How did the dog find the camp site?

A man who was driving in Oregon with his four dogs, crashed his pickup truck through a guard rail and fell into a ravine. One of his dogs ran four miles back to the campsite where the family was and this alerted them to the problem and they managed to find them.

The case unfolded as Brandon Garrett was driving with his four dogs north on US Forest Service Road 39 in Baker county, near where his family was camping.

During the trip, Garrett failed to navigate a curve in the road and crashed over an embankment, according to a statement from the Baker county sheriff’s office.

Garrett survived the crash, but the accident left him stranded and forced him to wait – and hope – for help.

Thankfully for him, one of his dogs ran back to the campsite, and the animal’s appearance led the Garrett’s family to realize something had gone wrong. The dog ended up running nearly four miles through the wilderness before tracking down the other campers on 3 June at 9.30am.

What amazes me is that the dog was able to get back to the campsite at all. There have been many stories about the amazing ability of dogs to travel long distances to find their way back home. The article mentions the well known ability of dogs to use their sense of small. But it also mentions them having an inner compass that detects magnetic fields as aids. I had heard of birds using magnetism to navigate but had not heard of that applying to dogs.

Dogs do have an incredibly strong sense of smell that enables them to pick up the minutest traces of scents to track and navigate. But this dog was not going home. The group was camping so this was unfamiliar territory and, since the dog had been traveling by truck, there would have been no scent to follow back to camp. How did the dog know where to go?


  1. robert79 says

    I’m guessing a combination of dumb luck, “four” dogs (note — only “one” found the campsite!), and the dogs’ innate sense of smell and direction.

    Also, it’s like the stories of dolphin rescues, we only hear about those who the dolphins brought to shore, not those who they escorted to the deep seas.

  2. robert79 says

    That said, four miles is nothing for a dog… my mom’s dog would sometimes run away and be found 20 miles away. She had an understanding with the local sheriff who would give her a ride back if anyone cried “wolf” (Siberian husky) on the back of his pickup truck. But if no one spotted her, she’d make her way back by herself. Happy as a peach and covered in deer poop (camouflage?).

  3. jenorafeuer says

    Scents wouldn’t just be on the ground during the trip… tracking the scent of the other family members floating on the breeze might have been possible assuming they were active at the campsite and the dog was directly downwind.

  4. ardipithecus says

    Lots of dogs and cats and even many people have a good sense of direction. Probably many other animals too. It would be especially valuable for those carnivores who would need to find their way back to their young ‘uns after a long hunting venture.

  5. Tethys says

    I think the dog just went back down the road until it found the rest of its human pack. There is only one road, the rest is dense forest. Scent could have helped, but Lassie was always saving Timmy after he had fallen down wells or otherwise endangered himself.

  6. garnetstar says

    I remember reading that a lot of animals, including maybe cats and dogs, have magnetoreception and can use the earth’s magnetic field to direct them. That would be cool.

  7. Alan G. Humphrey says

    No one has mentioned hearing, and from personal experience seems a likely explanation. That dog probably recognized voices and/or familiar sounds of the family’s campsite — car doors and tailgates are very distinctive as are food preparation sounds — and went towards them, aided by scent as it got closer.

    A few decades ago, I would visit my mother every weekend and take her shepherd for a hike in the mountains. After a couple of months, the dog started whining a few minutes before I got there to let my mother know that I was on my way. The route was winding, and I would get within a couple of hundred meters of the house then climb a somewhat steep incline before going another circuitous half kilometer through the suburban neighborhood to the house. There was no fixed schedule for these visits, the dog could not see my vehicle until the last few tens of meters, and it seemed unlikely she could smell my truck every time while inside the house. So, we concluded that she heard me accelerating up the hill, had memorized the engine’s sound from being in the truck for up to an hour getting to where we hiked and back, and recognized the correlation that I drove into the driveway a few minutes after first hearing it approach.

  8. Dunc says

    since the dog had been traveling by truck, there would have been no scent to follow back to camp.

    I’m not convinced that this assumption is correct. Vehicles are pretty smelly.

  9. xohjoh2n says


    The dog obviously used advanced technology

    Quite the opposite. Dogs don’t piss away their lives reading the internet, so they have far more room left inside their heads for important things like remembering where the fuck they are.

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