I came across and article that was simply amazing. It reminded me of a previous article that I had found a while ago as well. Simply put, dogs know direction. They know North, South, East, West, and seem to have preferences!
So, a 2013 study looked at how dogs eliminate (pee and poop) in regards to direction. It turns out that dogs tended to prefer to excrete with the body being aligned along the North-South axis… under the right conditions.
They studied 70 dogs from 37 different breeds over a two-year period, observing 1893 defecations and 5582 urinations. Interestingly, the pattern only emerged when the magnetic field was stable, which was only about 30 percent of the time.
The Earth’s magnetic field can become unstable due to such factors as the variation in solar winds and the sun’s magnetic field. During such periods of instability, dogs did not show a preference for aligning themselves along the north-south axis and oriented randomly.
My most burning question from the study above, is “Why?”
Now, the research that the above study reminded me of was from a 2020 study (with some of the same authors – go figure!) In the later study they looked at 27 hunting dogs over 600 trials! They attached GPS devices to their collars and allowed them to roam free in a forested area.
To return home, dogs either followed their tracks to get back, or they scouted a new path back home. Tracking home seems pretty self-explanatory. However, the dogs that scouted a new path home did so by first performing what the researchers called a ‘compass run’. They started off by running a short (20 meter) run along the north-south geomagnetic axis. It didn’t matter which direction ‘home’ actually was, they started off their ‘scouting’ with this run. The researchers wrote: “We propose that this run is instrumental for bringing the mental map into register with the magnetic compass and to establish the heading of the animal.”
The best summation is the final paragraph in the discussion section.
“Our findings clearly show the importance of further research on the role and involvement of magnetic cues in canine (and more generally mammalian) navigation. More specifically, the research suggests that the magnetic field may provide dogs (and mammals generally) with a ‘universal’ reference frame, which is essential for long-distance navigation and arguably the most important component that is ‘missing’ from our current understanding of mammalian spatial behaviour and cognition.”
These two studies have me thinking, “WOW! Aren’t dogs amazing?!”
1. Hart V, Nováková P, Malkemper EP, Begall S, Hanzal V, Ježek M, Kušta T, Němcová V, Adámková J, Benediktová K, Červený J, Burda H. Dogs are sensitive to small variations of the Earth's magnetic field. Front Zool. 2013 Dec 27;10(1):80.
2. Benediktová K, Adámková J, Svoboda J, Painter MS, Bartoš L, Nováková P, Vynikalová L, Hart V, Phillips J, Burda H. Magnetic alignment enhances homing efficiency of hunting dogs. Elife. 2020 Jun 16;9:e55080.