A Dog Won’t Survive for Long in the Wild, Here’s Why

From the research, it seems agreed that a domestic dog would have limited success when living on its own in the wild, far from any human settlement.

Their success depends on these things.

  • The size and condition of the dog
  • Their level of prey drive.
  • How they would cope alone without companionship.
  • Their ability to establish partnerships with other animals.
  • How quick they adjust to changing environments
  • And their willingness to take some risks.

All these factors play a role in how long a dog could survive without relying on humans for their food and comfort.

Most experts agree that domesticated dogs would not survive longer than 2 years in the wild at best.

It is unethical and unlawful to release a dog into the wilderness as they would not be able to adapt quickly enough to survive in the wild. They could also become a problem to farmers whose land backs onto the wilderness.

Water is very important, so if your dog is lost and can find water within the first three days, that will help them survive.

They can put up with no food for about a week or so, but without water within three days, they are in trouble.


They Are Adjusted to Life With Humans

Dogs have adjusted to living with us over so many years now, that being left alone in the wilderness would seem unnatural to them.

They are not used to a shortage of food or having to find their own, so unless they could adapt quickly – their chances of living would be slim.

If there are predators around they would likely fall prey to these experienced creatures. Poisonous plants or sharp thorns are another situations that they would be unaware of until it was too late.

Although many experts say their chances of surviving in the wilderness wouldn’t be high, there are so many factors that would come into play that it is hard to predict.

A sturdy confident dog who adapted quickly and one who formed alliances with another dog or animal from another species would have a greater survival rate.


Size and Condition of the Dog Matters

Some small dogs such as the Jack Russell and the Cairn Terrier would have the most chance out of the small breeds.

They are used to hunting for small game that are down burrows or in the open. They have a high prey drive, tons of energy, and they have an attitude that is bigger than their actual size, and in the survival steaks, that is important.

But it is generally accepted that the larger the dog, the more they would be able to cope with the isolation and the hunger than a small house dog.

Depending on what type of wilderness a dog escaped to and the predators that are around, a larger dog is more able to protect itself in the wilderness. They have muscle on their side, and some large dogs have an aggressive attitude which means they will willingly take on another animal rather than running away and being chased.

The condition of the dog also plays a role in how they can survive in the wilderness.

A fit, lean dog will adapt easier than an overweight dog prone to arthritis or other diseases. Any dog that has a medical condition will find it harder to adapt to the wilderness.

The old saying, only the fit and healthy survive in the wilderness is sadly quite true.

Finding shelter in the great outdoors to protect from the cold would be important, and the dog has to have the initiative to find some sort of food to appease their hunger. They would have to realize that their human isn’t there, so they have to look after themselves.

For centuries now, we humans have taken on the role of the provider for our dogs. We give them a warm bed, fresh water to drink, and a varied and tasty diet.

To be suddenly abandoned in the middle of a wilderness without their human, only the hardiest, strongest, and the most willing dog would be able to survive.


Climate and Location Make a Difference.

These two things alone, plus the temperature would either make or break the survival rate of a domesticated dog in the wild.

The full list of things that make a difference are:

  • Weather: If the weather was mild, the days were warm, and nights not too cold, that would help your dog.  Snow and freezing winds test the strongest dog, so if the weather was favorable or the season was anything but winter, survival would be easier.
  • Environment: If there were streams in the area for water, a bit of bush or forest for cover, and shade to protect during the heat of the day. A cozy nest that protects the dog from a chilling wind is ideal.
  • Local Predators: In an ideal situation, if there were a lack of large predators like wolves or big cats, that would help the dog’s survival rate. Wolves would attack the intruding dog, or a big cat would go into hunting mode.
  • Water Source: an abundant water source would certainly help. Dogs require regular water to drink, so having a stream or rock pool handy would assist survival. As I said above, normally a dog would only be able to live if it had water to drink within the first three days.
  • Small Game: The availability of small game or bugs in the area provide a suitable  food source for a hungry dog. The more small game, or mushrooms or fruit, the better their chances. Any dog would have to use their highly efficient nose to sniff out hidden treats under the ground or hiding in a bush.


Characteristics that Would Be an Advantage

Fur Type:

The type of fur the dog affects how the dog maintain their body temperature in this new habitat.

In a cold climate, the dog with a thick or double coat would be able to withstand a variety of temperatures extremes, both hot and cold.

But the dog with short, close fur would suffer in a cold climate, and even in a hot climate may suffer sunburn.

So the fur type would be a large factor for a dog to survive the wilderness.


