Category Archives: homing instinct

How Do Pets Find Their Way Back Home?

By Linda Cole

There’s no shortage of stories about pets that become lost and then somehow were able to find their way back home. Some of these pets had to travel thousands of miles in order to get home. They had to navigate over rough terrain and cross obstacles many humans couldn’t handle, yet they were able to survive and find their way back home, even if it took a year or longer to get there. The 1993 remake of “Homeward Bound: The Incredible Journey” was based on a true story of the survival and determination of two dogs and a cat to find their way home through 250 miles of the Canadian wilderness. We know some pets can find their way back home, but how do they do it?

This is a topic I’ve always found intriguing. It’s one thing for a pet to find their way back home over short distances, but it’s another thing when they set off to find their owner in a completely different state or town they’ve never been in. One story recounts how an Irish Terrier dog named Prince went searching for his owner, a soldier serving with the British army during WW I. Prince had grown so depressed when his owner was shipped overseas to France that he stopped eating. Finally, he ran away from home. No one knows how Prince was able to cross the English Channel, but once he was in France, he started searching for his owner in the war torn land with bombs and bullets whizzing all around him. Prince found his owner in Northern France in a foxhole.

How lost pets can find their owner or their home remains a mystery to scientists. There is, however, one interesting theory: the homing instinct, which is broken up into two types. The first type is when a pet finds their way home using something other than the usual five senses. A sixth sense, if you will. It’s known that animals have the ability to make a sort of “map” in their mind of landmarks, scents, sounds and familiar territory. It’s believed pets are sensitive to the earth’s magnetic fields and this gives them the ability to know which direction they’re going by using an inner compass. But the question still remains, how do they know which way to go? No one knows, but researchers do know if magnets are attached to a dog or cat, the homing ability is taken away.

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