Can Domestic Dogs Survive In The Wild? 

This is an interesting question to contemplate: even after millennia of domestication, can domestic dogs survive in the wild? Or has evolution and constant companionship of humans left them incapable of fending for themselves in a jungle? Let’s explore this threadbare.

In 2014, the Braun family of California went for a camping trip in the French Meadows. A gunshot nearby caused their golden retriever to run into the woods, getting lost in the process. The Brauns kept looking for the dog for the next two days. 

After they went back, they posted missing pictures and kept coming back to the site to look for the dog, until days turned to months and months to years. Then two years later, they got a call: a mangy and dirty dog had been seen in the woods. 

Someone finally got close enough to put a leash around her, and as the Brauns reached the site, they were able to confirm that this was indeed their lost golden retriever Murphy!

While this was a happy ending for the Brauns and Murphy, was it a fluke? Did Murphy have some special survival skills? Or can dogs, even after 23,000 years of domestication, survive in the wild? In this article, we will explore this question in-depth.

Can Domestic Dogs Survive In The Wild

Can Dogs Survive in the Wild?

The truth is that domestic dogs can survive, even thrive in the wild, but it certainly requires a lot of work on their part to remember who they are and where they come from!

Dogs evolved from wolves, and so carried the instincts of a hunter. Thus, it is quite possible that even though domesticated for several decades now, many breeds of dogs can survive the wild and lead the pack.

In the present day, however, dogs brilliantly depend on human beings and thus, will be required to be trained well before they are let out into the wild. 

Their bodies and brains have evolved over time, and it will take a lot more for strays or domesticated dogs to step away from the world of humans and live in their natural habitat. What else do we know about domestic dogs surviving in the wild? Well, here it goes. 

The most notable example of dogs turning it all around to survive in the wild is the so-called Dogs of Chernobyl. In 1986, when disaster struck at the Chernobyl nuclear reactor in Ukraine, the people residing near the reactor were forced to flee their homes and leave behind their pets.

There were several attempts to euthanize dogs that suffered due to the radioactive fallout but even then, the dogs went against all odds and ended up surviving in the woods. On top of that, even the harsh winter of Ukraine couldn’t stop their will to live through it all and experience the wild in all its glory. 

In another example of dogs surviving in the wild, the Australian cattle dogs and Pyrenean mountain dogs intentionally choose to live alone and away from others every few months, especially in areas free from human interference. 

Can Domestic Dogs Survive In The Wild

Dog Survival Skills: How Will My Dog Survive in the Wild?

All this goes to show that dogs are indeed designed to live in the wild since they evolved from wolves as wild dogs and further climbed the ladder when they became domesticated. 

Strong Sense of Smell

You bet there are, and we want to share some of them with you as well. Can you notice your dog detecting insects, mice, bugs, and other tiny organisms on the ground? Well, they can do it via their strong sense of smell. With their strong sense of smell, dogs in the wild can locate their prey as well as their identity. 

Ability to Hear

Apart from smelling, dogs also have a powerful sense of hearing, which further ensures that most of them have the tools to survive in the wild. With a good hearing range, dogs can again know the position of any nearby animal and thus, can prepare themselves to attack or leave the area to save their life. 

Territory Marking

It is even better if your dog has a habit of marking trees, rocks, fences, and other objects – this means that he knows how to keep his territory, which is a needed skill when living in the wild. 

The entire area is too large to be covered by a single or bunch of dogs in a forest. Thus, it is essential to be territorial and mark one’s area. Therefore, your dog is already half-trained for it. 

Can Domestic Dogs Survive In The Wild

Burying Food

It is a bonus if he also has the habit of burying stuff like toys, bones, and other precious things. It exhibits that they still remember and carry the lessons of their ancestors – those who lived in the wild before domestication evolved them further. 

