A Dogs Inner Compass

New evidence that dogs intuitively distinguish north/south from east/west.


We’d put it more in the category of “human interest” than “important scientific finding about dogs,” but in an unlikely research project, German and Czechoslovakian researchers have discovered what they say is a correlation between how dogs position themselves when doing their “business” and the Earth’s magnetic field. That is, they appear to show a preference for aligning their bodies with the north-south axis when relieving themselves.

Surprisingly, this isn’t the first research of its kind! Zoologist Hynek Burda from Germany’s University of Duisburg-Essen previously utilized Google Earth to show that cattle orientated their bodies in line with Earth’s magnetic field, a finding later bolstered when Burda’s team found an absence of that behavior in areas where electric power lines were present, possibly interfering with the magnetic field’s influence. Burda’s team made similar findings in deer research, and others have conducted analogous studies recording such behavior in foxes, turtles, birds, and more.

In the most recent study, scientists from the Czech University of Life Sciences and the University of Duisburg-Essen in Germany relied on long-term voiding habits observed by the owners of 70 dogs, which seemed to offer substantial evidence of dogs’ electromagnetic sensitivity. Using compasses, more than three dozen dog owners recorded 5,582 urinations and 1,893 defecations during outdoor walks over a two-year period. Initially, there was no clear evidence of any directionality. Then, disturbances of the Earth’s magnetic field were taken into account. That was when the correlation between the dogs’ selection of positioning and the compass’s arrow emerged. Interestingly (but inexplicably), when urinating, male dogs seemed to aim not due north but northwest.

Why dogs appear to position themselves that way remains an unknown. Perhaps they and other animals, too, are perceiving things about the world of which humans are only dimly aware, or not aware at all. It doesn’t change anything about how you walk your dog. It’s more of a “Gee, who knew?” Now you do.


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