You probably don't think much about how your dog poops, unless you're cleaning it up. But there are some fascinating things about his behavior when he does his business. For instance, did you know that, when your dog poops, he aligns himself with the Earth's magnetic field?
Your Dog's Poop
You might have noticed that when you take your dog out to do his business, he likes to sniff around, examining a number of spots, before settling on a place he likes. There are a number of factors he's considering, such as the direction of the sun and wind, what time of day it is, and more. But in fact, the process is even more intricate than that.
Zoologists conducted a study (PDF download) of 70 dogs, in 37 different breeds, over the course of two years. They put them in wide open spaces, with no walls, roads, buildings, or other markers to influence their directional orientation, and no leashes to limit their movements.
After observing nearly 2,000 defecations and over 5,000 urinations, they found that dogs prefer to do their business in alignment with the North/South axis of the Earth's magnetic field - i.e. turning to face either North or South. However, the researchers further found that this only held true when the magnetic field was calm and stable. It wouldn't happen during, for instance, a magnetic storm. These perfectly stable conditions occurred only about 30 percent of the time.
What This Means
Why does this hold true? Do dogs have an affinity for the North/South axis, or do they dislike the East/West axis? Is there something in the magnetic field that they sense consciously, for instance by hearing or smell, that allows them to align themselves this way? Or is it purely instinctual? The fact is, scientists aren't sure yet. More research is required to answer these questions.
Dogs are hardly the only animals that are able to sense the Earth's magnetic field. Foxes, cows, deer, and other mammals are in tune with it as well, to varying degrees. However, this is the first time an animal has been observed to behave in a certain way based on that sense.
What are the applications of this discovery? If you and your furry friend are lost in the woods without a compass, can you just wait for him to do his business to get your bearings? Even assuming there was a calm magnetic field, he might face either north or south, so you'd still need some other directional indicators to find your way. To be safe, it would be better just to make sure you have your compass with you when you go hiking or camping.
More of interest is the fact that dogs can evidently sense whether or not the magnetic field is calm. The differences between the two types of magnetic conditions are subtle. Humans need expensive technical equipment to measure the magnetic field, but dogs know it instinctively. As stated already, scientists still aren't sure how or why this is the case, but with further experimentation, perhaps there's a way to harness this ability.
The truth is, this discovery probably won't affect your relationship with your dog in any significant way. However, next time you take your furry friend out, observe what direction he faces to relieve himself. And maybe cut him a little slack when he takes that extra time to find just the right spot. He's doing some very sensitive calculations. A decision like that can't be rushed.