How Dogs Find Their Way Home (Without a GPS)

Animals’ ability to navigate long distances has long been shrouded in mystery. From the skill of racing pigeons to find their way home, to the seasonal breeding migration of the humpback whale, a huge range of creatures are capable of navigating in a consistent, precise and effective way.

Science has been slow to fully identify and understand the processes and cues involved in animal migration. However, evidence now suggests that a vast array of species, from beetles to birds to dogs, demonstrate amazing abilities to travel long distances, without the use of electronic GPS – something many humans have perhaps become over-reliant upon.

In April, the story of Pero, an adventurous four-year-old working sheepdog was reported. Pero managed to find his way from Cockermouth in Cumbria back to his previous home, near Aberystwyth, on the coast of mid Wales. In a real-life story reminiscent of Lassie Come Home, Pero somehow navigated about 240 miles in two weeks.

Significantly, his microchip confirmed this was not a case of mistaken identity, this young sheepdog really had made it back to his first home.

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Stories like that of Pero’s often attract media interest, leaving readers puzzled over how an animal can travel so far. Without speculating over whether the dog had been simply dropped off at the farm by someone who recognised him, these sorts of tales apparently prove the remarkable nature of animal instincts.

The deep relationship between people and their dogs also seems to drive a desire to believe that there is something magical about this ability. So, is this navigation skill because of ‘personal bonds’ between owner and dog, or is there a scientific understanding of the biology involved?

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