Life Lines by Dr. Dolittle

Sponsored by the American Physiological Society

Your dog’s internal compass

Apparently pooping is not the only thing dogs do that align with the Earth’s magnetic field.

Hunting dogs are kind of like migratory birds in their ability to roam and find their way back to the same spot, while relying on the Earth’s magnetic field.

In a new study published in eLife, the same researchers that discovered how dogs prefer to poop found that hunting dogs appear to use the Earth’s magnetic field as a cue to navigate back to their owners. They came to this conclusion after placing GPS collars on 27 hunting dogs from 10 different breeds. Over the course of 622 trials at 62 different forested locations, dogs were released and allowed to roam while the researchers tracked their movements. The dog’s owners hid about 10 m away from the release site to reduce visual cues for the dog’s return, which happened 30-90 mins after release.

The GPS data showed that on 399 trials (59.4%), the dogs followed the same trail back by following their own scent (tracking). Interestingly, for 223 tests (33.2%), the dogs actually took a different route back (scouting). Whereas in 50 trials (8%), the dogs used both methods to return. GPS data showed that before boldly going where they had not traveled before, the dogs would take a quick run (~20 meter) along the north-south Earth axis, which they called a “compass run”. When the dogs did this, they returned faster than when tracking their way back or when performing east-west compass runs. According to the authors, “We propose that this run is instrumental for bringing the mental map into register with the magnetic compass and to establish the heading of the animal.”


K Benediktova, J Adamkova, J Svoboda, MS Painter, L Bartos, P Novakova, L Vynikalova, V Hart, J Phillips. H Burda. Magnetic alignment enhances homing efficiency of hunting dogs. eLife. 9: e55080, 2020. DOI: 10.7554/eLife.55080

Video from YouTube.

Categories: Intelligence and Neuroscience, Nature's Solutions, Pets

Tags: , ,

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s