixed breed dog trotting doesn’t attract the same attention from strangers as a pure breed. This isn’t dog behavior; that is human behavior. 

Regardless of your dog’s breed, it would be best if you took all the necessary precautions possible to ensure that you don’t have a lost pet in your hands. 

Loose dogs tend to run away if you give them the opportunity to run. For instance, a loose dog will likely stray and wander if you leave the gate open. 

Rescue groups will tell you that if you want to stop your dog from getting lost, you HAVE TO take precautions at home. It is up to YOU to ensure that you close the gate.

If your property doesn’t have a fence, you SHOULD most certainly consider getting an invisible fence system. 

It is crucial that you don’t do anything to your dog to make it reach the escape point. You don’t want to do anything you think will make it reach the escape point, such as throwing it out of the house. 

Pet tracker systems will allow you to keep an eye on your pooch’s location within a mile radius or so. A mile radius isn’t always sufficient.

Hence, the best thing you can do is find a GREAT pet tracking system that will always tell you where your dog is, even if they manage to run away. 

Here’s how to keep a dog from running away.

What Factors Influence the Distance Traveled?

a dog sleeping on the floor

The breed of the dog and the treatment at home will dictate how far your dog manages to travel. A xenophobic dog that was made xenophobic due to mistreatment may wander the furthest from home. 

Hence, the distance traveled away from home will depend on how they were treated at home. However, when lost, it is easy to wander further and further away from home, unknowingly.

Maybe your lost dog is now trying to find its way back home; however, unknowingly, it walks further and further away. 

If your dog finds shelter and food nearby, it will most likely stay within that vicinity. 

However, without food, it is more likely that it will wander further or roam everywhere in search of food, which they absolutely NEED to survive.

Common Scenarios for Lost Dogs

Maybe your dog was super curious and got distracted by a squirrel. Or perhaps your dog was being mistreated at home, so it ran away. Or maybe, your dog was dog-napped.

Regardless, it is essential that you understand the circumstances surrounding the dog’s disappearance to get a clue about where it may be. 

Circumstances surrounding disappearances of a dog may include, 

  • Straying and wandering
  • Dog-napped (stolen)
  • They may have gotten into an accident
  • Attacked by wildlife
  • Hiding away from humans
  • Accidentally trapped somewhere
  • Abuse

If they were mistreated (displaced due to intention), it is more likely they wandered away and may never come back. If otherwise, your dog is likely lost on the other side of the neighborhood because it chased a squirrel halfway across town. 

Hence, it is essential that you understand your dog and the circumstances surrounding the disappearance to tell you where best to look for it. 

What to Use to Prevent Dogs From Getting Lost?

a human playing with a dog

A search and rescue would take you weeks to organize and orchestrate. A rescue isn’t easy, and there is a better chance animal rescue will find your lost dog before you. 

However, allowing your dog to get lost and bringing them home again from the pet shelter isn’t the most effective means of caring for your pet. 

As they say, prevention is better than cure. You want to do everything you can to ensure that you prevent your dog from getting lost. This may include closing that gate, so your dog never goes missing. 

If you don’t have a gate or a fence to your property, an invisible fence system would be the most recommended means of ensuring and preventing your dog from running away. 

You can also rely on a GPS PET TRACKER to help you find your missing pet. That is right; a good pet tracker will help you locate your missing pet, even if they stray or run away.

Even if your dog wanders the neighborhood, you will be able to track your dog’s location on your mobile phone and bring them back home safely.

Uses of Invisible Fences

Regardless of whether you have a fence or not, an invisible fence will prevent your dog from even running out through an open gate. 

An invisible fence involves burying a boundary wire to determine the safe zone in which your dog can play.

If your dog approaches the boundary wire, it will receive a tone, vibration, or shock correction, telling it that it should retreat back to the safe zone, away from the boundary line of the invisible fence. 

There are wireless invisible fence systems too, which cast a circular dome to which your dog can be designated.

These invisible fence systems are of great use in training your dog not to wander. Even if they get distracted by a squirrel, they will be corrected to prevent them from chasing too far or leaving the property. 

