This was seriously the most harrowing experience I have ever had – by reddit user: by wbdane86

Source: Some dogs go into “survival mode” when lost. A PSA for those of you with sensitive dogs.

I want to share with you guys my story, in case anyone can possibly be helped by this information in the future. This may be common knowledge among dog owners, but I did not know about this until I experienced it for myself. Just be warned – this is going to be long. I’ve included bullets of important points at the end if you don’t want to read my story.

Before I start, let me clarify that this story has a happy ending. This happened about 9 months ago, and our pup is peacefully sleeping on our couch at this very moment.

My best friend was having a get together at her house in our home town. My fiance (Luke) and I decided to go home for the weekend to see all of our friends. Pup came with us, although when I left for the party I left her at my parents’ house with him. After I had been there for a while, a few of my friends wanted to meet Bella so I called him and told him to bring her over. Immediately upon hopping out of the truck, my friend’s dog zoned in on her and ran at her barking. Not aggressively, but enough to startle our sensitive girl. She backed out of her flat collar and ran into the middle of the road. I called her desperately, thinking that she would get hit by a car. As I started advancing toward her, she bolted. Being a black dog on a rainy/misty night, she was lost almost immediately.

Many people say it takes days or weeks for a lost dog to slip into “survival mode” – that is, they revert totally back to their instincts and pretty much become wild. They don’t recognize anyone or anything that they know, even their own family. However, I think the combination of Bella’s sensitive personality and the fact that she was startled in an unfamiliar place made her revert almost immediately.

This happened at approximately 9:30 PM on a Saturday night. Right away, many people at the party grabbed flashlights and started calling her. Already disoriented and scared, this probably freaked her out even more than she already was.

11:00 PM Saturday: A neighbor spotted her in the road about 100 yards from where she got loose. He tried calling her and she bolted – again.

2:30 AM Sunday: Luke and I were just about to give up and go to bed after searching for 5 hours. About 4.5 of those hours were on foot, the other half hour was circling the area in his truck. JUST as we were about to make the turn to go home, we spotted her IN MY FRIEND’S DRIVEWAY. I was so relieved! I opened the truck door and called to her. She bolted – again. Luke and I spent the next four hours in his truck waiting and watching for another sighting of her.

6:30 AM Sunday: As soon as the sun rose, we were out walking.

10:00 AM Sunday: We got a phone call that Bella had been spotted 3 miles from where she had gotten loose. Hopped in the truck and patrolled that area for about an hour until we got another call that it was a false alarm – the dog spotted was black, but much smaller than Bella. We stopped to get some food and caffeinated drinks and we patrolled the rest of the day in the original area.

6:00 PM Sunday: Luke needed to get some sleep, because at this point he still thought that he was going to have to be at work on Monday morning. The plan was to sleep until dark, then he was going to drive home and I was going to stay behind to keep searching. Except just as we were laying down, we got a call that she had been spotted in a hay field across the street from my friend’s house.

7:30 PM Sunday: We tracked her down in a hedgerow along the edge of the field. She tried to make herself invisible and allowed us to get within 20 ft of her because I think she thought we couldn’t see her. The second I said her name she was up and gone. At this point Luke realizes he cannot go back without Bella and calls out of work for Monday.

8:00 PM Sunday: We realized we needed to change our game plan. A guy who lives nearest the field she was spotted in graciously allowed us use of his garage. We scrounged up every pair of our dirty clothes that we could, and made a nest of them in the garage along with lots of tasty/smelly food and a bowl of water. Then, we waited. And spent yet another night in Luke’s truck. No sign of her all night.

7:00 AM Monday: We went back to Luke’s house to regroup. We knew we were running out of time and chances to catch Bella. We even discussed traps and drugging. Once we ate breakfast, it was decided that we would just hike around the area she was last seen. If we did get lucky enough to spot her, we would wait for her to approach us.

8:30 AM Monday: I thought it might help if we had another dog that Bella knows, so I left to pick Radley (my parents’ dog) up from the kennel. On my way to the kennel, we got a call that Bella was spotted in the same field she had been spotted around throughout the weekend. Hauled ass up there.

9:30 AM Monday: Radley and I took a hike through the fields and waited for a sighting.

10:30 AM Monday: It seems that possibly Radley’s scent stirred Bella up and Luke spotted her headed our direction, presumably to get a better idea of what she was smelling.

So I took the food, got as close as I possibly could without driving her away, and sat on the soaking wet, freezing cold ground with a bowl of tasty, smelly food next to me. I didn’t move, talk to her, or look at her. I just sat and waited for over an hour and a half. This was my view.

12:00 PM Monday: Bella finally got brave (hungry?) enough to cautiously make her way toward me. She stopped about 10 feet away from me and started barking. Not a friendly bark either. I think she was trying to scare me off of the food. At this point I started to softly and calmly talk to her and slowly held out a piece of steak. I was so nervous – this was my ONLY chance to catch her. What if my frozen fingers didn’t react quickly enough to grab her? What if she freaked and bit me?

As she reached out to smell the steak in my hand, the most amazing thing happened. I watched as, within a split second, the realization came over her that this stranger was her MOMMY! I have never seen an animal so clearly have a moment of total relief and utter happiness. And in one second, it was all over. She was jumping and licking and whining and crying (oh wait, the crying was me!).

TL;DR…This was seriously the most harrowing experience I have ever had. I learned some very valuable information those few days and I’d like to pass it along.

  • If you have a sensitive dog who gets scared easily, do not EVER take them outside in a collar that they can slip out of. My dogs do not go anywhere without their martingale collars now.
  • If your dog is startled and is in a situation that could be dangerous (like standing in the middle of the road) DON’T freak out. They can tell and it makes them even MORE nervous.
  • If you suspect your dog has gone into “survival mode” but know their general location, don’t call for them. Don’t advance toward them. Sit and wait for them to approach you. A dog’s nose is its best sense. Get another animal that they know, your dirty clothes, smelly food, anything to help “wake up” the part of their brain that recognizes it. They’ll at least be close enough to grab if they still don’t recognize you.
  • If all else fails, set up a trap or hire a team of tracking dogs. Never give up – this animal is a part of your family. They’re scared and alone. I know someone who’s still actively looking for a dog who ran away over a year ago.
  • Get your dog microchipped! It didn’t help in my scenario, but it was good to know that her information was out there and if someone picked her up they’d know she was ours.
  • Make sure to get your dog’s info out there: facebook, texts, craigslist, phone calls…etc. etc. I had total strangers out patrolling for her and by Sunday morning almost everyone in our township knew to drive slowly and carefully in the area where she was lost.

Whew…again, sorry this was so long! I hope it was helpful, or if not, at least a good story. Here’s a picture of the happy healthy pup on vacation with us this summer. 🙂


  1. Oh my goodness, I’m so glad you found her! It had to have been really scary out there for her, and really nerve-wracking for you too. Thanks for the tips!

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