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Can German Shepherds Find Their Way Home? Find a Lost Dog

Last Updated: December 10, 2023

Your German Shepherd is a part of your family, and any unintended time apart can be pretty unbearable. Therefore the last thing you want to experience is your dog going missing. But what if you genuinely can’t find your GSD? Whether you woke up and couldn’t see him in your backyard or lost him while out hiking or camping, you are wondering if he can return home by himself.

German Shepherds can find their way home. They can trace their way back by tracking familiar scents or recognizing a well-known route. If wind conditions are favorable, they can follow a scent over many miles. Science has proved that they also use magnetic fields to navigate unfamiliar places.

In this article, you will learn:

  • How German Shepherds find their way home.
  • How you can help find your dog whether he’s wandered off near your home or from further afield.

Let’s get started!

A lost German Shepherd. Can German Shepherds Find Their Way Home?

How Do German Shepherds Find Their Way Home?

Over the years, there have been numerous stories of lost dogs that have found their way home, and some of these are quite extraordinary. But it’s difficult to get data on how many dogs are lost and found as it just doesn’t exist. However, this research found that 95% of lost dogs were found.

So, your chances of finding your lost doggo are pretty high, which comes down to how dogs are naturally quite capable of finding their way home. They do this by:

  • Sense of smell. German Shepherds are known to have a strong sense of smell. They use their nose to sniff out familiar scents in their neighborhood. They can pick up their own scent markers and those left by other dogs and people.
  • Visual skills. Although a German Shepherd’s visual perception is not as good as a human’s, they can still identify and recognize their surroundings and visible landmarks.
  • Navigation using magnetic fields. Science has shown that dogs can find their way home by “homing.” They can return to a known location, usually by tracking or scouting. This exciting study found that dogs that decided to scout (chose a completely new route) started their journey back along the north-south axis regardless of the homeward direction.

German Shepherds are excellent tracking dogs, hence why their nose skills are used in law enforcement and in search and rescue.

How Do I Find a Lost German Shepherd? 

German Shepherds are super intelligent and have a powerful sense of smell. And if you want to find your dog, you have to play to his strengths, meaning you have to rely on this sense of smell. At the same time, you may want to increase the odds of encountering your dog. 

To find a lost German Shepherd, you need to set an anchor point where you place an item with a familiar scent, such as your clothing or a toy. Leave this by your porch or gate if the dog is lost near your home or a safe spot if he’s lost while further afield. Get help to search the area.

While the above covers what you need to do on a broader level, there are three distinct methods of raising the odds in your favor when looking for a lost dog. These are covered below in detail.

Place Anchor Method: Leave Out an Item With a Familiar Scent

The place anchor method is usually taught to kids on a trip. Parents or guardians agree on a place that’s supposed to be the “anchor” where anyone who wanders away from the family or group can wait. The understanding is simply that if they wait long enough, the group will return to the area where the missing individual is anchored and find them. 

The same principle can work with a dog. However, it’s too complex of a system to communicate to a canine! With the stimuli and environment changing with each trip, camping adventure, or long-stay visit, you cannot expect your German Shepherd to internalize too many anchor points. That’s why keeping an eye out and making sure you train your dog not to wander too far off pays off better. 

However, if your German Shepherd has gone missing from somewhere other than home, you can set an “anchor” by taking a piece of your clothing, one of your dog’s toys, or his bed with familiar scents and placing it in a distinct spot in the region. The rationale here is that once the smell of other scents wears off from the surroundings and your German Shepherd wants to find you, he shall rely on the scented item and sit by it.

This is “sit at the cashier’s desk if you get lost in the market” but for dogs. And dogs who are taught how to pick up scents and track are better at this than those who may have to pick up your scent and find the anchor point out of instinct. If you’re reading this but haven’t taught your dog to track, don’t worry, you’ll just need to use multiple anchor points across a wide enough area to maximize the chances of your German Shepherd catching the scent.

Watch This Guy Trying to Outwit the Persistent Nose of a GSD Tracker Dog…

It might be tempting to leave some food or water behind, but this isn’t wise out in nature. I understand that you are worried about your German Shepherd and hope to feed him even if it takes you some time to find him, but putting food next to the anchor spot only advertises it to other dogs and even predators. 

The advantage of the scent cloth or toy is that it only communicates to your German Shepherd as he’s the only one familiar with your scent. By leaving it in a place with the right amount of shade and away from an area other animals would prowl, you make sure he’s the only one who shows up and hopefully stays around until you can come and get him. 

There are several stories of dogs returning to a familiar scented item in the woods after days of going missing. Some of these even refer to dogs that don’t have a reputation for tracking. German Shepherds have an impeccable sense of smell, and since your doggo misses you, the chances of him finding the item and sitting beside it are quite high.

The Call-Out Method: Cover Spaced Out Areas and Call for Your Dog

The call-out method works best if the area where your German Shepherd is lost has a definite boundary and the space is small enough to be covered on foot within a day. The idea is to make sure you anchor inaccessible spots throughout the park, neighborhood, or gated community and call for your dog. 

