TLDR; they use their noses and amazing memory to figure out their way home. Other times, they rely on their owner's scent to help guide them home.
If you've ever wondered how a dog can find their way home after walking for miles, it's because they have an incredible sense of direction.
Dog owners all over the world are well aware that dogs always know which way to go when coming back from a walk.
But why is this so?
How dogs find their way home
The truth is, why they're good at finding their way home is due to multiple factors.
This can range from their obviously great sense of smell, right down to their memories and associations.
Using landmarks to help guide them home
Dogs also use landmarks to help them find their way home.
They are able to memorize the layout of a neighborhood, and can even remember what certain houses smell like!
It's also how some dogs with puppies can remember and guide rescuers to their location as well.
This is why some dogs get agitated when they're taken on car rides using new routes - they know that they're not going home, or is not somewhere familiar for them. (source)
So if you're having trouble finding your dog if they get lost, try using the same path they took when they left.
There is a chance you'll find them wandering along paths familiar to them.
Dogs will usually take the most direct route possible when coming back from a walk, so following their trail should lead you right to them!
However, keep in mind that not all dogs are good at navigating.
Some rely on human intervention for guidance - and sometimes to find them, it would be helpful to place food along their familiar paths.
If not, you can also place an article of clothing that has your scent - this will help calm them, and usually they'll wait near that piece of clothing as well.
A dog's sense of smell
Dogs have a great sense of smell, and is a key factor in how they find their way home.
But just how good is a dog's sense of smell?
According to experts, a dog's nose is so sensitive that they can pick up scents from far away. (source)
In fact, they're so sensitive they're estimated by scientists to be anywhere from 10,000 to 100,000 times more sensitive than a human nose!
Also, when you walk your dog, you might notice that they'll leave a drop of urine on a lamp post, or rub their bodies around a certain area.
What they're doing is leaving their scent around the area, both as a 'territorial' mark, as well as a little 'landmark' - this is what helps guide them home if they ever get lost.
A dog's sense of hearing
Dogs also have an uncanny ability to hear things that we can't.
A dog's sense of hearing is actually estimated to be around four times better than humans, and can hear frequencies far higher than humans can.
This is especially true when it comes to locating their owners - they can even hear them calling from very far away.
Why dogs get lost
Even though dogs have an amazing sense of direction thanks to their gifts above, they can still get lost if something bad happened.
This usually happens when a dog is in an unfamiliar area and becomes confused about which way to go.
Dogs may also become disoriented if they are injured or sick.
In some cases, dogs can even be stolen by someone who wants to keep them as their own pet.
Sometimes dogs just get distracted and lose track of time while out happily sniffing everything and rolling in everything.
In conclusion, dogs are pretty smart and they know how to take care of themselves.
The next time you're out walking your dog, watch for any scents that might be left behind, or when they suddenly stop and prick their ears to hear something we can't.
All these senses combined give them a superior edge in always coming home, and back to our loving arms!
However, the best way to not let them get lost at all is to make sure we train them to never run off without our permission.