Can Dogs Navigate?

Ever wondered that how dogs can remember far-off places even if they have been there once? Do they use any superpowers or what to find their way back home? Or are their memory is so good? Or can dogs navigate?

Yes, dogs can navigate. They use Earth’s magnetic field as an internal compass to find their way. The Earth’s magnetic field, acting as a navigational aid, plus their strong sense of smell and memory, helps dogs navigate over great distances.

To know more about man’s best friend’s navigation skills, read this post until the end.

How Do Dogs Navigate?

You’re not wrong if you think that dogs can navigate due to their sense of smell. Of course, they can use scent to find their way, but this is limited to a specific distance. For very long distances, dogs can’t use this ability to navigate.

Here comes the Earth’s magnetic field to help them. It’s has been confirmed by various studies that magnetic fields are the force behind dogs’ navigational skills. Due to this, dogs can navigate over long distances even when they can’t get help from their sense of smell.

To study this, a Ph.D. student of Czech University of Life Science Prague, Katerina Benediktova, conducted two experiments. She used 4 dogs in the first and 27 dogs in the second experiment to observe how they find their way.

The procedure for both the experiments was alike. Katerina Benediktova and her colleagues used GPS sensors and attached them to the dogs’ bodies. Then the dogs were taken outside in a natural environment, and they were allowed to run without leashes.

In all the cases, dogs roamed freely until they wanted and then returned to their owners. When the researchers studied the paths taken by the dogs to return, interesting behavior patterns were seen. These include:


Some dogs used the same path to go and return. Researchers believed that this behavior involved their incredible sense of smell, and it helped them find their way back through the same route. They called this behavior tracking because dogs were able to track their own path.


When dogs used different paths for going and returning, the behavior was named scouting.


In some cases, dogs use both scouting and tracking to find their way. Thus, this behavior is called a combination.

In addition to these behaviors, strange behavior was observed by the scouting dogs. Sometimes, they would run almost 20 meters on the north-south line before returning to their initial point.

Studies believe that dogs that used this behavior returned to their starting points more efficiently. This behavior allowed them to find their bearings, which helped in finding the right route.

However, it’s hard to tell when the dogs use only the Earth’s magnetic field to orient themselves. To be 100% sure, the dog shouldn’t use any other senses, which is practically not easy to do.

But as many dogs showed similar behavior, it was confirmed that dogs used magnetism to find their way. Moreover, it was also noticed that other factors such as wind, location, dog’s gender, etc., didn’t impact the navigational efficiency. It further supported the idea that dogs use Earth’s magnetic field to navigate.

How Do Dogs Navigate?

Can Dogs Navigate In The Dark?

“Can dogs navigate in the dark?” is an important question if you’re taking your dog outside at night. Is your dog’s navigation ability affected by day or night?

Luckily, dogs can navigate in the dark. Their navigation ability isn’t linked to day or night in any way. As they use Earth’s magnetic field and their sense of smell to navigate, both these remain the remain at night too.

In addition to the dog’s navigation ability, their vision at night also keeps them safe outside. Dogs have a high number of light-sensitive cells, called rods, in the retina of their eye. Rods are known to assist animals, including dogs, in vision at night.

As dogs’ navigation ability and vision work well even in the dark, it’s safe to take your dog outside at night.

How Far Can Dogs Smell?

A dog’s sense of smell plays an integral role in navigation. But, does it work for longer distances too, miles or kilometers?

Dogs can smell objects and people between fifty and five hundred yards away. But it’s influenced by factors such as wind and other weather conditions. If the weather isn’t good, dogs cannot detect a scent even some hundred yards away.

If the conditions are right, dogs can smell even further away. So, their sense of smell will help them to navigate under specific conditions only. These include that the distance should be not very long and the weather should be good.

So, if you assume that your dog will be able to smell you from miles away, then you’re mistaken. Dogs take help from the circles of similar smells to come back to you. But when he is miles away from you, he can’t get help from them to find a way to return.

How Far Can Dogs Smell?


Man’s best friend never fails to amaze humans. Dogs can navigate, which is an awesome thing to learn for humans. Their furry buddies are their loyal companions and can work as compasses too for them to find a way.

But how do dogs navigate? They use Earth’s magnetic field and sense of smell to return to their owners or find new ways. Studies conducted to study the navigation ability of dogs confirmed that magnetism is the major force for this ability of dogs.

Sense of smell also plays an important role. But it only works over limited distances. Also, if the weather isn’t good, the dog’s sense of smell is affected significantly.

So, the Earth’s magnetic field works as a permanent navigation aid for dogs to find their way. It helps them to find a route even in the dark. Dogs’ ability to see in the dark and strong sense of smell also makes it safe for dogs to be outside at night.