Join 3,494 readers in helping fund MetaFilter (Hide)


How Fido Keeps in Alignment
January 4, 2014 4:00 PM   Subscribe

If you've ever wondered why your dog dances back and forth before it squats and drops, now we know. A recent study in the journal "Frontiers In Zoology" has found that dogs align with north-south magnetic fields while pooping. "The researchers found that dogs prefer to point along the north-south axis when they do their business – as long as the magnetic field is stable. When the magnetic field shifts – say, because of an oncoming solar storm – it becomes more difficult to see the pattern.
posted by Xurando (74 comments total) 16 users marked this as a favorite

 
How feng shui.
posted by mondo dentro at 4:04 PM on January 4 [7 favorites]


This runs so contrary to my experience with my two dogs, I can only declare BULLDOG.

Heh.

According the paper, it is not so much that they face N/S but that they do not face E/W. I guess I am going to have to do some science during our morning and evening poo jaunts.
posted by Pogo_Fuzzybutt at 4:05 PM on January 4


Eh, who doesn't do this?
posted by cjorgensen at 4:06 PM on January 4 [15 favorites]


That's the surprising conclusion of an exhaustive study, conducted by German and Czech researchers, who spent two years watching 70 dogs while they defecated and urinated thousands of times.

Fucking disgusting.
posted by hal_c_on at 4:11 PM on January 4 [3 favorites]


Of course the Germans were involved.
posted by indubitable at 4:12 PM on January 4 [24 favorites]


I have to say, I don't really believe it. Did the study control for the position of the sun, for example? Perhaps dogs just prefer not to have the sun in their eyes.
posted by citizenoftheworld at 4:15 PM on January 4 [4 favorites]


I tested this theorem yesterday (yes with a compass and mild shame) and three outta three pup poops were indeed bang on the N/S axis. Today the wind changed and the butt compass swung from West to East to North West. Perhaps accurate magnetic defecation takes time to develop...
posted by Caskeum at 4:18 PM on January 4 [7 favorites]


I read about this a couple of days ago, and I've since paid more attention to our dog's orientation during the "event". And I have to say, he's been consistently north/south. Just another data point.
posted by landis at 4:21 PM on January 4 [1 favorite]


And did it correlate to intelligence ? My wife's GSP, who is a fine dog and a terrific and determined hunter - seems to be constantly surprised to find himself pooping. He'll be running along, and then - PooP! - and he's like, "rear end, why aren't we running anymore ? Oh, pooping. I see. Done yet? Done yet? Done yet? Done yet? Done yet? Ok! Good!!!!" and then he takes off again.

My dog - the High Maintenance Vizsla - sniffs around for a while, and then when he finds the perfect spot he goes. The look on his face, though. He's just so bothered by the entire event. I think that's why he sniffs around so long - he doesn't really like pooping so he has to be basically compelled to do it. He's pretty happy when it's all done though.

In either case, the direction seems to be random.

pics in profile. They aren't pooping, just snoozing
posted by Pogo_Fuzzybutt at 4:23 PM on January 4 [10 favorites]


it is not so much that they face N/S but that they do not face E/W.

I don't know, after hearing about this I watched and really thought about it, and yeah, my dog's butt is pointing in a general northward direction. I suppose I'd have to observe every time and log the results to be sure that one time wasn't a fluke, but my observation roughly corresponded with the way the study is being reported.

I mean, I wouldn't use my dog's butt as a compass or anything.
posted by Sara C. at 4:23 PM on January 4 [5 favorites]


What am I saying? Of course I would use my dog's butt as a compass.
posted by Sara C. at 4:25 PM on January 4 [69 favorites]


This doesn't really answer why it is that dogs shuffle around before pooping. All it does is shift the question one step further back – why should dogs care whether they're aligned North-South when they take a dump?
posted by Scientist at 4:25 PM on January 4 [2 favorites]


Someone should do a study about why my dog LOVES to shit in the neighbor's yard but absolutely will not shit in our yard.
posted by Sara C. at 4:26 PM on January 4 [3 favorites]


It's because it isn't your dog's "territory". My yard is fenced but by dog HATES pooping in the yard at all. She very much prefers to do her business when out on a walk, three or four blocks away, and even then she likes to get as far away from me as the leash allows.

