Dogs have an enviable sense of direction. Even in a completely foreign place, our four-legged friends have the ability to easily navigate in vague ways.
For the first time in history, Czech scientists have found evidence that dogs can sense the Earth’s weak magnetic field and use it for navigation.
It is not yet known exactly how and to what extent they use this, but it seems that this hidden sensation, called magnetoreception, really exists in dogs, just as it does in many other animals, such as birds, salamanders, and frogs.
Scientists have long doubted this hidden talent of our four-legged friends, but it has never been tested in such an accurate way.
“The data are very impressive,” said biologist Katherine Lohmann, who studies magnetoreception in birds and turtles but has not been involved in this particular study.
When hunting, some dogs simply orient themselves with their feet and follow the path through their own scent, but some sometimes return to the starting point in a completely new way; Scientists call this ability “intelligence”.
This is a pretty interesting skill, but until now, more animals than dogs have been going to study in detail how they orient themselves and how much they depend on the magnetic field in this case.
A few years ago, Czech scientists discovered that dogs pass through the stomach and urinate along the north-south axis, indicating that they can sense the earth’s magnetic field. Recently, a team of researchers from the same university found evidence that “intelligence” is also based on this hidden feeling.
It is difficult to isolate one of the sensations when testing a dog, but the researchers used a unique method. Using GPS data and videos taken by sports cameras, they observed 27 hunting dogs from ten different breeds returning to their starting point in various 62 forested locations.
In 2004-2017, the dogs performed more than 600 tests, including chasing and returning to the owner.
Only by analyzing observations of such behaviors did the study authors find that dogs that chased the animal’s odor began returning to the owner along a north-south axis of approximately 20 meters regardless of where the owner was standing at the time.
The authors call this the “compass race” and suspect that for dogs it is a way to turn on magnetic sensors before climbing.
Because the forest was completely foreign to dogs, there was no odor to trace. There was no wind that could carry the human smell to the dog, and the impassable vegetation largely blocked the road. On the other hand, all this can not cover the Earth’s magnetic field.
Taking all these variables into account, the authors argue that hunting dogs really use magnetoreception to find a way back to their owner.
This ability is crucial for long-distance navigation, and as a group of researchers points out, it is indeed the most important component that is “lacking” in our knowledge of mammalian spatial behavior and cognition today.
It is likely that magnetoreceptors exist in far more species than we know. There is a chance that he is hiding even in us. The molecule responsible for this hidden sixth sense in birds has recently been found in dogs, primates and even bears.
This research in this direction is just the beginning.
The study was published in the journal eLife.