Benefits of Using an Invisible Fence 

a human walking with a dog near the invisible fence flags

Using an invisible fence gives you the freedom to LEAVE YOUR GATE OPEN! You can be as careless as you want because your dog would get corrected if it tries to leave the confines of your property. 

Invisible fence systems are a great way of controlling your dog’s movements and confining them into space. The chances of your dog running away or getting lost would be drastically lower with an invisible fence installed in your backyard. 

Invisible fence systems give your pooch the freedom to roam (you won’t have to keep it in a cage.) Not only will your dog be happier, but YOU will also be happier knowing that your dog is within your property and not straying at night. 

Tips for Dealing with Lost Dogs

Here are some tips for you, if you ever encounter lost dogs

Tip 1 

Make eye contact and better understand the dog to see whether it is aggressive or needs your help.

Tip 2

Offer them food and water and see if they respond. Many lost dogs will need nourishment and will put their guard down when offered food. 

Tip 3 

Do not make sudden movements or loud sounds. Essentially, don’t do anything to scare the already scared and fearful pup. 

Tip 4 

Look for a tag and see if you can help it find its way back home or give it a NEW HOME!

Chances of Finding a Lost Dog after a Long Time

There have been stories on the news of how dogs that have been lost for years managed to find their way back home. So yes, it does happen. However, this is a scarce thing. 

Often, lost dogs get picked up by someone else or taken into a pet shelter by animal control. 

They may be stuck in a shelter somewhere, or maybe someone else adopted your dog, who now has a NEW HOME!

The chances of finding a lost dog after a long time are slim. If you really want to keep searching, you can.

There are still so many people who haven’t been reached, and not EVERYONE knows that you lost your dog, so you can keep searching and broaden the search to include more people and places. 

Though the chance of finding a lost dog after a long time is slim, you shouldn’t give up. 

GPS Trackers in Finding Lost Dogs 

a dog wearing GPS dog fence collar

If you are worried about a lost dog and want to make it easier to locate it in real-time, it is best to consider a GPS tracker. A GPS tracker is much better than gathering a search party to find your lost dog.

A GPS tracker will tell you exactly where your dog is.

For instance, the Halo 2+ dog collar is a great device that will not only track your dog’s location using GPS but will also allow you to limit your dog’s boundary by creating geofences on your phone. (These are virtual fences, much like invisible fences.)

The Halo 2+ is state-of-the-art technology and is considered the MOST RELIABLE invisible fence system on the market. 

GPS tracker systems such as this offer PREVENTION. While the cure would involve searching for a lost dog without GPS tracking, prevention will ensure that you never have to say your dog is LOST (you can track your dog’s location on your phone.)

Final Thoughts

Lost dogs are helpless creatures who may be aggressive due to the misery they find themselves in. Regardless, you should be careful when approaching stray animals. 

If this article reaches you before your dog ever finds itself lost, by all means, consider a GPS tracker (such as the Halo 2+ dog collar), which will prevent you from going through the heartache of not being able to locate your beloved pooch. 

As the dog owner, it is essential that you do everything you can to ensure the safety and well-being of your pooch. Hence, don’t leave the gate open if you don’t have an invisible fence.

If you do need an invisible fence, consider the Halo 2+ dog collar because it is the BEST in the market. 


Yes, lost dogs often find themselves fearful of their surroundings and strangers. 

A lost or stray dog can be aggressive. Hence you should always look at the dog and consider whether the dog needs your help or not. If you feel aggression coming from them, it is best to leave them be or let animal control take care of them. 

The best way to stop your dog from getting lost is by relying on a GPS tracker, which will help you locate your dog, even if they manage to run away or stray. 

Was this article helpful?

User Avatar
Thomas Villalpando
Thomas Villalpando is the main author of Dogs Academy. He spends his time reading, training, and working with several Dogs' behaviors. He has been featured in MSN, Yahoo Finance, The Sun, Entrepreneur & More. You can find more about him here.

Leave a Comment