California Science & Technology News

Dogs Sense Small Variations in Earth's Magnetic Field

Researchers analyzed the body orientation of 70 dogs of different breeds, while the dogs relieved themselves in the open country and without being on the leash. The statistical analysis of the more than 7,000 observations (recorded together with the currently prevailing environmental conditions of the location, time of day and other important parameters such as the familiarity of the terrain for each dog) was frustrating.

In contrast to grazing cows, hunting foxes and landing waterfowl (previous studies of the research collective), the dogs showed no clear preference for a particular body alignment while urinating or defecating.

But then the researchers working with Dr. Vlastimil Hart and Prof. Dr. Hynek Burda made a striking discovery. They sorted the collected data according to the small variations of the geomagnetic field during the period of data collection. These irregular, tiny changes in the intensity and declination of the magnetic field lines are recorded by magnetic observatories and freely accessible online. The emerging picture of the analysis of the categorized data was surprising: dogs prefer a body-alignment along the magnetic north-south axis, but only during periods of calm magnetic field conditions. After taking into account all other factors, the researchers concluded that with this discovery they provide clear indication of a magnetic sense in dogs.

To many dog owners who know about the good navigation abilities of their pets, the findings might not come as a surprise but rather as an explanation for the "supernatural" abilities, although it is not clear to the researchers what the dogs might use their magnetic sense for. For the scientific community the findings could be of tremendous value since the magnetic sense of animals is still not well understood, despite all the research on migratory birds. The new findings offer new perspectives, which the researchers will pursue in upcoming projects.