Thursday, January 9, 2014

Dogs are sensitive to the Earth's magnetic field

Supercomputer model of the
Earth's magnetic field. Source: nasa.gov
The Earth has a magnetic field. Many people only come in contact with it through the use of a compass, but it has great importance for every living being on the planet. Amongst other things, it shields us from solar radiation.

In theory, the field is straight and neat with a magnetic north pole close to the geographic north pole, and a magnetic south pole close to the geographic south pole. In reality, it's a bit more complicated, but for the sake of discussion, north and south are quite sufficient.

So, what does this have to do with pets?

Good question. Scientists at the Czech University of Life Sciences along with the zoology department at the University of Duisburg-Essen in Germany have studied dogs doing the "potty dance" and found that dogs prefer to align their body axis with the planet's magnetic field. They prefer the North-South direction, and avoid the East-West direction.

While the reason for the magnetic preference remains unknown, this is the first time magnetic sensitivity has been proven in dogs. It is also the first time a mammal has been unambiguously proven to be sensitive to small changes in magnetic polarity.

The scientists believe there might a biological explanation to the phenomenon. Birds are thought to navigate with assistance of the magnetic field, and dogs might also have a "magnetic map" aiding them with their sense of direction. This could explain how some dogs are able to hike home across the country after being separated from their owners, or after a move.

70 dogs from 37 different breeds participated in the experiment, and their habits were studied over a period of two years. You can read more here, and see the report here.

If you're interested in learning more about the Earth's magnetic field, this Introduction to Geomag can be a good starting point, along with this article on Nasa's website.

~ Maria Sadowski ~

2 comments:

  1. Thanks for this post...now we can use it as a reason when we are pulling on a walk...we can't help it, it is that magnetic pull!

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    1. That's exactly what my dogs said. "See, we can't help it. We have to align with the magnetic field, and right here it's pulling me towards the ditch. Live with it, mom!" LOL!

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