There was a story recently about a dog walking 30 miles back to its home that caused a buzz on the Internet when it went viral (luckily there was a happy ending for this senior dog who was subsequently adopted by an heiress and will live a life of luxury after being rejected by his previous owner). It made me wonder, do dogs have a built-in GPS or do they rely on memory to take them back to where they want/need to go? I once had a dog that if he saw a squirrel go under a car during a walk, he would look under that car every time we passed it thereafter. Even if no squirrel was seen going under the car that day, he would somehow “remember” that location every.single.time! It used to blow me away. I mean, what the heck went on in his little head that made him recall that particular spot each time we passed it?
My other dog knew our walking route better than I did. When we came to the appointed street, she’d make the turn before I did. I began to realize she was smarter than me on our walks (then again she was smarter than me in general about a lot of things but that’s a topic for a different post). What made these dogs remember these incidents.
Recently Sam and I encountered a kitty along our walks. Ordinarily cats high tail it away from us since Sam is a high energy boy and exudes his bouncy nature along the way. Plus I think he has a fairly high prey drive (just ask the neighborhood fox). His last owner warned me that he wasn’t “good around cats” and because I’m allergic, it didn’t seem like this would be a problem I’d ever need to deal with anyway. But Sam is nothing if he isn’t full of surprises.
We were walking recently and I spotted a tabby cat. I figured it would take off shortly once it that saw that Sam was at the end of the leash. But it just sat there. I slowed Sam down so as not to freak out the cat and have him tear after her with me being dragged behind but she still just sat there. We came right up to her and she actually let Sam sniff her face without any hissing, scratching or horseshoe-ing in to that ‘scaredy-cat’ Halloween stance. She just purred, twirled around his legs and sniffed his butt and he then did the same thing! Ok, well, not purred but his tail was wagging furiously back and forth and he did sniff her butt. His posture was super erect as if he’d been pumped up with air. He was very excited but not sure what to do next. I figured the kitty would tear off into some nearby shrubs but instead she kept circling around and in between his legs and mine. Sam was in 7th heaven (though I wonder if he had any idea what this charming creature was)! Finally she sauntered off and we continued on our walk. The next day, at the exact same place, he looked for her. Around the shrubs, toward the stairs to the house, all around. And the next day. Same spot, same search, every day that we passed there. It was nearly two weeks before we saw her again in the alley behind the house where we originally encountered her. I looked down the alley and lo and behold next to the dumpster, there she was! Sam was just elated. From then on he began to search whenever we approached that alley to see if his new BFF was there. If she wasn’t, I’d tell him, “sorry buddy your little friend isn’t out yet this morning” and disappointingly he’d resume his pace though he did often look over his shoulder to see if perhaps she would come out from behind something to greet him.
Whenever we do run into her, Sam is as happy as a clam at high tide, bouncing up to her like a jack rabbit. She patiently watches and waits till he comes to her and they do their ritual sniffing. He does however tend to move on fairly quickly these days and the cat has taken to rubbing against me more than Sam now (what IS it about cats that they seem to know who’s allergic to them?!). So can anyone tell me if this story is a case of super canine GPS or just a case of good memory that kicks in every day that Sam hopes to meet up with his new friend, exchange meaningful sniffs and then continue on his merry way, because I’m totally baffled.
Has your dog ever done that? What do you think…is it GPS or memory that guides them?
10 thoughts on “GPS or…memory?”
My daughter brought her yellow lab mix over last weekend and she burried a bone in about a million different places before they went home. I am curious to see how long it takes her to find it but I’m guessing she will know exactly where she placed that nasty, dirty ole bone! They have much better memories than we do!
😄 you let a dog dig in your gorgeous yard?! I can’t wait to see her retrieve it.
I’m not sure if you read my blog about my dog Angel. “Home where my love lies waiting silently for me…” Angel was a tiny teacup poodle who was 10 when I rescued her. A few years after that, she got out and ran away, only to come back six months later having been gone the entire winter. It’s something that if it hadn’t happened to me, I would have trouble believing it. I still wonder about that and although our dawgies are as near human as most humans, they can’t tell us. Darn. Love your blog. 🙂
Yes, if only they could talk! Thanks for the kind words. These fur kids are just amazing, even dumb ones like Sam. 🙂
Ottie knows the exact route of our daily walk and will turn around unpromted, every single time. Portia sees a squirrel going up a tree and, for days after, she will stop at the same tree to look. They clearly have a better memory than I do!
Max knows every inch of his urban Honolulu environment and seems to choose specific routes for each walk depending on day of week and time of day. That sounds unbelievable but I’ve been watching this behavior for years and am fully convinced he rotates routes according to some indecipherable doggie logic.
It is really amazing these creatures are able to get around so well with such confidence and ease. I have trouble getting out of the garage, let alone finding my way to any other place!
I’ve had similar situations and wondered just the same. I also considered it might be a combination of memory and scent, but can’t be sure. In any event, my shoulder socket certainly knows that my pups can be quite convincing when they want to go in a certain direction.
Having watched a couple of your videos, I can see where your pups ‘convincing’ can be very persuasive. 🙂