Nicole Ellis
Your guide to this article today is by dog trainer Nicole Ellis
Published 14:31 pm

You don’t have to look too far on the internet to find amazing stories about dogs finding their way home over incredible distances. Or perhaps your dog has gone missing in the local area, only to turn up on your doorstep once again. But the question remains: how do dogs find their way home? Well, there are a number of skills that they can draw on – and we are going to talk about many of them right here in this article.

Homeless puppy sitting in the middle of the street

Can a Dog Find Its Way Home?

There is no single answer to this question, but dogs finding their way home can use all the tools at their disposal. One example of a dog finding their way home over a huge distance is a shelter dog named Hank who journeyed 11 miles over two days through Memphis to get back to his foster home after being moved to long-term rescue care. This is despite the fact that he traveled to his new home by car. And this is certainly not the only story of doggy endurance and heroism to reach home.

The first thing to remember is that dogs have senses that are much more heightened than our own. These include senses of sight, hearing, and smell, which have all evolves to become finely tuned – largely to help with their hunting expeditions. In the days of dogs living the wild, they would have needed all of these senses to find their way back home after a hunting expedition. However, this is easier done in the wild and an urban environment can open up a host of greater challenges that your pooch needs to overcome.

Another technique dogs in the wild would do is to make mind maps of the area, as well as scent marking certain spots. You will notice that when you go out for a walk, your dog will spend a lot of the time sniffing the ground to get a better picture of who has been there. These signals are then transferred to your pooch’s incredible memory. In fact, they can detect scents within a 10-mile radius, and this helps them to find their way back home.

How to Encourage Your Dog to Find Their Way Home

One way that dog owners have successfully encouraged lost dogs back home is to put something outside the door that gives off their scent very strongly. An old pair of sneakers or sweaty socks, for example. When a dog finds their way home across the country, this certainly makes it seem that they have some incredible sense that we do not possess. When you build up a close relationship with your dog, they know just how important it is that they find their way back home to you. Dogs still have a pack mentality, and since you are the head of the pack, they will want to get back to you using all the tools at their disposal. Years of domestication have been dogs especially reliant on humans as a source of food and shelter. So, simply building up a strong relationship with your dog can help to make them even more determined to get back.

Another technique that you can use is to take your dog on regular walks around the neighborhood, allowing them to become more familiarized with the sounds, smells, and sights. Every time they take a step, they leave a scent behind that comes from their paw pads, which they can then detect should they ever get lost.

  • Dog sense markers

You will probably already be aware that dogs have a sense of smell that is much more refined than us humans. Looking at olfactory neuron levels, humans have around 12 to 40 million, while dogs have as many as 220 million to 2 billion. We have just mentioned how dogs leave a scent behind through their paws. If your dog keeps on walking along the same route, they renew their scent markers, which may help with their orientation abilities.

  • Canine visual markers

While your dog spends a lot of time with their nose to the ground of your walks, they also look around and do some visual orientation. This may be to help make a visual map of the area. Indeed, research of wolves has found that they can even take shortcuts based on the mind map that they have built up through repeated hunting in the area. While dogs have a lower level of visual acuity than us, they can still take visual cues, which they can then use in the future. When you next go on a walk, try taking your dog directly past the house to see if they try and pull you in the direction of home.

  • Microchipping and ID collars

While dogs are incredible creatures who can find their way home in extraordinary circumstances, the best way of getting your furry friend back with you is by getting them microchipped and writing your contact information clearly on a tag on their collar. This way, kind members of the public and animal shelters alike have the best chance of getting in touch with you to return your missing pooch.

Dog walking through the woods

Final Thoughts

Dogs can often find their way home thanks to their strong senses, and the instincts that they have developed through hundreds of years of living in the wild. Building up a strong relationship with your dog and taking them on regular walks around the neighborhood can help with their orientation skills. But it is also important to use more obvious techniques such as getting them microchipped and writing your contact information on their collar to give yourself the best chance of being reunited with your four-legged friend. If your dog ran away, and you are asking will it come back, there are sadly no guarantees, but these are some of the best ways of getting your pooch back once again.

Nicole Ellis
Nicole’s demeanour and positive-reinforcement based training helps drive great results for her celebrity pet clients. As a member of the Association of Professional Dog Trainers, Nicole is consistent using, testing and evaluating new dog products on the market. Nicole follows the latest trends in pet healthcare and is certified by both the Canine Good Citizen evaluator and the American Kennel Club.


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