Dog Manual

The Homing Instinct

While it is a generally accepted belief that the homing instinct is strongest in the pigeon, it is also reputed to be fairly well developed in the dog. It is understandable that a dog can find its way home in its own neighborhood, for here it is guided by its sensitive smell and its recognition of familiar landmarks. But the mechanism by which it returns home over great distances from entirely unfamiliar surroundings is beyond the sphere of our present knowledge of animal behavior.

In the course of history, dramatic demonstrations of the homing instinct in dogs have been reported. From Italy comes the story of a dog that followed its master in Napoleon's expedition to Russia. On crossing a river, the dog was separated from its master by ice floes. A year later, the dog came back home after having traversed half of Europe, guided solely by its marvelous instinct. In India a dog is said to have traveled three hundred miles to find its master. A dog in our own country made its way home from Indiana to Oregon, covering the three-thousand-mile distance in six months. Feats of returning home over long distances have also been reported in the cat.

The homing instinct of pigeons and other birds has been thoroughly publicized. The voyages of these animals over fabulous distances and their seasonal excursions to suitable climates are among the wonders of the animal world. Bees may wander a mile or two from their hives and then return. It is thought that they use both their eyes and landmarks as guides. Salmon and eels travel enormous distances—some-times thousands of miles—to their birthplaces where they discharge their eggs and die.

Notwithstanding the stories about dogs returning home, animal psychologists are generally of the opinion that the homing instinct of dogs is highly overrated. On the basis of carefully controlled experiments, psychologists have come to the conclusion that, while a certain amount of homing instinct does exist in the dog, it is not particularly well developed and the likelihood of these animals returning home from far away is rather remote.

Be that as it may, the homing instinct, as its name implies, is an unlearned activity. The animal does not have to be taught to return home. It simply knows how; it is just born that way.