Dogs are magnificient little beasties, for any number of reasons. I've had a dog in my life one way or the other for probably half of the time I've been on this planet, and I must say that having one is a major improvement over not having one. They just make life better.
That said, as a species they are woefully behind the cat in learning how to use litter boxes, which means you need a backyard or a leash to take them on multiple walks during the day. And anyone who's walked a dog has spent at least part of the time rolling her eyes and wondering just why it takes so long for them to figure out where they're going to ... well, go.
Which brings me to some news: Your dog is not meandering hither and yon and re-orienting itself twelve times before unloading its waste materials on a whim, or even probably because it wants to find a great smell first. No, says a new study, it's all based on the earth's magnetic alignment.
The study suggests that dogs are sensitive to small variations in Earth's magnetic field. After examining 70 dogs -- made up of 37 breeds -- over two years, 1,893 defecations and 5,582 urinations, researchers found that under "calm magnetic field conditions," dogs preferred to "excrete with the body being aligned along the north-south axis," avoiding east-west altogether. Dogs were observed in a free-roaming environment, meaning they were not leashed and not influenced by walls or roads that would influence linear movement.
Okay, so ha-ha, she's talking about poop and yes, yes, yes. But really: Why is this? And how do they do it? For what earthly reason are dogs a mobile version of Stonehenge in this matter?
I only bring this up because it comes on the heels of my discovering something similar about another animal species I adore: foxes. These catdog animals (which really to me sums up how they look and how they behave in one word) are the ultimate in charming for me -- beautiful to look at, graceful and feral and silly all at the same time. Silly? Yes: Without knowing the reasoning behind it, watching foxes hunt in the snow is an exercise in amusement -- they sense the rodents under the snowpack and literally dive-bomb into the unbroken snow to snag a meal. Awesome, and hilarious.
But apparently, magnetic field-based as well, says Discover:
They found that foxes strongly prefer to jump in a north-easterly direction, around 20 degrees off from magnetic north. This fixed heading was important for their success as hunters. They were more likely to make a kill if they jumped along their preferred axis, particularly if their prey was hidden by high cover or snow. If they pounced to the north-east, they killed on 73% of their attacks; if they jumped in the opposite direction, they success rate stayed at 60%. In all other directions, only 18% of their pounces were successful.
Okay, so this makes more sense: To find the hidden meal, you need to use some other senses to locate it. But the Earth's magnetic field?
What is it with the dogs and the foxes? Scientists, feel free to weigh in here. I got nothin', though this makes both of them all that much more awesome.