Dogs Sense of direction: what is it?

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It happens that some dogs get lost, but others seem to always manage to find their homes, even when they are tens of kilometers away.

When we discover in the media the story of dogs capable of crossing a country to return home, we are entitled to wonder if they have a well-hidden superpower or innate behavior. .

Science has of course looked into the question to try to provide some answers … Not always convincing.

A dog can find his home thanks to his sense of smell

One of the first things we think of when we wonder how a stray dog ​​found his home is the sharpness of his flair .

Dogs have a very powerful sense of smell, and it cannot be ruled out that this can allow them to go up a track to their home, and this over hundreds of kilometers.

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A dog can, for example, recognize the smell of the baker in your neighborhood carried by the breeze, that of the markings he has left on his territory or, quite simply, that of his master.

A dog can find its way thanks to its hearing

In addition to their overdeveloped sense of smell, dogs also have excellent hearing, allowing them to hear familiar sounds from a great distance.

If your dog has strayed and you call him, he will probably hear you from a great distance, and will also be able to recognize the distant barking of a friend of his, the sound of your car or the steeple of a church that ‘he knows well.

On the other hand, his hearing can also work against him when he is in an unfamiliar place, as hearing sounds that he is not used to while he is lost can cause him significant stress.

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A dog can find his way back thanks to his memory

We often hear that animals have a bad memory and cannot remember what they did the night before.

These received ideas make life difficult for our companions, all species combined, who generally have a memorization process that is certainly different from ours, but nevertheless efficient.

For example, many people like to say that goldfish have no memory, but you only have to pay attention to them to find that they know exactly where their owner puts them to eat on the surface of the water ( if the owner observes rigor during this little ritual).

A goldfish is therefore quite capable of remembering the place where it ate the last time, even several days earlier, and a dog will be able to memorize landmarks that it has crossed on its way.

Also, dogs use more or less the same tricks as us not to get lost: they observe their environment and memorize the places through which they pass.

Their sight is not as efficient as that of humans, they tend to associate sounds and smells with a place, but they are nonetheless able to retain the shape of a house, a tree. or a bend they have already crossed.

This makes it relatively easy for dogs to back up and find their way back to the path, especially since it’s a path that they take regularly.


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Dogs and magnetic poles

Some experts postulate that dogs are sensitive to magnetic fields and, like migratory birds, could be endowed with a sixth sense allowing them to orient themselves wherever they are.

These allegations are based, among other things, on a Czech study on the way in which dogs orient themselves when they defecate, that is to say mainly in the north-south axis.

Observations that have perhaps put their finger on some clues concerning a possible magnetic sensitivity of dogs are still insufficient to affirm that our doggies do indeed find their homes like this.

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A dog can find its master … By chance

With around 25,000 dogs declared lost at the I-Cad (company managing microchip identification) in France in 2018, we must admit that doggies who miraculously find their home are rare.

Suppose we tend to think that our dogs have an overdeveloped sense of direction. In that case, this is probably more due to the fact that the exceptional cases of dogs traveling hundreds of kilometers to return home are often highly publicized .

In fact, there are around 60 documented stories of this type in all around the world, compared to around 1 dog lost every 20 minutes in France …

Therefore, it is likely that the lost dogs are content to wander without knowing where to go until they stumble on a trail, eventually finding their way back.

The stories of these lost animals which cross entire countries to join their masters fascinate us, and to explain them some enthusiasts speak willingly of 6 th sense and even of telepathy.

Some theories, rejected by the scientific community, indeed claim that dogs would be able to communicate at a distance with their relatives, a gift they would have from their wolf ancestors, who theoretically use telepathy to stay in contact during hunts. .

Between myth and reality, it is very difficult to know what to attribute our doggies’ extraordinary abilities. Still, it would seem, ultimately, that they are due to a mixture of flair, hearing, memory and a little luck…

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