Habits or Confidence:

The wilderness comes with complex series of stress, anxiety, and a variety of problems to solve. A confident dog would be more able to meet these demands rather than an anxious or timid dog.


Ready to Try Anything:

An abandoned dog in the wilderness must learn to scavenge or hunt for food. They must be ready to try new things such as bugs, rats, or chase and kill small prey like rabbits so they have enough food.

Some dogs will eat berries or some roots that they dig up just to keep their belly full.

Then the dog would have to find dry, warm, and safe shelter. If there are large predators in the area, they should have an escape route or be prepared to face confrontation.



The dog who is prepared to make alliances with other animals, even those outside their species (such as a cat, coyote, or even a wolf if it would accept them), increases their ability to catch more prey.

While wolves and dogs share a very ancient ancestor, wolves are very adapted to their wild environment and have territories that they protect with a  passion. A lone dog coming into their territory would not be welcome, the dog – because it is smaller and different – would be considered a foe and would even be eaten.

Working and living together cooperatively greatly increases both animals’ chances for survival.

One can guard the other while they sleep, and they can present a united front when faced by another larger animal. The hunts are also more effective with more than one animal involved in the hunt. So the odds for success are increased.



Dogs are social animals and being in the wilderness is a lonely business. Their survival rate would depend on how much the dog was affected by being on its own. If they do learn to form other friendships with animals outside their species, it would help.

Dogs are used to having other animals in the human home, like cats, rabbits, and small guinea pigs. However, in the wild, a smaller animal like a rabbit would be considered dinner.

Interbreeding can occur in the wild with similar types of animals such as a wolf, or coyote. The young would be born with a better rate of survival due to the mix of genes from the two parents.


Dog Breeds That Have the Best Chance at Surviving

Some dogs would be better than others if they got lost in the wilderness. The smaller toy dogs would find it very difficult to exist, but a muscular but lean dog and one with a strong prey drive would have a better chance.

  • The dog would need to have good stamina to survive the rigors of the wilderness.
  • It would need endurance to battle on every day, regardless of the weather. Rain, hail, or even snow, the fight to find food must continue.
  • The larger the dog, the more likely they are to effectively protect themselves from large predators.

Dogs who have superior skills in chasing, hunting, killing, and retrieving prey would have an advantage. These include the following breeds.

  • Spaniels
  • Retrievers
  • Pointers (who can stalk another animal for so many miles then ‘point’ it out to their master). Instead of pointing out prey, they would have to learn to chase and catch.
  • The strong and dedicated Setter

These breeds of dogs are used to the country and are great in water environments or the forest. That would be an advantage to them for living in such an inhospitable area.


Then there are the heavyweights

They have the muscle, a high prey drive, and come with a ‘can do’ attitude.

  • Doberman Pinschers are lithe, fast and aggressive.
  • Rottweilers and the Pit Bulldog- each is built for strength, they are powerful, and they come with an attitude that doesn’t invite opposition.
  • The Alaskan Malamutes have intelligence and strength, and they have a strong work ethic. They would fight against the wilderness to the end.
  • Rhodesian Ridgeback and Irish Wolfhound are both large dogs who can hold their own.
  • The Newfoundland is a dog who is made for the wilderness and laughs at the snow.
  • And the Akita – they are survivalists. Giving up is not an option. They are both brave and resourceful.

The above-mentioned breeds are more likely to survive because they have the build, speed, muscle, and attitude to succeed.


Other Factors that Would Influencing Survival.

Other factors will influence how a dog may survive in the wilderness. If your dog was used to going for walks in the forest, parks or even along the beaches, they would not be as intimidated by the change in the landscape.

Those that love the outdoors and are happy to be your companion on treks will soon adapt to the wild country and start exploring what options they have available.

If you have a territorial dog, such as one who marks the trees and boulders in your area, that means they still have the instinct for the wild. If they bury their bones for later eating, they stand a chance at keeping their tummies full.

Compare that dog to a lap dog that rarely goes outside or has never been in the forest, and you can see who would have the better rate of lasting.

A dog that is a fussy eater wouldn’t stand a chance.

Dogs are omnivores – they eat both meat, plant material, and of course bugs. This variety gives them more options in the wild. They are even known to eat berries, fruit, and mushrooms.

So if the dog is a good scavenger, they may just be able to find enough food to keep them healthy.

There are stories about dogs who after many months having been lost in the wilderness, finally find their way out and make it back home. Often they have lost a lot of bodyweight, but their delighted owners are happy to welcome them home. 

Writer: Jean Brewer

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