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If – like me – you’ve stood in the rain for what seems like an age as you wait for your dog to pick that ‘perfect’ location to poop then take comfort, there’s a scientific explanation for this!
Over a period of two years, the Czech University of Life Sciences monitored the body positions of 70 dogs across 27 breeds. Their findings, after watching a staggering 5,582 urinations and 1,893 defecations, were published in the journal Frontiers in Zoology. It showed that dogs preferred to align their bodies with the Earth’s North-south axis “under calm magnetic field conditions” when it came to pooping. The slightest of fluctuations in the planet’s magnetic field, such as solar flares, could upset this position. The research team found that dogs tended to position their bodies towards the west in the morning, but then shift to a more easterly direction in the afternoon.
The eyes have it
Now new evidence suggests dogs have an internal compass linked to their visual systems. This means they can not only sense the Earth’s magnetic field and poop along it, but they may be able to see the magnetic field too.
The study conducted by researchers from the Max Planck Institute for Brain Research in Frankfurt, Ludwig-Maximilians-University Munich, Goethe University Frankfurt, and the Universities of Duisburg-Essen and Göttingen, discovered a light-sensitive molecule called cryptochrome 1 in the eyes of some mammals including bears, orang-utans as well as our four-legged friends. This is the same molecule found in migrating birds, helping them navigate their way across thousands of kilometres to the same spot year after year, thanks to their ability to perceive Earth’s magnetic fields – a sense known as magnetoreception.
Why is this study important?
Although certain mammals, such as bats and mole rats, are believed to sense magnetic fields, this is the first time anyone has studied the presence of the magnoreception molecule in mammals.
While there is more work to be done to understand if dogs are actively using cryptochrome 1 for orientation and navigation, it could solve the mystery of how some dogs can find their way home (like the case of Bucky the Labrador) without the benefit of maps, language or GPS. Rather than it being a ‘sixth sense’ perhaps it simply comes down to sensing and seeing the Earth’s magnetic fields, combined with dogs’ superior sense of smell, factors of intelligence such as spacial awareness, problem solving and memory, as well as how bonded the dog is with their owner – all driving the desire to find their way home.