Keen Sense of Protection

Also, if your dog usually has his ears and tail up the minute a stranger arrives, is one alert. Most of the time, being on guard, and wouldn’t mind chasing away animals he doesn’t trust or get a good vibe from, is a sign that his body language is almost perfect for living in the wild.

Where Do Dog Survival Instincts Come From?

Dogs can survive in the wild; some can even thrive in the woods since they have evolved from the wolves. Thus, all dogs, even domesticated, have a hunting instinct somewhere in them.

To understand the concept, let’s go at least 40,000 years back, when dogs were slowly evolving from wolves – yes, they came from one of the wildest animals out there. Like wolves, dogs used to hunt for a living and resided in the dark and deep forests. 

The domestication of dogs started about 23,000 years ago, and according to studies, it happened twice, once in Asia and then in Europe. However, the exact date and time when the first domesticated dog was bred haven’t been recorded nor revealed yet. 

However, the time has changed since then, and domestication has brought major and minor changes in the shape and size of the brain and dogs’ bodies. 

Can Domestic Dogs Survive In The Wild

Domesticated dogs’ behavioral changes and living patterns have made them rely on human beings a lot more than we can imagine. So, it is alright to consider the possibility that many domesticated dogs might not survive in the wild for a long time. 

Most domesticated dogs are deeply dependent on human beings for food and survival. Thus, it is possible that they might not be able to survive even a month in the wild, but we cannot say the same about all the breeds since different dogs come with some dominant traits that can make them thrive in the wild. 

Can Domestic Dogs Survive in the Wild?

The answer is maybe – he might not survive, barely survive, or do really well in the wild, depending on his upbringing, breed, body type, and many other factors. So, there is genuinely no straight answer to whether your dog will be able to survive in the wild. 

There is a difference between a dog living in the wild and a dog staying at home. The dog living in the wild can go a few days without eating anything since he has to go out in the wilderness to find his food. 

On the other hand, a domesticated or stay-at-home dog cannot go even a day without having his meal. Also, since he depends on his human to bring him food, he cannot go out and hunt an animal for food. He would need a lot of training to be a fit to stay in the wild. However, one must not underestimate that dogs come from wolves, one of the best hunters of all time, and thus, can surprise us. 

What Should I Do If I Lost My Dog in The Wild?

If your dog runs into the wild, remember to follow these steps:

  • Try to locate him as soon as possible if he has a dog collar or microchip on, or take the help of animal rescuers to find them in the woods. 
  • Leave food and water in different places in the woods where your furball has run into. The smell of food might help him trace his way back to you. However, the scent might also attract many other wild animals, but the good thing is that the dog treats available in the market are usually not the food that other wild animals would enjoy. 
  • Spend time outside the woods and try to scream their name loudly. If you have a word that makes them run towards you often, do not be shy to use it even, and hopefully, your furry friend will find his way back to you. 
Can Domestic Dogs Survive In The Wild

How To Deactivate a Microchip Implant in a Dog?

Microchips are implanted in the body of pet animals such as dogs, to identify the animals’ owner if they get lost or stolen. While the only way to disable it completely is by removing it surgically, you can deactivate the microchip without hurting your dog through a digital process. 

A digital deactivation intends to remove all the owner’s information, and thus, the chip will no longer share the identification number when scanned. 

One way to deactivate it is to contact the company that has registered the pup’s microchip. If done via the company, your dog will be easily identified without being detected by the system. The company will provide you with the information to deactivate the chip without hurting your pup by surgical removal. 

Surgical removal of the chip will completely separate from the body of your pet and can be quite painful. Thus, it is necessary to let your vet perform the surgery to ensure your pet’s most minuscule amount of pain. 

How To Tell if Your Dog Is Part Wolf?

Wolves are the ancestor of dogs, so this shouldn’t come as a surprise that many breeds of furry animals resemble wolves. Now, you must be wondering if there are ways to tell whether your dog is part wolf? Well, we might have an answer to your question. Check out the section below to learn more on the same.

