Researchers find dogs sensitive to small variations in Earth's magnetic field

Jan 03, 2014 by Bob Yirka report
dog

A team of researchers in the Czech Republic has found that dogs can now be added to the list of animals that are able to sense and respond to the Earth's magnetic field. In their paper published in Frontiers in Zooology, the researchers describe field experiments they conducted that indicated that dogs prefer to defecate while in a North-South stance relative to the Earth's axis, during times when the magnetic field is calm.

Intrigued by the growing list of animals that appear to have a magnetic sensitivity, the researchers focused on to see if they too had any such abilities. After some initial observations, the team began to notice a pattern of behavior related to stance during defecation—that was enough to embark on some field studies.

The field studies were conducted in an open field so as to ensure that the dogs weren't being impacted by familiar surroundings—in all 70 dogs (37 breeds) were observed circling and defecating for a total of 1,893 times. The dogs exhibited, the team reports, a very clear inclination to defecate with their bodies aligned in a North-South stance. But, more tellingly, when the magnetic field was not calm, the dogs showed no such preference, suggesting that when there is a clear , dogs can feel it, and for unexplained reasons, prefer to align themselves in a certain posture.

The team also found that freedom was a factor—dogs on leashes didn't appear to have as much of an inclination to align themselves in any particular direction as did dogs who were allowed to roam free in a field as they did their business.

No one can say for sure why dogs might prefer to align themselves in a particular direction when defecating, of course, though the researchers suggest they might simply feel more comfortable. They note that their study also found that the dogs tended to intentionally avoid crouching in an East-West, alignment, perhaps finding it the most uncomfortable of all. Their study, they say, is the first to conclusively show that have magnetic sensitivity.

Other studies have found that other animals, such as cattle, deer, foxes, birds and even some species of fish adjust their actions according to the Earth's , though how they do so is still unclear in most instances.

Explore further: Study pumps up the volume on understanding of marine invertebrate hearing

More information: Frontiers in Zoology 2013, 10:80 DOI: 10.1186/1742-9994-10-80

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User comments : 18

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CMDS
5 / 5 (5) Jan 03, 2014
This research should be nominated for the Ig Nobel Prize.
Eikka
3 / 5 (2) Jan 03, 2014
It's probably because they're trying to face away from the sun, because it gets in their eyes.

Same thing with the cows, because the studies done on them rely on satellite and aerial photographs that are generally taken around noon for better light conditions and less shadows. Less surprisingly, the cows align themselves consistently the same way to keep from getting blinded by the light.

Here too, the magnetic field probably stabilizes at a certain time of day, probably again close to noon, and simply coincides with the fact that the animals are trying to keep from looking directly at the sun, or trying to orient themselves with the sun in a way that would allow them to see things better.
Torbjorn_Larsson_OM
4 / 5 (4) Jan 03, 2014
Note that the " cattle, deer, foxes" and now dog research is made by this group alone. Another group trying to repeat the research on foxes found no effect and states that they won't try again. [You have to google it, I don't bookmark crap.]

Meaning this is a) unrepeatable and b) fruitless, the very definition of pseudoscience. It is questionable if this group should be much published, it seems it isn't: they have been forced to turn to a bottom feeder magazine, since "Frontiers in Zoology" is a Springer low volume magazine with only ~ 300 articles in 10 years, or ~3 articles/issue. (Not to poison the well, but the same name blogspot is a cryptozoology craptacular website... =D)

Birds and fishes OTOH has known evolutionary advantageous magnetotactic behavior, as have some bacteria.

@CMDS: It likely won't be, because it is irreproducible. The IgNoble Prize is for legit but "WTF!?" science.

