How Long Can A Dog Survive In The Woods?

Dogs are our family the same way our children or spouses are, and they can bring immense joy into our lives. There are many scientifically-proven benefits of owning a dog, such as increasing our happiness, social skills, and mental health, plus they are also great companions. They can also help us not feel lonely. With all the fantastic things that our dogs bring to the table, it is almost unbearable to think about what would happen if our pet got lost in the woods. So how long can a dog survive in the woods if they were to get lost?

How long can a dog survive in the woods

Dogs could survive in the woods for many days, weeks, months, or even years. It depends on a few factors, including dogs’ instincts, breed, age, climate, circumstances, and much more.

Like humans, dogs have essential needs that need to be met to survive; these include food, water, and shelter. Without these, your dog doesn’t have a high chance of survival, so it is important to begin searching for your dog once you realize it is lost. Typically dogs can survive for a week without food and three days without water.

Of course, other factors and circumstances contribute to the survival of a dog that’s lost in the woods. In this article, we will be further elaborating on the origin of dogs and their evolution and the factors that affect the survival rate in the wilderness. Additionally, we will be giving you tips on what to do if you have lost your dog in the woods and preventative measures to ensure it doesn’t happen again.

The History Of Dogs

Dogs are beloved creatures that have gradually been integrated into their families over the centuries. Our furry friends weren’t always domesticated animals; they originated from the Gray Wolf and had to live in harsh conditions, which means they have powerful survival instincts in their genes. There are numerous theories about how and when dogs evolved and became domesticated. Still, people are discovering that dogs have been involved with humans for a lot longer than we initially thought.

It was once believed that dogs have only been domesticated for the past 15,000 years; however, this is untrue. Recent studies showed that dogs’ domestication happened much earlier as 35,000-year-old Siberian wolf bones were discovered by a Swedish geneticist who concluded that domestication may have occurred up to 40,000 years ago. It is believed that dogs are the first species to be domesticated by humans.

The evolution of a wolf to a dog is complex and somewhat controversial. Many scientists and geneticists have different speculations on the subject, but one of the biggest debates people have is how many times evolution occurred. Some believe that it only happened once with o e group of wolves, and that’s where all dogs come from. Others believe that evolution occurred twice in Europe and Asia. As no one is exactly sure, it is more likely they only evolved once in Europe. They then became domesticated because they would follow hunter-gathers to eat their garbage. Eventually, they got more comfortable and docile until they reached the point where they were utterly able to interact with humans in a non-aggressive manner. It is also believed that women may have been the first humans to domesticate dogs.

The history and evolution from wolves to dogs are fascinating and vital to understand because it gives us an idea of how a dog’s mind works in a survival situation. They ultimately would go back to their roots and begin to think as wolves in the wilderness. Now that we better understand the origin of dogs and where they came from, let’s discuss some factors contributing to their survival in the woods.

Survival Factors For A Dog In The Woods

As mentioned before, depending on your dog and the circumstances will determine how long a dog could survive if it got lost in the woods. Every dog is different, but one thing they all have in common is they all descended from the Gray Wolf, even small breeds. Every dog has somewhat of a survival instinct ingrained into its genes, and some are stronger than others. Here are some contributing factors that may affect a lost dog’s survival rate in the woods;


Even though all dogs come from wolves, certain breeds would do better in survival. Typically bigger dogs would do better in the wild, but there are a couple of smaller breeds that would too. Here are the top breeds that would do best in the wilderness:

  • Rottweiler
  • Pitbull
  • German Shepard
  • Rhodesian Ridgeback
  • Jack Russell
  • English Mastiff
  • Labrador Retriever
  • Alaskan Malamute
  • Akita

These breeds are tough, muscular, and have excellent survival instincts. These dogs also are very agile and have good hunting skills ingrained in their genes. For example, the Rhodesian Ridgeback breed originated in Africa and was used as lion hunting dogs so that they would have strong survival instincts.


As mentioned before, larger breeds would realistically survive longer in the wilderness. There are multiple reasons for this. First of all, larger dogs can defend themselves better if they are being attacked and are more intimidating to predators. So with a lower risk of being attacked and injured, there is a better chance of survival.

Another reason why bigger dogs would be better survivalists is many large dogs can handle cold weather better than smaller dogs. They have more body fat for warmth, and many bigger dogs originated in colder regions, so genetically, they are more prepared for the cold. This would overall help them stay warm in a cold climate.


The location is one of the most significant factors contributing to the survival rate of a lost dog. If the dog is in an area where there is water, a place to shelter, and something to eat, they stand a much better chance of surviving. Also, you should think about anything hazardous in the area where they were lost, such as cliffs, sharp rocks, or animals that could attack them like bears, cougars, coyotes, or wolves.

