Category Archives: Lost Dog Behavior Tips

Articles on how lost dogs behavior changes.

Where Could Your Lost Dog Be? 2024

Where are they? In this blog post we’ll take a wild stab at our best guess (based on what we have learned over the last 13 years).

The year has come to an end and we are going to ask you to search PetFBI. (If you are on a mobile phone, please search for albums or photos in the menu)  Although we have had an incredibly successful year, we have so many dogs that we are still searching for.

A small percentage of the still missing dogs are probably sadly deceased. BUT, we do know that a body is usually found and we encourage all owners to not give up unless they have confirmed physical evidence that their dog is deceased.  By far and away, our largest single cause of death is dogs that have been hit by a car (usually when they are being called or chased by well-meaning but misinformed citizens who do not know that you should never chase or call a scared lost dog). Our next most common cause of death is being hit by a train. Scared lost dogs will use the path of least resistance, and railroad tracks often provide a convenient route of travel between their hiding places and food sources. Unfortunately, some dogs are killed when the train comes, but again, a body is almost always found.  Our third most common cause of death is drowning; either by falling through thin ice, or by making a poor decision and bolting towards a body of water.  Lost dogs that are not being chased, approached or pressured will make wise decisions and may survive indefinitely.  Dogs that are being pressured or pursued will make poor decisions and may meet an untimely end.

Many people fear that their dog has been eaten or killed by coyotes. We do not find this to be common and very few of our deceased dogs have evidence of being killed by a predator.  Is it impossible? No. But dog/coyote altercations are almost always territorial (the dog is defending his yard or his territory) and scared, lost dogs are not territorial. They will defer to a larger predator.  Lost dogs simply want to survive – so they need to do three things – they will hide from predators (including man) and they will spend their time sleeping and traveling between their food sources and hiding places.   If a dog is killed by a larger predator – the body will usually be found. Predators do not tend to eat other predators and all members of the canine family are predators.

Where are the other still missing dogs? Some are still “out there” as described above. Scared and living in “survival mode”, these dogs may be rarely seen because they have become so adept at hiding and may be mostly nocturnal.  Eventually they will start to hang around one or more reliable food sources (often a farm that is leaving food out for outdoor cats).  If they are left alone they will become more domesticated and may be seen during daylight hours or even attempting to play with neighborhood dogs or farm dogs.  This is why it is SO important to continue to flyer in an ever-increasing radius of where your dog went missing from. Somebody, somewhere WILL see your dog and they need to know who to call when they do.

Some of our still missing dogs wandered far beyond their “jurisdiction”, out of the flyered area, and end up in the maze of animal sheltering and animal control. They may have been adopted to a new family or put down when their 3 or 7 day stray hold was up. These are a heartbreaker for us because the simple of act of posting pictures on line of impounded found dogs would bring most of these dogs home.  Our dedicated volunteers and fans scour the internet watching for possible matches but they cannot do this when there are no pictures available. Many Illinois shelters still do not reliably post pictures of impounded found dogs. Please ask them to do so. It is perhaps the simplest way to save lives and free up shelter space for those dogs that truly need it.

The last component (and probably the largest) are lost dogs that have been picked up by a Good Samaritan who meant well but then kept or rehomed the dog without searching for the owner.  Of course, this is illegal in Illinois, but it happens all too frequently. The current “rescue” phenomenon that is sweeping our country has kind -hearted people making false assumptions about the owners of a dog they find. They speculate that the dog has been abused, neglected or “dumped” and needs a new home. We have great success when we can get the finder to file a report with us so that we can post a flyer online.  This serves to dispel the false notion that people that have lost their dog don’t deserve him/her back.  We ask all of our fans to please spread the word to their friends, family and neighbors – Lost dogs don’t need a new home.  They just need to go home. Do not assume that you can keep a dog that you find. He/she is somebody else’s personal property and keeping him/her is illegal.

Thank you for helping us. Please take a few moments, scroll through our missing dog albums, and maybe, just maybe we can help reunite a few more of these dogs in 2024.

That Dog is in Survival or Flight Mode! What in the World does that mean?

scared dogSurvival and flight mode are terms being used more and more by lost dog recovery specialists but the meaning of those terms is not clear to a lost dog owner or general public helping to find a lost dog.

Lost dogs, even the friendliest dog which has been missing for a period of time, will start using their natural instincts in order to survive.  When dogs begin to use their natural instincts, their behavior towards humans changes and they become focused on three things; food/water, shelter and keeping themselves safe from perceived threats, which sadly can include his/her owner/good Samaritans.

