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  • Dogs and magnetism


    No, I’m not referring to dogs’ magnetic personalities, although the way that people get “drawn in” by dogs is certainly true. I’d like to discuss how dogs are affected by the earth’s magnetic field.

    Karen B. London PhD writes in Bark magazine “A new study called “Dogs are sensitive to small variations of the Earth’s magnetic field’ published in the Journal Frontiers in Zoology has demonstrated that dogs can sense and respond to magnetic fields. It is the first time that this has been shown in this species. Researchers found a measurable change in behavior based on the conditions of the magnetic field. 

    Specifically, they found that under certain conditions, dogs choose to pee and poop with their bodies aligned along the north-south axis and avoided orientation along the east-west axis. They studied 70 dogs from 37 different breeds over a two-year period, observing 1,893 defecations and 5,582 urinations. Observations were all made while the dogs were off leash and in open fields so that they were not influenced by walls, fences, fire hydrants or other objects.

    The researchers collected data on dog directionality and found that the way dogs face is not just a matter of chance. They ruled out such factors as time of day, angle of the sun and wind conditions. Their analysis found that the Earth’s magnetic field explained dogs’ orientation when doing their business. 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.”

    Hunting dogs have shown an amazing ability over the years to return to their owners after a hunt even at considerable distances. The general belief to this point is that dogs retrace their steps by sense of smell, the scent glands in their paws having left a unique smell to follow. This is known as “tracking”. But now researchers are looking at the possibility that dogs use the earth’s magnetic field to guide them home.

    As Diane Lincoln writes in Live Science “The ability to sense the earth’s magnetic field is called “magnetoreception” and is common in many animals, including some whale species, dolphins and sea turtles, among others. Now, a new study carried out in the Czech Republic and detailed in the journal eLife, suggests adding at least some hunting dogs to this list.” The research comes from Kateřina Benediktová of the Czech University of Life Sciences Prague.

    A study involving 27 dogs, all wearing video cameras and GPS trackers, taken on several hundred scouting trips over the course of three years, was developed. The dogs were typically taken to locales with which they had no familiarity, and the researchers avoided tipping off the canines with any navigational clues including the avoidance of situations in which wind could carry their scent toward the dogs. The researchers also hid after releasing their charges to make sure they weren’t visible to the pooches.

    In 170 of these runs, the dogs showed a surprising activity, running about 20 meters along a north-south axis. Just as intriguingly, it was these dogs who found the fastest, most direct route back.

    Yet another example of the sensitivity of dogs to the natural world.

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