how do lost dogs find their way home

4 Ways a Lost Dog Can Find its Way Back Home

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How do lost dogs find their way home? It’s an age-old question without a definitive answer. 

There are many incredible and heartwarming stories out there about dogs who made their way across long distances to reunite with their owners. Here are a few extraordinary examples: 

  • Bucky walked over 500 miles–from Virginia to South Carolina–to reunite with his owner, who’d had to relinquish him due to housing restrictions.
  • Pero traveled 240 miles back to his home after being moved to another farm. 
  • Georgia May traveled 35 miles to return home after going missing on a hike 9 days earlier.
  • Hank left his new foster family and walked for 2 days and 11 miles to reconnect with the foster parent he’d bonded with just days before. 

Research has yet to prove exactly how some dogs manage to trek long distances to get back to their homes and their humans, but we have a pretty good idea of some of the ways they might be able to accomplish this amazing feat.

1. Scent 

Dogs have a keen sense of smell that helps them to discern their surroundings and likely plays a part in helping lost dogs find their way back home. In fact, a dog’s sense of smell is actually 10,000 to 100,000 times sharper than a human’s! 

It’s thought that a dog’s sense of smell works similarly to a cell phone signal–different scents signal to dogs in an overlapping-ring pattern. 

“Dogs extend their scent range by moving among overlapping circles of familiar scents—much the way cell phone coverage relies on interconnected footprints from different cell towers,” says Jeffrey Kluger in his article, “The Amazing Science Behind Pets That Find Their Way Home”. 

“A dog that wanders out of its own immediate range might pick up the scent of, say, a familiar dog in the next circle,” he says. “That might point it to a circle that contains a familiar person or tree or restaurant trash can, and so on.”

2. Visual memory 

In addition to their sense of smell, dogs have a visual memory that helps them to recognize familiar landmarks and locations. When out and about, dogs take the time to make a mental note of their surroundings. Being familiar with some locations, even away from home, could help a dog find its way back to its human. 

3. Stars and magnetic fields

Science tells us that some animals can navigate by way of the stars and the planet’s magnetic field. While it’s unclear whether dogs definitely use these methods of wayfinding, it’s a possibility that they play into a dog’s ability to track down their homes and humans.

According to National Geographic, some animals (including dogs!) are able to use the earth’s magnetic field and bright stars–such as the North Star and Betelgeuse–as a compass. This ability, combined with their powerful sense of smell and ability to recall visual markers in their surroundings, might explain why some dogs are able to travel hundreds of miles to return home.  

In an interview with National Geographic, zoologist Hynek Burda put it this way: “The emerging picture of the analysis of the categorized data is as clear as [it is] astounding: Dogs prefer alignment along the magnetic north-south axis, but only in periods of calm magnetic field conditions.”

4. A little help from friends

Sometimes, it takes a few good human helpers to get a dog home safe and sound. Having a community of pet lovers who can help look out for your dog can go a long way toward helping it find its way back to you. 

Some tech tools can make this process easier. For example, the Huan app can be installed on any phone (both iOS and Android) for free. When a lost dog wearing a Huan Smart Tag is within range of an app user, the user is alerted right away. Then, they can take immediate action to help the dog get home safely. 

If your dog is already part of the Huan family, tell your friends about our app! They can help you keep an eye on your best friend. 

If you’re ready to get started with a Huan Smart Tag for your pet, click the button below. 


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