Even when approached or called by an owner/good Samaritan the dog is instinctively fearful and runs away from the “threat” often leading to the person chasing the dog.   Each time something like this happens it increases the dog’s level of fear towards people.  When this behavior is being exhibited the dog is said to be in survival or flight mode.  The dog will do whatever it needs to do to escape the threat whether that be disappearing into the woods or frantically running into traffic.  Unfortunately that is when they make poor choices.

So what can you do?  Educate, educate, educate!  Get the message out to the public verbally or on your flyer by describing the dog’s behavior in simple terms they can understand, such as, “Do not call, approach or chase the dog, he/she is extremely frightened and will run away from  you.”  Direct the person to instead call and report the sighting immediately.

For further reading please read our lost shy dog strategies on our website.

For the Love of Abby

For the Love of Abby

On December 27, 2013 our beloved Toy Fox Terrier, Abby ran away from our in home pet sitter while we were on vacation in Florida.  Despite the best efforts of friends and notifications to Animal Control, Lost Dogs Illinois and local veterinarians, our baby was found deceased.  The whole episode has been so heart breaking, that I hope no one ever has to go through what we did.  Below are some tips for keeping your dog from becoming one of the lost.

  • Micro-chip your pet.  It is very easy and cost effective to do.
  • Tag your pet.  In some towns, this is required by law along with a rabies tag.
  • If someone other than you or any of the family members that the pet lives with are taking your dog out for any reason, have them take the pet out on a leash no matter what!  Your friends would feel awful if your pet escaped on their watch.
  • Periodically check the fenced yard your pet uses.  Check for broken pieces on wood fences and bent areas on chain link fences.  Make sure lawn clippings piles and wood piles are not too close to a fence line giving your pet an easy stairway over a fence.
  • Interview all pet care givers that interact with your pet and in some cases your home.  Have a meet and greet with the caregiver and the pet.  Are they insured? Bonded? Licensed if your jurisdiction requires?  Do they have references?  Any internet reviews?  DO THEY HAVE A LOST PET PLAN??
  • Always require that all caregivers have a leash on your pet when out of doors.
  • Have pictures of your pet on your phone or in your computer archives.  Especially useful, are pictures of your pet next to an object (like a footstool) to give a sense of the pet’s size.  Have a picture that shows and unusual markings or features like two different colored eyes or odd shaped spots, etc.  If a lost flyer needs to be made, it can be done in a hurry.


Despite all of your best laid efforts, some dogs can still escape and become lost.  Now what?

  • Let neighbors know that pet is missing.
  • Contact town police and Animal Control.
  • Post listing on Lost Dogs Illinois
  • Have family and friends search with flyers in hand or at the very least a picture on their phone.
  • Have someone contact any vets or shelters in your area by phone.
  • Drop off or email a “Missing” flyer to all area vets, shelters & rescues.
  • Use social media and other internet portals but do not offer a reward as this can attract scammers. Have your Facebook/ Twitter friends in the local area spread the word.
  • Put flyers in the windows of local stores, especially gas stations.
  • Think outside the box:  put up stake signs (yard sale signs) with your flyer on it at local intersections.  Live near a sports field?  Hand out flyers there.  Live near a commuter train station?  Put up flyers there.  Live near a school? Leave flyers at the main desk to be given to the PE and maintenance staff.  Live near farmland?  Ask the owner if you can check the outbuildings.
  • If your pet is still missing after several days, re-group and touch base with all contacts.
  • Continue developing new contacts to send information to and try to stay motivated during your search.


Developing a missing pet plan now may help you identify and address safety issues preventing a lost pet.  While we will never ever forget what happened to our darling girl, we found we so loved having a dog in our lives that we have adopted a rescue dog.


For the Love of Bean

Thank you Janice D.

Probability VS. Possibility

Probability VS. Possibility

Photo courtesy of ponsuwan/

Photo courtesy of ponsuwan/

At Lost Dogs Illinois, we never say never.  We have had too many surprises and unlikely scenarios play out in the last few years.  But, that being said, we have learned a few things from the thousands of successful reunions that our organization and those of our sister sites have been involved with.

An owner that focuses the majority of their effort on what “probably” happened to their dog; rather than worrying about what “possibly” happened, is far more likely to have a quicker, more successful recovery.

Consider the weather. Is it possible for it to snow on any given day of the year in Illinois? Yes.  Is it probable? No.  So you can probably safely leave your parka at home in August.

