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Latest health and behavior news and advice from the veterinarians at Tufts University.

News & Views August 2019 Issue

How They Find Their Way Home

You get lost, you make your way back with a general sense of direction combined with “I recognize that house…I remember passing this post office.” And then, of course, there’s the map app on your phone, which can guide you anywhere. Your dog gets lost, sometimes many miles from home, and she finds her way back, too. How?

As you might expect, with her nose. Dogs depend on their noses the way we depend on our eyes to interpret the world around them and to guide them. They can literally map their way back via a series of recognized scents. “Ah, yes, there’s the bakery, and the manure they mixed into the soil in the yard of that house....”

Dogs are particularly sensitive to your scent. Research in the journal Behavioural Processes shows that a dog’s brain reacts more strongly to the odor of familiar people than to the scent of a stranger or even to familiar dogs.

The bottom line: Dogs have incredible “scents” of direction. If your pet gets lost, don’t change anything that could shift what she smells — fertilizer and so on — so she has a better chance of finding her way back to your arms.

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