PS. And, oh look, it is Yirka again!
PacRim Jim
2.3 / 5 (3) Jan 03, 2014
Woof ruff woof grrrrrr!
barakn
2.3 / 5 (3) Jan 03, 2014
Eikka: Read the actual paper. Your concerns about sunlight were already addressed.
Sean_W
3 / 5 (2) Jan 03, 2014
I don't know or care whether the researchers or the article's author specifically used the term "conclusively"--it sounds like it was the researchers. Whomever it was should be informed that they don't get to set the standard for conclusivity for others.
davidivad
3.7 / 5 (3) Jan 03, 2014
i guess the question here is whether or not the study produced privacy concerns for the dogs in question. soon they will have to encrypt their s***.
Whydening Gyre
4.5 / 5 (4) Jan 04, 2014
Wow... It's a good thing all my toilets are aligned in a North/South configuration...
barakn
3 / 5 (4) Jan 04, 2014
The paper is so poorly written that it's not obvious whether the angles reported are relative to magnetic north or geographic north. Considering that (time-averaged) declinations in central Europe are close to 0 (http://upload.wik...10.pdf), it's possible the authors simply did not bother to differentiate or were not aware they needed to. Also there were far more people collecting data than there are authors, leading to questions about just how consistently instructions on data collection were given to the extra people. Is it possible that some corrected for the 1-3 degree difference and others did not? If one looks at the data in Figure 2, one notices that almost all angles were reported as whole multiples of 5 (even multiples more common than odd), but with a few odd data points mixed in at other values. At least one individual was collecting data differently.
barakn
2.3 / 5 (3) Jan 04, 2014
And then there's that tendency for data spikes every 10 degrees. The data collectors are clearly not using mirrored sighting compasses, and hovering over a squatting dog and trying to get a reading in the few seconds the dog takes to do its business isn't exactly easy. 10 degrees might be a good estimate of the reading error. However, I can't help but wonder if there might not also be a different sort of error going on here. Given the short amount of time to take a reading, and given that a compass bears a needle that points north (and another pointing south), there might be a psychological phenomenon that causes people to subconsciously record a value closer to the north-south line than they would have had they more time to stand there and let the needle stop swinging. Granted I can't claim I know this happens, nor can I guess the magnitude of the effect, but given that many of the authors were apparently already involved in other studies that found north-south alignments...
barakn
2.3 / 5 (3) Jan 04, 2014
... the possibility that they are subconsciously biased and not properly reading the angles should not be discounted.

Then of course there's another error of up to a few degrees that comes from changes in the declination on "non-quiet" days (this would only be an error if they were planning on measuring angles from geographic north rather than magnetic north - as noted, they never stated).

But why should I be the one to tally the sources of error? If their paper were properly done, they would have done it themselves.
Mimath224
3 / 5 (2) Jan 04, 2014
Having had several types of animal as pets I have to say the dogs were the least interesting, scientifically. As far as I could see the dogs would orient themselves to get the best effective position to leave their odour, that is, they are boundry animals. Cats and the birds would react at least a couple of seconds before the dogs when someone came visiting, the birds would jump around, the cats would lift their head quickly (then go back to sleep) and then the dogs would bark...and I certainly didn't notice any special orientation when training the pups...aagghh!
Skepticus
3 / 5 (2) Jan 04, 2014
Probably they oriented that way in that particular testing field so as to not smell their deliveries. Please retest in a few more big fields before making conclusions.
Captain Stumpy
2.3 / 5 (3) Jan 05, 2014
i am not sure about this article...
i threw a very powerful magnet at the neighbours dog for barking all night and he never saw it coming... so much for sensitivity to magnetic fields!

maybe this article explains why i tend to pee off the southern edge of my porch? oops, never mind... the south side is the only side with an opening. forget it
Mimath224
2.3 / 5 (3) Jan 05, 2014
@Captain Stumpy...actually you might be on to something! Does dog excrement contain a lot of Iron? Maybe it's the excrement that puts the dog a 'magnetic' position rather than the other way round...oh wait a minute...wouldn't that mean the excrement would point in northerly direction?...Like you say, forget it! Ha!
barakn
1 / 5 (2) Jan 05, 2014
I also wanted to mention the data dredging http://en.wikiped...dredging that occurred here. The authors themselves were quick to point out that to their consternation their initial null hypothesis (no alignment with the magnetic field) turned out to be correct. So then they sliced and diced their data and pulled in additional variables: Kp-index, relative changes of magnetic field intensity (horizontal and vertical) or of declination, male vs. female, M07 vs. all other dogs, angular vs. axial, pooled vs. means, etc.. Nowhere in the paper does it appear that they realized that even in data that is random, when testing enough hypotheses, some by chance will appear to be significant, and thus there is considerable doubt that they accounted for this in their reported p values. It's quite possible that a slight measurement bias combined with data dredging produced a false correlation with quiet magnetic fields.
Captain Stumpy
1 / 5 (1) Jan 05, 2014
@Captain Stumpy...actually you might be on to something! Does dog excrement contain a lot of Iron? Maybe it's the excrement that puts the dog a 'magnetic' position rather than the other way round...oh wait a minute...wouldn't that mean the excrement would point in northerly direction?...Like you say, forget it! Ha!

@Mimath224
i can see it now... all the yuppies hitting the country with compasses and digital camera's running around taking photo's of how faecal matter is aligned with the magnetic north! they etch magnetic declination into the bottom of the pic, time, date, size, consistency, animal depositor (if known)...i wonder how that would work for diarrhea? pattern and spread with spray and droplet size?you would also need to know how far off the ground the dispersal point was for accuracy...LOL HA!

pianoman
5 / 5 (1) Jan 05, 2014
I'm glad that research project wasn't done in the U.S. because it would have been funded by a govt grant, Hmmm, I wonder if the Czech govt. provided the poop grant for them.The next time I go off into the mountains I won't need my compass, I'll just take a dog with me.

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