Losing a dog can be heartbreaking. Although the following advice cannot guarantee his/her successful return, it is one more tool in the toolkit to successfully reunite all concerned.
While a dog's eyes are notoriously poor (I can't tell you how many times my lab/retriever mix has snuck up and pounced on leaves and rocks), its sense of smell is 10,000 to 100,000 times more acute than ours. "Let's suppose they're just 10,000 times better," says James Walker, former director of the Sensory Research Institute at Florida State University. "If you make the analogy to vision, what you and I can see at a third of a mile, a dog could see more than 3,000 miles away and still see as well." And that is how he recognizes you and members of the family. (They can also smell while exhaling, something we are unable to do.)
Alexandra Horowitz, a dog-cognition researcher at Barnard College, writes that while we might notice if our coffee has had a teaspoon of sugar added to it, a dog could detect a teaspoon of sugar in a million gallons of water (the amount of water required to fill two Olympic-size swimming pools). This is also helps explain the promising research using dogs to sniff out and detect cancers, diabetes and other diseases in people.
So, you have been out with your dog, say in the woods, and he disappears on you (most likely following his nose). No response to your calls. Return to the spot where you last saw him and leave behind an article of clothing that you have recently worn next to your skin (or several pieces of clothing).
Make sure it is unwashed. (Don't be embarrassed if its underwear. After all, notice where his nose often leads him when first meeting other dogs and, all too often, your house guests.) Also leave behind a bowl of water (no food, as this will likely attract other animals), and if he also enjoys a favorite toy, or is crated, leave them there as well. Return every few hours, and even days, to see if he has returned. There is a good chance he will be there patiently waiting for you, nose in the wind.
And after you return home, please be mindful of all of the artificial scents -- from candles to air "freshener" -- that will assault his senses, and his health. JEFFREY REEL