Dogs are normally very loyal, loving and devoted companions. Seeing as how they are entirely dependent upon their owners for their every need and desire, it is understandable that most dogs are thrilled to be with their owners, and heartbroken to be separated from them. However, something very interesting can occur when a dog becomes lost, and it’s quite possible that a lost dog won’t even recognize their owner, let alone a friendly stranger.
The Emotions of a Lost Dog
Some dogs are naturally happy-go-lucky dogs, never seeming to be bothered by anything and always openly affectionate with people and other dogs. Then there are some dogs who are much more wary and unsure of their life and surroundings, and may need more time to open up to new situations and conditions. It has been found that dogs bred in puppy mills are especially skittish and wary of people they don’t know. Whereas many normal, emotionally healthy dogs will wait to see if a human approaching them is friendly, puppy mill dogs are more likely to run away in fear. That said, any dog that is in an unfamiliar situation or environment can behave in a fearful way. Their strange circumstances can make them feel frightened, unsure, hungry, tired and constantly alert.
A dog who is lost is often fending for his life, overwhelmed with so many strong emotions that they may not even recognize their beloved owner when they see them. The instinct to survive despite all obstacles can be so overwhelming that it rules out all other emotions the dog once felt toward humans–even humans they know well and love dearly. For this reason, one should never assume that a lost dog will automatically come up to them if they call out to it. In fact, the steps one should take when encountering a lost dog specifically address the fact that the dog probably will not recognize the help that is being offered them.
What to Do When Encountering a Lost Dog
Obviously, the entire point of approaching a lost dog is to get it help, and hopefully reunite it with his owner. To that end, and to minimize the emotional stress on the dog, one should take the following steps:
- Sit down. Dogs prefer to approach people who seem closer to their size, and sitting down can make oneself seem much less threatening.
- Turn your back or side to the dog. Once again, this position can make the dog feel more comfortable, and can make the individual seem much more approachable.
- Bow your head and don’t make eye contact. A raised head and eye contact is universal dog language for dominance and challenge. In a pack, less dominant dogs instinctively lower their heads and bodies and avert their eyes to show their respect for the alpha.
- Remain silent. When a dog is lost, his senses may be entirely overwhelmed and communication, no matter how soft the tones, can just be more “noise”. Remaining silent will allow the dog to calm himself and his senses so that he may be willing to approach you.
- Toss treats behind or to the side of you. This will invite the dog to approach you closely enough to get a sniff of you, without demanding that they approach you directly.
- Wait for the dog to approach you. A dog’s curiosity over a human on the ground near them will usually win out eventually, but it may take some time. Continue to sit quietly and patiently, making slow movements to throw treats.
- When the dog gets close, resist the urge to reach out to him. The dog needs time to build trust, and even when they come close enough to sniff at and nuzzle you, may leap back away if reached for.
- Once the dog seems comfortable, begin to speak softly to them. If they back away, stop talking and let them approach you once again. When you do finally reach out to the dog do so gently and let them smell you, then slowly draw your hand back to your body. They will eventually come and stay close enough to be pet and leashed if necessary.
Helping a lost dog most certainly takes great patience, but it can be highly rewarding, especially if the dog is desperate for food and care and has a loving owner who misses them dearly.