This article was published in our newsletter. Sign up here.

researchers observing dogs

Imagine the following situation: while out hiking, you are using signposts to find your way. After a while, however, you realize that you have lost your way. As is so often the case, your smartphone with its GPS function has run out of battery. What are you supposed to do? Luckily you have your dog with you, as your loyal companion can act as your compass. As zoologists at the University of Duisburg-Essen discovered when working with colleagues from Prague, dogs have a sense for the earth’s magnetic field . They best like to do their “business” in a northerly-southerly direction.

70 dogs, 7,000 samples

The researchers arrived at this amazing conclusion after observing 70 dogs of different breeds doing their business – big and small – no fewer than 7,000 times. Scientifically speaking, the more exciting finding of the study was that our four-legged friends use the earth’s magnetic field to pick a spot. Whenever the magnetic field was disturbed, however, the dogs would empty their bowels or bladders in any old direction. Fluctuations in the earth’s magnetic field are produced by eruptions on the sun, for example. It has long been known that dogs use their “deposits” to mark their territory. For a dog, it is important to store these “landmarks” in its memory, or more precisely in a mental map, so that it can relocate them when it is next taken out for a walk. A kind of internal compass makes it easier for the dogs to read their mental map. If the magnetic field is disturbed, they use other markers to guide them rather than wasting time trying to read the unreliable compass.

Join the research!

If you are a dog owner you can help continue the study. A free English-language “MagnOr” app has been specially developed so that you can let the researchers know which point of the compass your dog chooses when doing its business.

Download the app free of charge from Google Play and iTunes:

More information

Want to learn more about the study? Read about the project here:

www.frontiersinzoology.com