Is My Dog Lost or Displaced ?
Shawn Dienhart, Feb 2019
Is your dog really lost, or could it be around the corner from home where it often travels? When a pet is truly lost, it is unable to find it's way home because it is in unfamiliar territory. Consequently its only probable means to get home is for someone to actively search for the pet so it can be recovered and brought safely home. Conversely, when a pet is displaced, it is intentionally or unintentionally away from it's usual or proper place. However, if motivated to do so, it can find it's way home on its own terms which may be hours or days.
Lets take a look at some of the behaviors of dogs in an effort to understand their behaviors when they're lost or displaced.
Why Do Dogs Go Missing
Dogs go missing for many reasons. Some of the more common reasons include being scared, a gate or door left open, the dog is in heat, it gave chase to something, or even boredom. Of course there are many more reasons, but once it's away from home turf it may just turn around as it has before and return home with no one even noticing.
Or maybe, on that particular day, it finds something new and curious which causes it to venture further away than it has before. A smell in the distance, another dog to be friends with for the afternoon, perhaps a child that innocently decided to take your Fido for a walk in the opposite direction of home. No matter the case, there is a threshold which, if your dog breaches it, may become hopelessly lost. And therein lies the distinction between lost or displaced.
A dog has superior hearing and smelling senses compared to ours. Their vision is not quite as good as ours, but it is better at night time. Given these attributes it can navigate its way home really well when it is not too far from away. A dogs sense of smell is 10,000 to 100,000 times better than ours and thus becomes their primary means of navigation.
Dogs will typically smell their way around using scent circles. They know what home smells like, from a familiar scent or two immediately around their home. As it journeys further away it will may go beyond the primary "home scent circle". Along its travels it will pick up on other "transient scents", which then can be used to back track to the home scent circle to find its way home. Depending on the breed of the dog and its capabilities, it may be able to join many scent circles which could take it quite a distance away from home, but can still back track by connecting the scent circles to find its way home.
Under most circumstances this is what happens when a dog goes missing. Naturally we want Fido home so it is declared "lost" and actions are taken to find the dog (or it returns home on its own). This is all good because Fido is subjected to all kinds of threats while away from home. The distinction here is that Fido may have found its way home just fine because doing so was still within its capabilities, and hence it was displaced, not lost.
Let's extend out the example of Fido being displaced. This time Fido has gone many scent circles away from home. Sadly, Fido has gone beyond the point of no return by breaching the threshold if its capabilities to smell its way back home. This is due to the fact that each of the transient scents Fido has picked up along its journey have faded with time. While Fido can recognize the home scent circle easily at anytime, the transient scents along the way have begun to fade. The scent circles can no longer be connected because too much time has elapsed and the scents between Fido and home have diminished too much for Fido to effectively recognize the smell. As hard as Fido tries, it's too late, Fido is lost.
There is no science behind the belief that dogs have an internal magnetic compass guidance system, similar to Pigeons or certain mammals (it may exist, but no hard science about it). So Fido is lost until someone comes looking. Fido may very well be on the course to accidentally come into the home scent circle, but this would simply be by chance.
Fido will run around doing the best it can to find home, and when it cannot it will eventually seek food, water and shelter and maybe try again tomorrow. At some point, Fido will throw in the towel on finding home and resort to any comfort zone that meets the primary need for food, water and shelter.
Dont' Wait !
Whatever you do, don't just sit and wait for your dog to come home. It's biggest threat is mankind and automobiles. Each hour of inaction is a huge liability for your missing dog. Take action immediately to find your dog.