Canine’s our best compass

Next time you lose your bearings, forget the compass and look instead for the nearest squatting dog to help you find your way.

Sharna Johnson

Sharna Johnson

When a dog begins the sniff-circle-sniff dance, it’s usually pretty clear they have purpose — that there is some deep intent and methodology in the way they conduct their hunt for the “perfect” spot.

A soft patch of grass, discovery of a new four-inch section of ground, a spot previously claimed where they can lay a nice “all-mine” message or positioning in a way to protect themselves while at their most vulnerable — all plausible explanations for the painstaking selection process.

The ritual by which they inch over the landing zone, lining up for a precision strike can only be described as surgically executed.

Anyone who has waited at the end of the leash in the bitter cold or staggered to the yard with a pup in the middle of the night can attest, dogs take the lightening of their load very seriously to a point verging on spiritual.

And while it may indeed have spiritual implications as of yet undiscovered, what has been learned is that they are engaging in science — or at least behavior of scientific merit.

When allowed to have their moment of relief undistracted and uninhibited, dogs align their bodies with the magnetic poles, according to a study conducted by Czech and German researchers.

Not only do they seem to prefer aligning with the north-south axis, they will actively avoid the east-west axis.

Observing almost 1,900 movements, scientists were delighted by the discovery, which they tout as proof of mammalian sensitivity to magnetic fields.

Similarly, after more than 5,500 observations of dogs urinating, it was found that females align with the north-south axis, while male dogs prefer to look to the northwest when they wiz, a difference researchers blame on leg lifting.

Of course it’s one of those studies that’s cause for a little head scratching — not in the respect of how conclusions were reached but more so in pondering why it was conducted in the first place — after all, it is only natural to question how exactly a mind arrives at such a question, much less recruits a team of esteemed cohorts.

But, that wasn’t the question researchers started with.

Instead, they began their study by observing dogs in general to see if they had any behaviors that could be linked to planetary magnetism and eventually detected patterns in poop rituals.

While magnetic alignment during grazing and other animal activities has been documented before — birds, bees, whales and even humans have been found to react to magnetic fields — the recent discovery included an unexpected nuance. Dogs aligned themselves only during periods of undisrupted magnetism, when magnetic parameters were not changing erratically and unpredictably as they do during magnetic storms — showing that dogs are far more in tune with magnetic fields than scientists had imagined.

What scientists admit they do not know, is whether dogs consciously play compass when they go to the bathroom, if it occurs on a subconscious level or if perhaps something about the magnetic fields makes it feel better to line up in one direction over another.

Regardless of their reasons, the pull of their humans is, it seems, far stronger and most dogs forgo the alignment process when their people are around.

That in mind, the next time the dog lines up and you find yourself with a bird’s eye view, find comfort in one of two things: Either you’re standing in the way of north, or you are the axis of your pup’s world.

 Sharna Johnson is a writer who is always searching for ponies. You can reach her at: insearchofponies@gmail.com

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