Dogs: The Internal Magnetic Poop Compass
Have you ever stood in knee deep snow braving a negative eleven degree Fahrenheit white out wondering why your infuriatingly obsessive compulsive dog refuses to squeeze out a turd before his paw pads freeze and you’re stuck carrying him home? Then, just as you think Mr. Fluffynuts is going to vomit with any more circles he squats and you sigh as relief washes over you. “Good Boys” and “Good Jobs” start sliding off your tongue, and you ready the poop bag.
Just kidding, another false alarm. Relief is replaced by anger as for seemingly no reason at all old FluffNuts hops up and you’re on the move again. As he anxiously sniffs and circles you’re forced into lifting up his 70lb body to give his frozen paw pads a break while you hate yourself for having been too lazy to put his dog boots on.
You start yelling. This makes things worse. He’s not really sure why you’re mad. He gets nervous. The neighbors start watching you and you trudge home defeated knowing your chance has passed, ready to try again later, and feeling sorry for yourself as you realize that your life now revolves around dog poo.
Well, worry not fellow pet owner because there is allegedly a very logical explanation for this and as soon as we learn to harness the mechanisms behind it, we may even be able to exploit it in some yet to be identified way.
According to Dr. Vlastimil Hart and his team of researchers from the Czech University of Life Sciences in the Czech Republic and the University of Duisburg-Essen in Germany, there exist several mammalian species who, across diverse behavioral contexts, spontaneously align their body axis with respect to the Earth’s magnetic field (MF) lines. This sort of magnetic alignment apparently presents a good model for exploring magnetosensitivy among different animals, while also contributing to our current understanding of magnetoreception and helping to identify further functions of magnetosensation apart from navigation.
Over a two year period, Dr. Hart’s team measured the direction of the body axis in 70 dogs of 37 breeds during 1,893 observed defecations and 5,582 observed urinations. The data was then sorted according to predominant geomagnetic conditions of the sampling periods. What they found was that under calm MF conditions, dogs preferred to poop with the body being aligned along the North-South axis. This behavior was abolished under unstable MF, with the rate of change in declination (i.e. polar orientation of the MF) being the best predictor of this behavioral switch.
Published in the December 27th 2013 issue of Frontiers in Zoology, Hart’s study was the first of its kind in that it proved magnetic sensitivity in dogs and a measurable, predictable behavioral reaction upon natural MF fluctuations in a mammal, while identifying high sensitivity to small changes in polarity, rather than in intensity, of MF as biologically meaningful.
Syncing your dogs poop schedule with the approximately 20% of daylight time that has stable MF is one possible use of this information. Other than that it’s pretty interesting.
Hart, V., Nováková, P., Malkemper, E. P., Begall, S., Hanzal, V., Ježek, M., … & Burda, H. (2013). Dogs are sensitive to small variations of the Earth’s magnetic field. Frontiers in zoology, 10(1), 1-12.