Do old dogs run away to die?

Human beings tell stories for many different reasons. We tell stories to educate, entertain, elicit an emotion, or explain something we don’t understand. It doesn’t matter if the story is true or not; it only matters that the story serves its purpose.

I’m not sure where the concept of dogs running away to die originated. Perhaps it came from a bittersweet section of some novel or radio show. Or maybe it was the cloying plot twist to a Sunday Matinee.  I suspect that in our grief, we answer questions in a way that doesn’t break our hearts quite as much as other answers may.

But is there truth in the question:

Do old dogs run away to die?

No. Old dogs do not run away to die. There is no altruistic biological instruction that makes dogs seek solitude before death. Dogs are explorers, and sometimes they get lost. There are many reasons why they don’t return. The fact is that if your dog ran away and did not come back, you may never know why. But you can be sure that it did not run off to die alone.

How do I know when my dog is dying?

It’s a subject we dread, but most of us know something is wrong if we listen to our gut. If you suspect that your dog is dying, you should consult with your veterinarian to determine what is going on. The signs that a being is nearing the end of its life are similar across species:

  • Loss of appetite
  • Confusion
  • Loss of coordination
  • No interest in eating or drinking
  • Extreme fatigue and many others

My dog would never wander off and not return; what happened to it?

The sad truth is that dogs get lost. Lost dogs are found by others and taken in or turned over to shelters to live new lives, never returning home. Sometimes they wander away from home and get fatally injured by cars or by predators. Older dogs suffer illnesses like dementia just like we do and wander off, unable to find their way back home. Another sad fact of life is that many are stolen.

As I mentioned before, you may never know why your dog was lost. But what you can do is take steps to reduce the likelihood that your dog will go missing in the first place and increase the chances of its return should it escape the confines of your home.

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How do I reduce the chances of my dog running off?

A dog that runs loose is far more likely to go missing than its gated and crated counterparts. Your options are going to be more limited than if you keep your dog inside or in a well-fenced yard. Training the leave-it command and a rock-solid recall will be your best friends. I suggest contacting a qualified trainer that uses positive reinforcement as their method of training.

If you keep your dogs confined to your home or your yard, it’s less likely that your dog will be lost. Still, it is a very real possibility. To tilt the odds in favor of keeping your dog home where it belongs, here is a list of things to help you secure your best friend:

  1. Train the leave-it and recall just as you would for a dog that roams free.
  2. If you allow your dog to run free in a fenced area, periodically inspect it for weak spots. Young dogs get larger and more athletic, becoming better jumpers and diggers. They also get smarter and eventually figure out weak spots in the defense should they have an eye to wander.
  3. Crate train your dog. A crate is not a place where your dog should spend every waking hour when not with you. But when you have many people coming in and out of your home, it can keep your dog from bolting out the door. And besides, when properly trained, most dogs love their crates as a place to relax and unwind.
  4. Inspect your dog’s leash and collar. Many a squirrel or cat have enticed a dog to break its leash or collar and run away, or worse. Ensure that collars and harnesses fit properly and that all fasteners and buckles are in good working order.
  5. Invest in a home security system. Home security systems are becoming faster, better, and cheaper. Many of them include inexpensive cameras and even advertise dog monitors so you can keep an eye on your furbaby when you are not at home. 

How do I increase my chances of finding my lost dog?

Once your dog is out of sight, you stand a much better chance of bringing them home again if you take proactive steps like:

  1. A good, old-fashioned, properly fitting dog collar or harness with contact information imprinted may be retro, but it still works.
  2. Have your dog microchipped. According to, The American Humane Association estimates that over ten million dogs and cats go missing each year. I figure that the low cost and slight odds of the chip causing any problems are dwarfed by that number.
  3. If you use Facebook, join your local city, town, or county Facebook group. I see at least a dozen or so “Is this your dog?” posts every week in my small part of the world.
  4. As soon as your dog is missing, contact the local shelters (plural) in your area and give them the dog’s information.
  5. There are also some new tools on the market that allow you to track your dog in real-time via GPS. Here are my recommendations:
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GPS Tracking Devices for Dogs

  1. Cube Real-Time GPS Dog & Cat Tracker
  2. Jiobit GPS Dog & Cat Location Monitor
  3. Fi Series 2 GPS Tracker Smart Dog Collar

Why is my older dog acting so strange? Is it dying?

There is nothing that tugs at our heartstrings more than our older dogs in decline. If your fans of the movie Bladerunner, you may remember the following quote:

 “The light that burns twice as bright burns half as long, and you have burned so very brightly” ~ Dr.  Eldon Tyrell

That quote holds so true for our dogs. They give us so much joy, but the cost is an all too short life. Our senior dogs fall victim to many of the same maladies as we do. They lose their coordination. They aren’t as interested in food as they used to be. And perhaps most disheartening, they fall prey to dementia-like diseases as well, Canine Cognitive Dysfunction being chief among them. A dog acting strange may indeed be dying, or it just may be experiencing a normal loss of abilities and appetite due to its age. The only way you will find out is to swallow your heart and take it to your veterinarian for a thorough examination.


Even though the myth has persisted for a long time, the fact is that dogs do not run away to die. Don’t assume that just because your older dog goes missing that it ran off to die alone. Prevent them from wandering off in the first place as best you can. If they do go missing, do everything in your power to bring them back home where they can live as long as they possibly can with their best friend.

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Kevin Myers

Kevin Myers is a passionate animal lover, pet enthusiast, and dedicated writer. With over a decade of experience as a professional pet blogger, Kevin has gained a wealth of knowledge and insights into the world of pet care. He firmly believes that every animal deserves a loving and nurturing home, which has driven him to adopt and foster numerous pets throughout the years.

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