What is Dog Survival Mode?

Your dog goes into what’s called 'survival mode' when he is lost and separated from you. It’s like a switch goes off in his head and he is no longer a domesticated pet. Sometimes this phenomenon is called 'feral' mode, and that’s a more descriptive term.

When a dog is in this mental state, everyone and everything is an enemy.
They do not recognise their owners, sibling dogs, or familiar surroundings. He, in essence, becomes feral. He is on his own; left only to his own devices. Humans are suspicious to him. He believes that he has only himself to rely on for his survival.

When your dog is in survival mode he is reverting to his primal instincts.
His quest becomes very basic: food/water, safety, and shelter. A dog in survival mode will gravitate towards water, often following or hiding around a body of water, as instinctively they know they need water to survive.

Some dogs go into survival mode almost immediately when separated from their owner. Some do not go into survival mode for a week or more. It depends on the dog, his past experiences, his breed, and the circumstances surrounding him being lost.

The dog you know is basically repressed.
When in survival mode, even dogs that are well trained, who would never think of disobeying a “come” command, will not come. Their favourite squeak toy will not lure them from the woods. Hearing their name will not spur their recollection.

But do not fear. Survival mode is only temporary. Once your dog is captured, he will return to normal with very little change in personality.

Physiologically, though, how can this happen?
How does a dog go from one personality to another so easily and sometimes so rapidly?

Most of us are familiar with the function of serotonin in our bodies. If not, here’s your very brief science lesson for the day: Serotonin is a hormone responsible for several bodily functions including depression, sleep, sensory perception and short-term memory. When serotonin is suddenly depleted, i.e., due to stress, short-term memory is compromised. Stress and the resulting short-term memory loss is the perfect storm for your dog to go into survival mode.

A dog in this mental state will look for a safe area.
When they find their ‘safe’ area, an area that's quiet, secluded and with shelter, they will then scan out looking for food. If people intrude into their safe area and they feel threatened, they will move and look for another area.

That is why it is asked that people do not look for a lost dog and never call for a lost dog.

Anchor a dog to an area.
What we use to anchor a dog in an area, are food items and items with their owners scent to bring back familiar images. The senses of a dog in survival mode are always on high alert, they are usually gone way before they are ever seen and only return when it’s quiet.

Dogs also have excellent night vision, so they see you a long time before you would see them. If a dog feels unsafe in their area, they will move on which makes the job of securing and capturing them all that much harder.

Thanks to these pages for the information: