Jan 04 2014

New Frontiers In The Science Of Pooping Dogs

The dogs both whine the time is right—
I pull on boots and lace them tight,
I grab the leash, and day or night
It’s off we troop!
Two hopeful spots are both declined—
My dogs must have a place in mind;
The search goes on until they find
Where they will poop.

The perfect place (at last!) is found,
But now they pace the snow or ground
And circle, circle, round and round
And back and forth.
It’s not enough, the perfect place,
There’s one bit more they need to chase:
But now I know—they want to face
Magnetic North

Via NPR, a recent paper in Frontiers in Zoology (pdf) explores the possibility that dogs, like some other mammals, are sensitive to the earth’s magnetic field.

Now, dogs are so intimately intertwined with humans that it is difficult to find dog behavior that does not have the danger of human interference (explicit training or accidental conditioning). But when dogs gotta go, they gotta go.

Right now, the link is not working for me, so I can’t quote from the article, but the bottom line is that, on days of calm magnetic fields, dogs tend to align themselves, north-south, with the earth’s magnetic field (they also tend to avoid east-west alignment); when the magnetic field is in flux (which it often is), there is no such tendency, and alignment is pretty much random.

Once the link is working, you’ll also be able to see one of the best illustrations ever used in a scientific paper… (this one is so nice, I took a screen grab before the site went down for me):

Pooping dog, aligned with magnetic North.

Pooping dog, aligned with magnetic North.


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  1. 1
    Al Dente

    dogs tend to align themselves, north-south, with the earth’s magnetic field (they also tend to avoid east-west alignment)

    So dogs do feng-shui.

  2. 2

    Ig nobel prize, here it comes.

  3. 3

    That is really cool. I’ll start checking to see if my dogs do that too.

  4. 4

    The trick, otrame, is knowing when the magnetic field is quiet, and when it is not. But, apparently, you can check that here: http://ccmc.gsfc.nasa.gov/cgi-bin/SWMF_RealTime_browse.cgi
    (I have not checked it out yet–it’s taking time to load.)

    But yeah, I want to start taking data myself! Finally, something to add interest to my part of the walk!

  5. 5

    Male homo sapiens are less successful targeting misaligned urinals and toilet seats. Admittedly, these results are somewhat speculative until I can find a compass.

  6. 6

    The rectum,
    Inspect ‘em,
    Faces south;
    Likewise, how
    Goes their chow–
    North-aimed mouth?

    And when done,
    Seek the sun
    Scrambling round,
    Round till found,
    Round and round,
    Round and round.

  7. 7

    I think you have a typo in “prefect place”.

    Other than that, yes, very odd science.

  8. 8

    Thanks, Crimbly–fixed.

  9. 9

    I’m sorry to say that I am not convinced by the article. What makes me think something is wrong is the statement that dogs tend to align in a N-S direction when the magnetic field is quiet but not when it is disturbed. The quiet magnetic field has a magnitude of around 50 micro-Tesla. That’s 50*10^-6 T. During magnetically distrubed times, the disturbance magnetic field is rarely more than 100 nanoTesla. That’s 100*10^-9. Thus, the ratio of the disturbance to the overall field is:

    100*10^-9/50*10^-6 = 2*10^-4 = 0.0002 = 0.02%

    I just don’t find it credible that a dog will do the N-S alignment if there is no magnetic disturbance but will not do so when there is a 0.02% disturbance.

  10. 10

    Oops. I’m off by a factor of 10. The ratio of the disturbance field to the quiet field is 2*10^-3 = 0.2%. But my argument still holds.

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