You don’t have to be visible in every spot as your voice covers a broader area. You have to call your German Shepherd’s name and listen to barking noises for the call-out method. 

You may be tempted to move quickly, covering the entire area. That’s not advisable as it can lead to some unintended hide-and-seek. If your German Shepherd runs towards a specific spot and you move on to the next, it will only draw out the process further. Give each area a solid five minutes. Stand firmly in place and shout for him.

If you do not hear any barking, even after repeating your calls for five minutes, you can be sure that your voice hasn’t reached your GSD. There can be some delay between you calling out and the dog finding you. That much is expected because his sensitivity to sound isn’t the same as your ability to hear. Five minutes provide that buffering time. 

If you hear barking, continue to call out without moving. One of you is supposed to stay anchored, and it surely won’t be your dog! So even if you’re desperate to run towards your German Shepherd and hug him, you have to stay firm and keep calling him. Soon, your doggo will join you.

In case you don’t hear the barking, you can move to the next spot. If you only move a few steps ahead, you might be wasting the next few minutes. Instead, move far enough from the last spot that you’re in a place where your voice might not have previously reached. This allows you to cover more distance with fewer repetitions.

Modeling Your Walk: Take the Same Route in Reverse 

This is a routine-based seek-and-search strategy that works if your German Shepherd goes missing from your home. You must operate under the assumption that he has gone on a self-guided walk and slowly taken the same route you usually take your dog.

The idea here is that you might cross paths with him if you walk along the same way. This works well towards the front end of the route but starts tapering its effectiveness towards the end. 

After all, when was the last time your German Shepherd was enthusiastic about turning around and going back? It is advisable to mix this strategy with the call-out method, especially at the tail-end of your route. Once you reach the farthest point of your daily walk route, standing for five minutes and calling out while listening for barking can be an excellent way to increase the likelihood of finding your dog. 

Of course, you can keep going further, but if the space is open, you don’t know which path your German Shepherd went down. This means the call-out method isn’t going to be practical. That’s where you can leave your scented clothing and hope your dog finds the anchor point.

Mobilize Your Community: Spread the Word Regarding Your Missing Dog

The methods above all rely on you and your family and friends. But if your German Shepherd’s not found after employing all of these tactics, your next best bet is to multiply the eyeballs looking out for him. From putting posters in prominent areas to having your local community organization, vet, dog shelter, church, or school, make the/post the announcement for you can be a great way to have more people looking for your dog. 

Many people generally want to help but adding a reward can incentivize them to search intentionally. This works well in a suburban setting. But if you live in a more populous location, you might also need to leverage social media.

There are numerous lost dog websites where you can advertise your lost dog. The mission of these sites is to reuniting dogs with their owners. Many are free but appreciate a donation that helps run the site.

Posting in Facebook groups is a great way to get people from a specific neighborhood, county, or borough looking for your German Shepherd. Another way to get the word out is by making a personal post on your profile with pictures of your dog. You solicit reposts/shares and hope enough people share the message for the word to get around.

Reduce the Risk – Preventative Measures

To further increase the success of finding your lost German Shepherd, there are some preventative steps you can take.

  • Have your dog wear a collar tag. Start by having his name and your phone number engraved on the tag. If your German Shepherd wears a harness, many have the option to be embroidered with personalized details.
  • Microchip your German Shepherd. Although still voluntary in the US, it is law in some countries, such as the UK. The average cost for your veterinarian to implant the microchip is $45. So, if you have an escape artist dog or one that isn’t good on recall, this may give you extra peace of mind.
  • Dog GPS tracker. I recommend investing in a pet GPS tracker for even greater security. Many of these devices also double as health and fitness trackers.


Why Does My German Shepherd Run Away?

The most common reason for a German Shepherd to run away is to explore the surrounding. However, in some cases, it can also be the sign of a heat cycle or found prey around that needs to be hunted. Some Shepherds run away demanding freedom from their owners and this is the case if you’re a strict owner.

How Long Can A Dog Survive When Lost?

When lost, a dog can survive anywhere between a few hours and ten days, depending on the availability of food sources, awareness of the surroundings, and comfort in the new environment. Some dogs that are new to the external environment suffer excessively with respect to their survival and can even shed weight out of anxiety and fear.

Final Thoughts

German Shepherds are intelligent, strong, and powerful; which means even when they’re lost, they can find their way back and stay out of danger, to a reasonable extent, in the short period it takes for you to reunite with them. It is essential that you remain methodical in your approach and calmly execute each seek-and-search method till you have your dog back in your arms.

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Sharon Waddington
Sharon Waddington is the founder of World of Dogz. With over 30 years of experience working with dogs, this former Police Officer has seen it all. But it’s her trusty German Shepherd, Willow, who steals the show as the inspiration behind this website. As Sharon’s constant companion Willow has played a pivotal role in shaping her passion for dogs. Recently, Sharon has become deeply passionate about the plight of rescue dogs and is an active advocate for dog rescue, striving to make a difference in the lives of dogs in need.

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