Some examples pertaining to dogs:

  • A dog lost from a car accident that is not being pursued will probably stay within a 1/2 mile radius of where the accident occurred.
  • A small friendly dog lost in a populated area has probably been picked up, often very close to where they went missing from.  They can be taken to a shelter, stray holding facility or rescue; or kept, or rehomed.
  • A shy, fearful dog is probably still “out there” learning to live on their own and avoiding people.
  • A “dandelion”; common dogs that all look alike (eg. labrador retrievers)  are easily lost in the animal control/shelter system.

We have broken down our website articles to try to help you quickly “profile” your dog so that you can focus your efforts on probability. First; determine whether your dog has the risk factors of an elusive dog or an opportunistic dog.

Then read the corresponding articles from the Shy or Friendly categories on our website. Click on the categories on the right side of our webpage.

Our most likely “prediction” – most dogs are recovered because somebody that saw or knows something, saw a flyer or sign for the missing dog. Go door to door in the area that your dog was last seen and ask everybody if they have seen your dog. Use intersection signs to attract the attention of passing motorists.

Don’t delay! Your lost dog is depending on YOU to bring him safely home.

Are There More Lost Dogs Now?

Puppy mill dogs and rescued dogs are often shy, undersocialized and wary of strangers. Photo credit: Frank Schemberger

People are always amazed at how many lost dogs there are posted on our Facebook page. We commonly get the question “Are there more lost dogs now? Why?”

Here is our answer:  YES! There are more lost dogs now. As a nation we are saving more dogs than ever, with many more people choosing adoption as their option. This is a great thing but it comes with it’s challenges. For many people this is their first experience owning a shy, rescued dog. These dogs are often high flight risks and can quickly escape through a door or wiggle out of an ill-fitting collar, harness or slip lead.

These high flight risk,  shy puppy mill and rescued dogs have many vulnerable moments while they are making their way through the re-homing system. Dogs are lost from transports, foster homes and  animal shelters or can be lost from their newly-adoptive homes.

There are also more under-socialized pet store dogs than before. Pet store puppies are often taken from their mothers and litter mates far too early, to make it to the pet store market while they are still irresistibly cute and cuddly. But this deprives the puppies of an important socialization period and can result in a shy, fearful personality.

Shy dogs are also being lost from shelters, vet clinics, groomers, pet sitters and kennels in record numbers. Education is the key! Educating people on how to prevent escapes and how to catch a shy, lost dog (don’t chase or call him) will help more of these dogs get home safely. Thank you for spreading the word and helping us!


Unlikely Behavior?

This normally surprises people, but it’s true:  if your dog is lost, your pet will probably run from you when he or she sees you.  Yes, you read that correctly.  If lost, your dog, even one that has always been friendly and your devoted companion, will bolt in the opposite direction from where you are.

Your dog will run from you instead of to you because your dog will be in survival mode, not because he or she doesn’t love you.  You see, after three or four days on the loose, a dog’s priorities start to change.  A dog will reorder what’s important to the following sequence:  1. Predators, including you, 2. Shelter, 3. Water, and 4. Food.  A dog, therefore, will do whatever is necessary to avoid predators while pursuing the remaining items on his or her list of priorities.

It’s your pet’s ability to shift mental gears into survival mode that increases the chances that your pet will be returned to you.  This ability is also what makes it likely that your dog will view you and anyone else looking for him or her as a predator, or a potential threat.

That is why it is critical for you and everyone else trying to find your dog to refrain from yelling or approaching your dog during your search.  It’s great when enthusiastic people rally and join together to find a lost dog.  But people, together as a group or alone, are terrifying to a lost pet…and the last thing a scared dog will be tempted to approach is a person, even if that person is the dog’s loving owner.

Spread the message to all of the people that are trying to help you that they need to change their mindset from “Catching” to “Luring”. Use your helpers’ enthusiasm and energy to flyer every house and business in the neighborhood, instead of searching for your dog. You will have a much better chance of success!


Risk Factors for The Elusive Lost Dog

These are the indicating factors that will predispose a dog to shyness or elusiveness.

1) Demeanor: A shy or wary personality. Is the dog wary of strangers or men, or people wearing hats? Is he slow to warm up to new people?

2) Origin: Dogs rescued from abusive situations, puppy mills or purchased at a very young age (6 weeks or younger) are more likely to be predisposed to shyness. They may lack socialization skills or missed the early socialization period with their mother and littermates by being taken away from the litter too young.

