Scientists Explore How Dogs Can Find Their Way Home

It could involve the animals' eyes, but not in the way that you think.

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Scientists might be getting closer to figuring out how dogs can find their way home without a GPS. Via Garosha/iStock/Thinkstock
Scientists might be getting closer to figuring out how dogs can find their way home without a GPS. Via Garosha/iStock/Thinkstock

Maybe your fourth grade class watched “Homeward Bound: The Incredible Journey.” Or maybe you read about Pero, the sheepdog who quit his job and made a 240 mile trip back to his home. Either way, you’ve probably heard about a dog who has traveled an incredible — if not downright improbable — distance, without checking Google Maps even once.

Scientists are still trying to figure out exactly how dogs (and other animals) are able to find their way back home, sometimes covering hundreds of miles of unfamiliar terrain in the process, but they might be getting close.

According to IFLScience, researchers haven’t quite figured it out yet, but believe that it could be a combination of factors, including the dogs’ sense of smell and a newly discovered molecule in their eyes. Scientists have learned that dogs have a molecule called Cryptochrome 1 in their retinal cones and it might help them sense magnetic fields. (There are a lot of mights and maybes surrounding Cryptochrome 1 at this point).

A dog's eyes could hold the secret to their ability to navigate home from many miles away. FogStock/Alin Dragulin/FogStock/Thinkstock

A dog’s eyes could hold the secret to their ability to navigate home from many miles away. FogStock/Alin Dragulin/FogStock/Thinkstock

The researchers haven’t figured out why dogs — along with birds, foxes, bears, wolves and badgers — have this receptor in their eyes, but they do believe it may help them use magnetic fields to determine their locations. If that is true, then their eyes are guiding them home, even though they’re completely unaware of it.

But you don’t have to be a biologist to appreciate Pero or “Homeward Bound.” That’s a fine motion picture — and a pair of amazing true stories — Cryptochromes or not.

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