DNA Tests

The easiest and most authentic way to learn if your dog is half-wolf is to get their DNA test. Your vet can do a canine DNA Test without causing any pain to your furry friend. The professional will swab your pup’s cheek or tooth to get a sample to determine up to three generations of your pup’s ancestors. 


Phenotyping is simply comparing your dog’s physical characteristics to a wolf. If you see a high percentage of wolf-like features in them, the chances are that the wild animal is the descendent of your pup. 

However, by physical traits, we don’t mean just the shape of their face or features, but also the color of their eyes, the size of their paws, how they shed their fur, broadness of chest, etc. 

You already know that dogs have evolved from wolves, and there is nothing the world can do to deny that to you or anyone else. So, even if your dog doesn’t resemble a wolf or has wolf-like traits or activities, he does come from his ancestors, who came from wolves at the end of the day.  

Can Domestic Dogs Survive In The Wild

Other Frequently Asked Questions About Dog Survival

How long would a domesticated dog survive in the wild?

It would be difficult for most domesticated dogs to survive for more than two years.

Most domesticated dogs would not survive two years in the wild. Even wild dogs do not reach the age of 8 in the forest, so how can we guarantee the survival of a breed that relies entirely on humans for food and other things.

Can domestic dogs survive without humans?

It depends on breed, upbringing, health, age and a number of other factors

If a domesticated dog thoroughly depends on human beings for its needs to be met, it would surely miss having traits like establishing partnerships and relationships with other animals, being street-savvy, independent, strong will, interest in taking risks, quickly adjusting to the environment, etc. 

However, we cannot conclude from the domestic behavior of dogs that every furball will have trouble surviving in the wild. Many domestic dogs not only stay but thrive in the woods. The survival of a domestic dog also varies from breed to breed and their traits.

What dog breed would survive in the wild?

Depending upon the size of the breed, Cairn Terriers and Jack Russell, Retrievers, Collies, and cattle dogs, Doberman, Rottweiler, Pitbulls and others.

Let’s see, amongst the small breeds, Cairn Terriers and Jack Russell are expected to survive for the longest time. Cairn Terriers are Scottish dogs that can survive the conditions of the wild because they are fit to live through all kinds of weather, while the Jack Russell is bred to catch rats and enter caves to catch their prey, amongst other things.

Amongst the mid-range, Retrievers, Collies, and cattle dogs are best suited to live in the wild since they bring the pack together and know their ways through long paths. 

The Doberman is the perfect choice for the protection of the pack. Rottweilers are pretty aggressive and possessive and make an excellent choice to add to the pack. Pitbull is one of the most substantial dog breeds, and their attitude doesn’t let the opposition feel their dominance. 

Labrador, Lhasa Apso, Shih Tzu, and Pomeranian are some dogs that, in most cases, would not survive the rawness of the wild.

Can dogs survive as strays?

Stray dogs do survive if they find food and shelter, but obviously, their longevity and health are worse off than domesticated dogs.

Stray dogs might not be as dependent on humans as tame ones, but they are still, to some extent, used to being around humans. Stray dogs, at one time, were also house pets, who were given meals without hunting and bed without having to fight for it.

So, it can and will still be challenging for them to survive in the wild but not as challenging as the domesticated dogs.

Final Words

Dogs are the third-largest human-introduced threat to the wild after cats and rats. So, it is interesting to learn that after years of evolution, we have come to a point where dogs are domesticated. Thus, they may or may not be the perfect fit to enter the wild. 

However, if trained and fed well, dogs of mid-range and large breeds can not only survive but dominate their territory, because they still carry the blood of wolves in their veins.

Thank you for reading, and even though we did not reach a conclusion on this topic, we hope it was an engrossing read for you! Do let us know if we missed out on some points.

You would be surprised to know that dogs can be pretty fragile too: many things can be harmful to them that you would commonly find in human homes. Simple things like key lime pie, raisins, and grape popsicles can be toxic to them.