I’ll admit that when I saw the tweet last week about dogs aligning themselves with the earth’s magnetic field during peeing and pooping, I though it sounded pretty ridiculous. Steve also snorted when I told him about it, but we both started paying more attention to Tucker and Dionne’s directional orientation during defecation. Sometimes the dogs lined themselves up in a north-south direction, as the study said.
But just as often, they faced other directions.
When I took a look at the actual scientific article reporting this discovery, however, my attitude changed. Published last year in Frontiers in Zoology, the report is stuffed with eye-crossing statistical analysis and 32 supporting scientific references. More important: it explained that the researchers themselves didn’t see much of a pattern among their 70 subjects and their 1,893 defecations and 5,582 urinations. It was only after they correlated their findings with the strength of the earth’s magnetic field during each of the excretory incidents that a “highly significant” pattern emerged. When the field was unstable, the dogs relieved themselves facing any which way. But when it was stable, they strongly avoided facing east/west. The researchers point out that the earth’s magnetic field is calm during only about 20% of the daylight hours.
The researchers (who apparently were funded by the Czech government) also ruled out the influence of wind, time of day, and sun angle, and they let the dogs run free in fields (unlike Steve and me, who have been conducting all our observations on leashed canines). If you’re still skeptical, I recommend checking out the original report; here’s a link to a pdf of it.
The researchers suggest that their discovery opens new horizons in magnetoreception research. Without the sun or a compass, I can’t tell you which way is north, so I think it’s pretty cool if Dionne and Tucker can. (Steve remains skeptical. He thinks the Czechs scientists are chuckling in their beers over this.)