Can dogs find their way home?

There are many dogs who have made headlines for their homing instincts, but not all of them have it.

A dog that was presumed lost in China found its way home after walking more than 60 kilometres over a 26-day journey. CapeTalk listeners have also shared remarkable stories of pets that travelled long distances to return to their owners.


So, do all dogs have a homing instinct? 


Animal behaviourist Karis Nafte says the truth is that some dogs do and some dogs don’t. There are many different theories about the science behind homing instincts.

Some people believe that dogs rely on familiar scents, others argue that dogs can transfer their territorial instinct to their owner’s home, while some are convinced that they use the earth’s magnetic field.


Although certain domestic dogs can be trained and bred to have ‘tracking’ instincts, Nafte says the homing ability of dogs is usually the exception and not the norm.

I’ve worked with people who have lost their dogs three streets away from their house and the dog was missing forever…only to have run far away to be picked up by someone.

Karis Nafte, Animal Behaviourist

And then you get the cases where it’s just extraordinary… Nobody knows how the dog gets home, but obviously, some dogs do have a strong instinct.

Karis Nafte, Animal Behaviourist

There’s probably some special individual dogs who do manage to find their way home and I think there’s a lot more who don’t.

Karis Nafte, Animal Behaviourist

For someone who spends her life studying animal behaviour, for me, I’m delighted to say it’s a bit of a mystery because no one can actually say for sure what is it that shows an animal its territory/home/place. How do they get back there? How do they know?

Karis Nafte, Animal Behaviourist

Listen to the discussion on Afternoon Drive:


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