We know dogs use their incredible sense of smell to help them navigate the world around them. If your pet has ever been lost and turned up back home, they undoubtedly relied on their nose, but that’s not the only navigational tool dogs have in their arsenal. We’ve recently learned that dogs use the earth’s magnetic field to help them navigate. As if dogs couldn’t get any more interesting!
These new findings were released this summer during a June study. In the study, Czech scientists have found evidence that canines can sense and navigate using the earth’s weak magnetic field.
What does this mean? Dogs have a unique sixth sense, called magnetoreception. They share this cool trait with birds, whales, and dolphins who rely on it to plan out their long migrations. This ancient ability has likely been passed down through generations. We’re probably only learning about this new navigational ability in dogs now because they’ve been studied much less than migratory animals.
How Does it Work?
The earth’s magnetic field could give dogs a ‘universal’ reference frame, making it easier for them to navigate long distances. In this study, researches used GPS trackers on 27 dogs. They chose hunting breeds like terriers and dachshunds for this particular research. The GPS readings showed how the canines navigated 662 expeditions from 2014 to 2017 in the Czech Republic.
They released the dogs into unfamiliar woods. Researchers found that the animals would follow their own scent to retrace their way back from where they started, which was to be expected. What was surprising was how some of the canines did something called a “compass run.”
But in one-third of the expeditions, the pups took a different route home. On those trips, most of the dogs started off by running for 65 feet along earth’s north-south axis. According to the study authors, they did this to figure out where the magnetic north and south are and where they are in relation to those points.
Do you think you could navigate your way back home if you were left in a forest? Unlike dogs, us humans would probably be completely lost without our phone’s GPS system, a map, or even a compass. But for dogs, an unfamiliar forest may not seem as terrifying. They can use their incredible sixth sense to help them navigate their way back home to safety.