Some other things that could potentially be dangerous to a dog lost in the woods include:

  • Poisonous fruits, plants, mushrooms, or insects.
  • Traps left out by hunters.
  • Hunters that are hunting could mistake your dog for another animal.
  • If your dog becomes very confused or distressed for an extended period.

All aspects affect how your dog will do if they were to get lost in the woods.


Weather is another significant factor in survival. If it is excessively cold or hot, it can be a long more challenging for your dog to find adequate shelter or other resources they need. For example, if the woods they got lost in are covered in snow and extremely cold, they may not keep themselves warm. Or, if it is extremely dry and hot, then it may be challenging for them to find essential water. Another aspect that could seriously affect survival is if you are in an area where natural disasters frequently occur.

Health and Training

If your dog is healthy and trained correctly, they have better odds of surviving and being found. If your dog is unhealthy or untrained, it may affect its survival ability. Training plays a part in this scenario because dogs that are constantly being trained and tested have sharper minds, are healthier, and better shape. As far as why health plays a part, healthy, young dogs will have a lot better judgment, fitness level, and ability to evaluate the situation better than a sick or elderly dog will.

What Actions Should You Take If Your Dog Gets Lost In The Woods?

A significant fear for any pet owner is losing your pet and not finding them again. But this is an authentic scenario, especially if you are out in a vast area that your dog is unfamiliar with. So if you are on an outdoor excursion with your pup and they happen to get lost, what should you do? Here are some actions you should taken

Don’t Panic

Losing your pet can be highly stress-inducing, and you might begin to freak out. But panicking will only make things more stressful. When your first notice that your dog is lost, try to call out their name and search for them without putting yourself at risk, of course. It’s best to search near water because your dog will automatically want to find water.

Another great thing to do is leave some of your clothing around the area where you last saw your dog. This is a trick used by hunter’s when their dogs go missing. This will spread your scent around the area and make it more likely for your dog to return to that spot. Touch everything around that area, including the ground and things that are nose level to your dog. Your scent should last for 24-72 hours as long as it doesn’t rain.

Get The Word Out

If you have no luck finding your furry friend on your own, get some help from others. Making flyers and posting to social media are super effective ways of finding your dog. There are plenty of groups on Facebook and other social media sites where you can advertise your lost dog for free and get their picture out there. Flyers are great, too, because not everyone has social media.

You should also contact local shelters around the area or look on sites like craigslist. If someone has found your dog, they might make a post on craigslist or other social media to let people know they have found the dog and find the owner. Other people might have brought your dog to the shelter thinking it was a stray or couldn’t get it back to their home, so calling around can help too.

Hire A Professional

If you have been searching for several days with no luck, then it might be wise to confide in a professional. You can hire a pet detective that will use bloodhounds to find your dog. They will go off the scent of your dog and search for him. This should be a last resort choice if you feel your dog is in danger because it could be rather expensive.

How To Prevent Losing Your Dog

Sometimes it can be out of our control if our dog gets lost, but most of the time, there are preventative measures we can take to ensure this doesn’t happen. These measures include:

Collar With Tags

Make sure you get your dog a collar with a tag that includes their name, your name, and phone number. You could even have a small message on their tag as well, such as “if I’m be myself call this number” or “Help! I’m lost, here is my owner’s number”. This way, if your dog ever happens to get lost and someone finds it, they will know it’s not a stray and be able to contact you.


Having a microchip installed is a very effective way of finding your dog if they are lost. The vet will install the microchip through a needle around the back of the shoulder area. The microchip is there to provide identification for a lost dog. So if it winds up at a shelter or vet, they can scan for a microchip, and if they find one, there will be an identification number, and they will be able to locate the owner.

Wear A Leash

If your dog is notorious for running off, then you should keep them on a leash. A leash will prevent your dog from getting too far away from you and running off, and it will allow you to have complete control of the situation and keep your dog safe.


If you would like to take your dog on outdoor excursions and not have them on a leash, then you should consider training them. Dogs are brilliant and are great learners, so training them to be in the wilderness and walk off-leash is achievable. There are plenty of videos online about training your dog, or you could even hire a trainer if you don’t feel confident.

Final Thoughts

The amount of time your dog is able to survive in the woods depends on numerous factors, such as weather, location, breed, and size. But the number one contributing factor is how your dog will react and how deep their survival instinct is. There is no one set answer; they could survive for a matter of days, weeks, months, or years. But you must act accordingly if your dog ever becomes lost, take the appropriate steps, and take preventative measures to ensure that this event will not reoccur.

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