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Did the Scent of Feet Bring a Lost Dog Home?
Human scent trails as a recovery strategy
Annika Schlemm and Charlie

I recently finished writing a story for Bark’s summer issue about best practices for recovering lost dogs, based on the experiences and research of folks at the Missing Pet Partnership (MPP). Among their techniques for locating lost dogs are scent-detection dogs, i.e., using one dog to track down another. What I hadn’t heard of was relying on the lost dog’s nose to get himself home.

 
Over the weekend, I read about the curious case of Annika Schlemm and her wirey Terrier, Charlie, who went missing during a walk not far from his home in West Sussex, England. He was on the lam for several days, and was frequently sighted in areas where Schlemm had recently been searching. So her mom suggested she go to the last place he’d been sighted and walk home, barefoot—leaving a scent path for Charlie to follow. It seems to have worked; the errant dog arrived home the following day. We won’t know for sure, Charlie isn’t talking, but it’s an interesting notion.
 
Relying on a dog’s keenest scent makes sense, except for one possible problem. During my lost dog research, I learned that panicked dogs can temporarily lose their sense of smell. “The olfactory portion of the brain will shut down when a dog is stressed,” MPP founder Kat Albrecht told me. “They’re not thinking of eating. They’re protecting themselves. They are full of adrenaline and need to be ready to bolt and run.” That may be why some dogs don’t always respond to food as bait or, unlike Charlie, have a hard time finding their way home.

 

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Lisa Wogan lives in Seattle and is the author of, most recently, Dog Park Wisdom.

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Photo: Life with Dogs.

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