Dogs Poop in Alignment with Earth’s Magnetic Field

March 27, 2014 at 11:00 am 9 comments

By Chad Upton | Editor

In case you don’t know, the Earth is basically one giant magnet. That’s why a compass always points to magnetic North. This is extremely useful for navigation and other location based activities.

Apparently, dogs also find it useful for pooping.

Dog Hydrant

Photo: Scott Spaeth (cc)

Scientists recently published a paper describing their observations and analysis of the direction that dogs poop. For two years they monitored 70 dogs and recorded the axis upon which they defecate.

Having walked my dogs thousands of times, I can’t say I ever noticed a correlation between the Earth’s magnetic field and the direction they built a log cabin. That being said, I never paid that much attention to the plot or azimuth.

What’s interesting is that the Earth’s magnetic field moves over time as the Earth’s core changes. More interesting, these changes affect how dogs (and some other mammals) align themselves when it’s 2 o’clock. During times when the magnetic field is fluctuating, anything goes. But, when the magnetic field is stable, their direction of choice is predictable.

Why dogs do this — that’s still a mystery, and it’ll probably take more than two years to figure that out.

Although it’s not described in the paper, I would like to suggest that this amazing sense of direction may explain why lost dogs often find their way home from great distances. Also, if you’ve ever had to calibrate a digital compass, you’ll know you have to turn it in circles a number of times. Perhaps, this need for magnetic calibration also explains why some dogs turn in circles before pooping or laying down.

As for humans, there hasn’t been any study. But, don’t be surprised if your feng shui consultant recommends North facing toilets from now on.

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Sources: Frontiers in Zoology 

Entry filed under: Animals, Geek. Tags: , , , , .

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9 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Newtonian  |  March 27, 2014 at 12:05 pm

    Apart from the couple of scholarly rebuttals posted at the original publication site, I call B.S. (or, in this case, D.S.) on the methodology from a practical standpoint. In the full study, the authors state that the observations were conducted in “open fields” and then the observers proceed to note very exact degree headings of the dogs during “the act”. Think about it. The dog is in an open field with the observer where? Running along side? Following on a long leash (whereupon a leash would raise all kinds of questions about observer-induced bias)? The dog drops to assume the position. How does the observer align himself to get an accurate reading? Not possible. Yet, in the full article, they’re drawing conclusions based on a few degrees of alignment deviation. Even more astounding, they’re allegedly making valid heading readings on the dogs when they lift a leg or squat to urinate? Based on the speed of those acts, all I can say is, “Really? How’d you pull off those readings?”

    There are so many other aspects of this entire study that scream out for challenge that it makes me wonder what the peer review process is at Frontiers In Zoology.

    Finally: Hey, Broken Secrets … slow science news months? (This article is from last December.) I’ve seen gobs of amazing discoveries which the public might consider a broken secret. Is dog poop the best we can do?

    • 2. Chad Upton  |  March 27, 2014 at 4:16 pm

      Thanks for reading Newtonian. If you’ve got other ideas that you think broken secrets readers would like, please send them along!

    • 3. Elbyron  |  April 2, 2014 at 4:53 pm

      I don’t see any reason to doubt the practicality of the methods used in this study. They said that the dogs were not leashed. There is likely no need for the observers to “run alongside”, as most dogs will stay near their owners during a walk. They used a compass to measure the direction of the dog’s spine during the act, though it’s not clear how they were able to accurately align the compass to the spine. Personally I think it would have made the most sense to strap the compass to the dog, and take a photo of the compass during the act – but there are other ways as well.

  • 4. marilyn  |  March 28, 2014 at 7:32 am

    Chad: I found the article interesting and amusing enough to send along to a friend who needed a smile this AM. Thanks for all your articles.:

  • 5. Adrian  |  March 28, 2014 at 10:18 am

    Head’s north & Tail’s south?

  • 6. Adrian Boulton  |  May 7, 2014 at 5:37 pm

    Also, they did not control for the sun. Maybe the dogs poop aligned to the sun.

  • 7. Кенгуру Полуют  |  May 14, 2014 at 4:31 pm

    Amazing dogs — not only do dogs align their poop based on the earth’s magnetic field, they build cabins *ba dum tssshhh*

  • 8. timtim  |  March 1, 2016 at 1:06 pm

    the magnetic field fluctuating over a day, as opposed to trivial variations in a millisecond due to solar winds, or larger changes over centuries, are small compared to changes based on latitude. the field changing over a day causing some variation is questionable. the subjective heading of the dog would better be explained by the observer knowing what was being measured.

    • 9. BG Davis  |  May 6, 2016 at 9:47 pm

      ” the subjective heading of the dog would better be explained by the observer knowing what was being measured.”
      Huh? Who said the heading of the dog was subjective? Or are you implying that the dogs were in on the whole thing?


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