While it is a
generally accepted belief that the homing instinct is
strongest in the pigeon, it is also reputed to be fairly well developed
in the dog. It is understandable that a dog can find its way home in
its own neighborhood, for here it is guided by its sensitive smell and
its recognition of familiar landmarks. But the mechanism by which it
returns home over great distances from entirely unfamiliar surroundings
is beyond the sphere of our present knowledge of animal behavior.
In the course of history, dramatic demonstrations of the homing
instinct in dogs have been reported. From Italy comes the story of a
dog that followed its master in Napoleon's expedition to Russia. On
crossing a river, the dog was separated from its master by ice floes. A
year later, the dog came back home after having traversed half of
Europe, guided solely by its marvelous instinct. In India a dog is said
to have traveled three hundred miles to find its master. A dog in our
own country made its way home from Indiana to Oregon, covering the
three-thousand-mile distance in six months. Feats of returning home
over long distances have also been reported in the cat.
The homing instinct of pigeons and other birds has been thoroughly
publicized. The voyages of these animals over fabulous distances and
their seasonal excursions to suitable climates are among the wonders of
the animal world. Bees may wander a mile or two from their hives and
then return. It is thought that they use both their eyes and landmarks
as guides. Salmon and eels travel enormous distances—some-times
thousands of miles—to their birthplaces where they discharge
their eggs and die.
Notwithstanding the stories about dogs returning home, animal
psychologists are generally of the opinion that the homing instinct of
dogs is highly overrated. On the basis of carefully controlled
experiments, psychologists have come to the conclusion that, while a
certain amount of homing instinct does exist in the dog, it is not
particularly well developed and the likelihood of these animals
returning home from far away is rather remote.
Be that as it may, the homing instinct, as its name implies, is an
unlearned activity. The animal does not have to be taught to return
home. It simply knows how; it is just born that way.