Dogs can be guided along the lines of the geomagnetic field to cut off excess corners when moving in unfamiliar terrain.

The magnificent scent of dogs is well known, but their ability to sense magnetic fields remains unclear. This task is always technically difficult because it is difficult to make an ordinary animal rely on this insignificant feeling. It is possible that magnetoreception exists even in humans, but to prove it unequivocally requires complexly designed and precise experiments.

The same goes for dogs. Recall that only in 2014 one of the humorous Ignobel prizes went to Czech researchers, who demonstrated that when defecating, dogs prefer to navigate along the lines of the geomagnetic field, from north to south. The authors did this work precisely in order to prove the presence of magnetoreception in dogs. Developing these results, the same team from the Prague University of Life Sciences conducted new experiments to demonstrate that dogs are able to use magnetic field lines to orient themselves on the ground. The work is described in an article published in the eLife magazine.

Using collars with GPS trackers, the authors tracked four dogs on a long walk through the forest. Scientists noted that moving with the owner, from time to time they were carried away by the smell of an animal and ran away into the thicket, chasing the target at a distance of about 400 meters, after which they returned to the person. At the same time, they clearly could not see the owner or smell him in the dense windless forest and at such a distance.

When they returned, they either made exactly the same path in the opposite direction or cut off and moved straight ahead. On GPS tracks it is evident that during such runs the dogs suddenly changed direction. For about 20 meters, they moved in the approximate direction of the north, as if “checking the compass readings”, and soon after that they began to return to the owner.

Dog tracking

To verify this, the authors carried out similar measurements over more than three years using 27 domestic dogs. In total, tracks of 223 “reconnaissance runs” were collected with an average distance of 1.1 kilometers. In 170 cases, the dogs actually stopped, ran the 20-meter north, and, as a rule, then returned to the owner, cutting off unnecessary corners and loops.

According to scientists, during the “run to the north” animals are guided by the Earth’s magnetic field, which allows you not to get lost and move along a shorter route in a poorly known area. Nevertheless, it is difficult to prove the presence of magnetoreception one hundred percent, and the authors are planning new experiments. In particular, they are going to place generators of the magnetic field in collars, which should disrupt the normal functioning of this feeling – and to check how this will affect the movement of dogs.