Scientists speculate that dogs are using the Earth's magnetic field to calculate the shortest path in unfamiliar terrain, Science magazine reported.
Scientists have long studied the navigational abilities of migratory birds and long-distance traveling animals such as turtles. However, we still have little understanding of how a dog's picture of space is constructed. Sensory ecologists at the Czech University of Agriculture in Prague have long been involved in the subject and have found evidence that dogs - like many animals, and perhaps humans - are capable of sensing the earth's magnetic field. The scientists published their findings in the eLife magazine.
Several years ago, the same Prague ecologists discovered that dogs, preparing to urinate or defecate, occupy a north-south position. Since dogs mark territory in this way, scientists have suggested that orientation along this axis helps them to determine the location of the other marks. However, stationary in situ orientation is not the same as spatial navigation.
In a new study, Prague environmentalists studied the behavior of about three dozen dogs for three years, whose collars were fastened to video cameras and GPS trackers that record their movements. During a walk in the forest, the dogs ran away to the smell of game, and then, wandering about 1 kilometer, returned to the owner.
GPS tracks showed two types of “return” (see map): the dog either returned along its original route, presumably guided by the smell, or laid itself a completely new route, fearlessly cutting through the thicket. The second option was more common. At the same time, having studied 223 escape routes, the researchers discovered an interesting detail: in the vast majority of cases, 170, before turning back to the owner, the dogs stopped and ran about 20 meters along the north-south axis. It is curious that when they did this, they usually returned to the owner in a more direct way. These short runs looked like alignment along the magnetic field.
In order to keep the experiment clean, the dogs did not receive other navigation tips while walking in the forest. Whenever possible, they were taken to a part of the forest where they had not been before, so that the dog could not rely on familiar landmarks. The dog could not visually find the owner as he hid after she ran away. The smell did not matter either: the owner tried to position himself in the wind so that the dog could not smell it when he returned.
The researchers believe that dogs run along the north-south axis to find out which direction they are taking: this helps them, keeping in mind the previous course, determine the most direct route back and follow it using a magnetic compass.
Probably, modern dogs inherited the ability to use the magnetic field for navigation from their ancient ancestors, who had to cross large territories.
In the photo, a miniature dachshund named Gurvinek Valentine with a video camera and GPS tracker is one of the participants in the experiment of Prague ecologists.