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A few weeks ago I was out with a couple of dogs in the forest. Since I came from an urban area I had them in a leash. After a while the leashes became quite entangled and the easiest way to untangle them was to disconnect one of the dogs from her leash. This dog is very calm and obedient so I just sat her down, disconnected the leash and started to untangle the leashes.

Suddenly a roedeer appeared and the unleashed dog run after and I failed to stop her because I didn't pay attention since you usually never need to with this dog. Three seconds later she was out of sight (but she is quite slow and small so the roedeer was fine).

Anyway, I started to walk around and look for the lost dog. The whole forest was maybe 1 km in diameter and I walked around it 2-3 times but there were no traces of the dog, until after an hour she just came walking towards me along the pathway.

Now my question: was this dog lost in the sense that she didn't know where I was part of the time she was gone (we were 2 hours from home so she was lost in the sense that she didn't know how to get home but that is another matter. Getting home was my responsibility anyway)? Or was she constantly aware of the general direction where to find me? If she was lost, what does, in general, an animal and, specific, a dog do when they are lost?

When humans are lost in nature it means that they don't know how to find the way home. For animals living in the nature, most of the time "home" as a concept doesn't make sense (of course, there are exceptions, mostly related their babies (such as bird nests and wolf's dens). Of course, having a territory is common in nature but compared to a bird nest or a house it is pretty unspecific in the context of getting lost.

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For social animals, "home" is where the rest of their pack is, not a specific physical location. Assuming the animal left home under their own power, they can find their way back by following their own scent. If the rest of the pack has moved on in the meantime, they can follow the pack's scent until catching up to them.

Leaving under their own power is an important point, though. If you walk your dog to the park, he should be able to backtrack to your home if you get separated. If you take him in a car, though, that won't work; he will aimlessly wander until he picks up a familiar scent—or until Animal Control captures him.

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To try to avoid this in future try using a dog whistle. Start usage in conjunction with recall. Remember to praise when dog comes back to you. Your dog will associate the sound of the whistle with you and where you are. You won't then need to spend 2 hours or so wandering around searching.

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