3) Breed: Some breeds seem predisposed to becoming shy and wary very quickly when they are lost. They are: Herding breeds such as Shelties, Australian Shepherds, Border ColliesSighthounds such as Greyhounds, Italian Greyhounds, Whippet,s Chihuahuas, Rat Terriers and other small sensitive breeds Boxers

4) Dogs lost from a location other than home such as: Boarding kennel, training facility, doggy day care, Pet sitter, Vet clinic, Groomers, Animal shelter, Foster home, Rescue transport, Newly adopted or purchased,, Family or friends’ home

5) Dogs lost from a stressful situation which may or may not include loud noises such as: Thunderstorms, Fireworks, Parades, Gunfire, Cars backfiring, Airbrakes, Car accidents, House fires, Natural disasters

Any one or a combination of the above will predispose the dog to being an elusive dog to catch.

Why We Say “Never Give Up”

Never Give upOur motto is “Never Give Up”.  It seems obvious, but there is an underlying reason that we say it. We know that dogs can be recovered weeks, months and even years after they go missing. The key factor in a successful recovery is the emotional commitment of the owner or responsible party to have the perseverance to keep going.

We often hear the comment “If my dog were missing, I would never give up.”  But, the average bystander doesn’t realize the enormous pressures that are placed on the lost dog owner.

Today we are going to discuss some of the factors that make an owner give up the search before their dog is recovered.

1. Financial commitment – looking for a lost dog is costly. Printing flyers, signs, advertising, gas money, and lost wages can add up quickly.

2. Time commitment – Door to door flyering, making signs, visiting shelters, checking out leads and manning feeding stations and traps can be a full time job.

3. Pressure from family and friends – This is often related to the two factors above.  Family and friends who aren’t as emotionally committed to the dog as the owner may start to resent the amount of time or money expended in the search. The family may want their lives to go back to normal; instead of  spending every free moment or spare dollar looking for the lost dog.

4. Emotional burnout – The highs and lows of sightings and possible leads take an emotional toll on an owner already stressed and frantic about their dog’s disappearance.

4. Myths and misconceptions -Well meaning but uneducated people, often co-workers and neighbors;  may diminish an owner’s hope by spreading rumors and misconceptions. These include saying things like:

  • a coyote (eagle, hawk, wolf) probably got your dog.
  • your dog was probably stolen for research
  • your dog was probably stolen for dog fighting bait
  • your senior dog probably went away somewhere to die

Although we never say never; we have found the four things listed above to be exceedingly rare. But these rumors spread like wildfire and discourage owners, causing them to give up hope. Unless physical evidence is found that a dog is deceased; the dog is probably very much alive and relying on their owner to bring them home. Never doubt a lost dog’s resourcefulness or ability to survive.

Are you perpetuating these rumors?  Please carefully consider your words and actions. Are you unintentionally causing people to give up hope? Let’s all work together to get more lost dogs home.

What Do Lost Dogs Eat?

bird feederMany owners worry that their lost dog will not find enough to eat. A couple of things to remember: dogs (like people) are omnivores; not carnivores (like cats). Dogs can survive without meat (of course they would prefer meat, but they don’t need it).

When you are looking for your missing dog, keep in mind that these readily available food sources are where your lost dog could be eating:

  • outdoor cat food (someone feeding barn or feral cats)
  • spilled grain around feed bins at farms
  • bird seed from bird feeders
  • corn fields
  • vegetable gardens and fruit trees
  • restaurant dumpsters and cooking oil dumpsters
  • convenience and grocery store dumpsters
  • trash cans at picnic areas, rest stops, parks and campgrounds
  • fire pits at campgrounds
  • nuts, berries, grass, horse poop (and other sources of animal waste)
  • barbecue  grills (they lick the drippings under the grill)
  • mice and rabbits, eggs in waterfowl nests, chicken eggs and chickens
  • road kill, hunting remains, fish guts and heads
  • food processing plants or pet food processing plants
  • feed mills
  • June bugs, earthworms, grasshoppers

Use your nose! If you can smell it, your dog definitely can. Even though he may not be getting food from the nearest fast food restaurant or steak house; he will keep checking in there, lured by the smell; to see if any tidbits have been dropped. Leave a flyer and talk to the restaurant staff at every restaurant in a 10 mile radius of where your dog was last seen.

Don’t give up! Your dog has the instinctive ability to survive for weeks, months and even years on his own.


How To Approach Your Dog When He/She Is Lost..

Even though your dog, Snickers, has only been missing for three days, you are worried you’ll never see her again. You promise yourself you’ll never get another dog because, obviously, you can’t be trusted. You are wondering why, WHY DID YOU ASK THE NEIGHBOR’S TEENAGER TO WALK SNICKERS WHILE YOU WERE ON VACATION? And why, why did the kid decide to go jogging with Snickers without putting her leash on? You are worried about the kid’s generation being able to lead the country while you are in your retirement years when you suddenly see a familiar shape three yards over from yours. You recognize her instantly – it’s Snickers!

