Dogs’ sense of direction: do they have the magnet sense?

Dogs, as most people know, have a great sense of direction. The four-legged friends often find their way back home without any problems once they have escaped. Researchers have found something remarkable about how our sofa wolves can find their way: Dogs can perceive the earth’s magnetic field.

Stories like that of the mixed-breed dog Zucco, who migrated from Serbia to Zagreb in Croatia, went around the world. Dogs are good at smelling and hearing and have a sixth sense.

Dogs have a magnet sense.
Birds have it, as do some fish, snails, and possibly cows too: the magnetic sense. These animals can perceive the orientation of the earth’s magnetic field lines and use these lines to orientate themselves. Birds use this masterfully during migration. Foxes align their “mouse jump” with the north-south axis of the magnetic poles, and cows mostly graze in a north-south direction. The fact that dogs also feel the magnetic field is still a very recent finding. Researchers working with zoologist Hynek Burda at the University of Duisburg-Essen proved this in cooperation with Czech researchers from the Agricultural University in Prague.

When walking becomes a science
In their study, the scientists examined how 70 dogs of different breeds position themselves when they go about their small and large businesses in the wild without a leash. Over 7,000 cases were recorded, considering factors such as time of day, the familiarity of the site, and environmental conditions. During the subsequent static evaluation, Burda and Co. first established that the animals did not have a specific body orientation or that there was no pattern according to which the dogs emptied their bladders and intestines.

It got exciting with further analysis: The documented data were re-evaluated, taking into account the fluctuations in the earth’s magnetic field during data collection. It turned out that the fur subjects did conform to a pattern while relieving themselves. The dogs lined up mainly along the magnetic north-south axis. However, they only did this in phases when the earth’s magnetic field was calm. For information: There are magnetic observatories that register the direction and intensity of the field lines and publish them online. The bottom line: Dogs have been shown to have the ability to sense the magnetic field and use it.

Dogs’ sense of direction remains a mystery.
Most dog owners will not be surprised by the results, as they have often seen that their four-legged partner can orient himself very well or has an excellent sense of direction. How or with what precisely the animals perceive the magnetic field is not yet clear. There are cells responsible for magnetic perception called magnetite cells. However, these could not yet be located in the dog.

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