You are tempted to run out of the door and call her to you, but you resist that temptation when you see her run from the neighbor’s children…children Snickers has always loved playing with. What if she runs from you, too? Could she have forgotten the family, the community that loves her after only three days? Now what?

Well, if your dog is lost and you see her, you are 100% right to pause, collect yourself, and, above all, calm yourself down. You’ll be excited to see your dog, of course, but your dog may be equally anxious to protect herself from what she perceives to be threats, including you. And, she may run as far away from you as possible.

If she does, make sure you are prepared for the next time you see your pet. Load your car with non-perishable goodies and toys she normally enjoys so you can use them to lure your dog to you the next time you see her. Make sure you have enough goodies…it may take quite a few treats to convince your dog to come to you. Make sure you always have a leash at your disposal and a spare collar as well in case your dog has lost hers during her travels.
When you arrive at the scene of where your dog was most recently seen, remain calm…and quiet. Don’t honk your car’s horn, slam its doors, or start yelling your dog’s name. Simply arrive and let your dog get used to you being in the vicinity of her. Talk to her quietly, using words and phrases that remind her of the comfort and happiness you’ve given her throughout her life. Say things like, “Wanna go for a walk?” Or, “It’s dinnertime!”

Remember to be patient as you literally inch closer and closer to your dog and pay close attention to the clues your pet is giving you about your approach. If your dog braces as if she’s preparing to run away, stop moving and lower yourself to the ground. When your dog is calm again, try to get a bit closer to her by walking slowly in a sideways direction with your arms at your sides. Use your lips to smile, not your teeth, so your dog doesn’t think you are growling at her. Also, don’t look directly at your dog or stare at her as a predator would.

As you are getting close enough to your dog to use the treats you brought to lure her to you, assume a submissive position by getting as close to the ground as possible as you continue your advance – consider crawling, if necessary. By doing this and using positive tones when you speak to your pet, you will demonstrate that you are not a threat to her well-being. When you’re within throwing distance, your pet will be able to see and smell the food you’ve brought for her.

Gently and slowly toss some treats off to the side of your dog without hitting her. Hold your eyes closed and move your head down and off to the side to show your dog that you are not going to challenge her for the food. Do this repeatedly until your dog is comfortable with your proximity to her.

When your dog has finished the first round of treats, throw a few more, but make sure they land farther from her and closer to you. Give your dog praise with every step she takes closer to you, even if it’s only to get some food. Pretend you are eating some of the treats you still have at the ready, too. Lick your lips and tell your dog how good the treats are…and ask her if she wants some more.

When your dog is finally close enough to you for you to grab, you will have to make a choice about how to secure your pet. You can offer more treats in one hand while attaching a leash to your dog’s collar with your other one. Or, you can grab your pet’s collar, quickly taking in any slack. Or, you can rub your dog’s muzzle while attaching her leash to her collar.

If your dog’s collar is no longer around her neck, put the end of her leash through the wrist loop at the top, and loop the end of the leach around your wrist several times while holding it securely in your hand. The leash will act as a slip lead and tighten once it’s around your dog’s neck.

If you’re dog hasn’t been seen, but you know where your dog is likely to be while she is lost, find a spot in the vicinity where you can wait with some treats and her favorite toys. When you hear your dog coming, put out some treats that will lead her to you.

If you have people who are helping you find your dog, make sure they don’t distract her while you are trying to lure her to you. Your dog should be focused on you and you alone. Instruct your helpers to assume discreet positions that will enable them to see where your dog was going in case she runs away from you. Make sure you give your friends and family members enough treats for them to try to lure your pet to them in case she gets close enough to their positions.

If a dog is new to your family, whether you’ve just taken in a foster or adopted an unfamiliar dog, help your new pet to start trusting you and to learn your unique scent by putting food and water out in the same location every single day she is lost. Talk to the dog, address her by name even if it’s a new one. Try to bond with your dog even if you can’t see her. If you are consistent with your efforts, it’s likely your dog will eventually get close enough to you for you to bring her back to the home she may only be seeing for the first time!

Our tips, ideas and articles are based on information gathered from over 3000 successful lost dog recoveries. Any advice or suggestions made by Lost Dogs of Wisconsin/Lost Dogs Illinois is not paid-for professional advice and should be taken at owner’s discretion.