If you moved, I'd bet that your dog wouldn't have a problem pooping in your yard for a little while until he figured out that you live there now.
posted by VTX at 4:31 PM on January 4 [2 favorites]


...WTF?! Now that I think about it, yeah my dog does poop N/S. Usually north. He'll get into position and than pivot almost like a compass needle! Doesn't matter if he pivots his head right into a bush. I thought it was smell-related.
posted by 2bucksplus at 4:31 PM on January 4 [1 favorite]


Someone should do a study about why my dog LOVES to shit in the neighbor's yard but absolutely will not shit in our yard.

The grass is always greener. That might be a chicken-egg thing though.
posted by zombieflanders at 4:32 PM on January 4 [1 favorite]


Man what else have we missed.
posted by 2bucksplus at 4:34 PM on January 4 [28 favorites]


I'll have to wait until spring - our chihuahua is forced to poop along the axis of whatever direction her poop path is shovelled in. I tend to switch it around, as I'm usually shovelling in my bedroom slippers and don't want to step in yesterday's deposits. (And of course that's just another datapoint to argue that dogs domesticated us, rather than us them - ain't no other reason I'd be leaping out of a warm bed to shovel snow if not for Wee Tiny Dog.)
posted by Mary Ellen Carter at 4:37 PM on January 4 [1 favorite]


One of my dogs always does his helicopter routine - spinning in place like a compass needle - as a presage to pooping. I guess this is why. Or, I don't know, maybe the slight dizziness makes the pooping more pleasurable...
posted by chrisgregory at 4:38 PM on January 4 [1 favorite]


What am I saying? Of course I would use my dog's butt as a compass.

Pretty sure I saw Bear Grylls use this one weird trick on his show.
posted by Foci for Analysis at 4:38 PM on January 4 [5 favorites]


Poop science is the best science.
posted by Dr. Zira at 4:44 PM on January 4


Pretty sure I saw Bear Grylls use this one weird trick on his show.

Man, it is so easy to hate on that dude, but I bet he's a riot to go camping with. Plus, I'd die before I drank my own pee, thank you very much.
posted by Pogo_Fuzzybutt at 4:48 PM on January 4 [5 favorites]


This makes me happy that my apartment's toilet faces south (and looking back, my recently memorable worst experiences in public toilets were east-west facing). Woof.
posted by oneswellfoop at 4:53 PM on January 4 [1 favorite]


Man, it is so easy to hate on that dude, but I bet he's a riot to go camping with.

Bear, we are happy to share our power bars and chili and chips and salsa and beer, you don't have to squeeze the juice out of deer poop and eat June bugs.
posted by ian1977 at 5:01 PM on January 4 [5 favorites]


How feng shui.

More like feng poo-i.
posted by Frayed Knot at 5:07 PM on January 4 [3 favorites]


"That's the surprising conclusion of an exhaustive study, conducted by German and Czech researchers, who spent two years watching 70 dogs while they defecated and urinated thousands of times."

My, that would be exhausting. I don't even think I could watch one or two while not pooping for longer than a day.
posted by iamkimiam at 5:13 PM on January 4 [3 favorites]



Holy crap. I just went out with my three dogs and once they found their respective spots they really did poop with their butts all in the same direction....

o.O
posted by Jalliah at 5:14 PM on January 4 [2 favorites]


Reminds me of that movie where Anthony Hopkins defeats the Alaskan wilderness after a plane crash by observing in which direction Alec Baldwin poops.
posted by mannequito at 5:18 PM on January 4 [8 favorites]


Someone should do a study about why my dog LOVES to shit in the neighbor's yard but absolutely will not shit in our yard.

Maybe the neighbor has a huge ass magnet buried in their yard.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 5:19 PM on January 4 [16 favorites]



I had a stock dog that lived outside and protected my chickens and ducks. We didn't have a fence and the yard/field backed into a foresty marsh area. Every day she would walk the same path around what she determined the perimeter to be. She would never pee all at once. Just a lot of walk, squat, walk squat on the path. She would duck off the path a few feet to poop, so there ended up being piles of poop parallel to the path.

We called it our poop fence.
posted by Jalliah at 5:25 PM on January 4 [2 favorites]


A huge ass-magnet??
posted by Greg_Ace at 5:28 PM on January 4 [14 favorites]


My wife's GSP, who is a fine dog and a terrific and determined hunter - seems to be constantly surprised to find himself pooping. He'll be running along, and then - PooP! - and he's like, "rear end, why aren't we running anymore ? Oh, pooping. I see. Done yet? Done yet? Done yet? Done yet? Done yet? Ok! Good!!!!" and then he takes off again.

See, the problem is you need to take into account the tail brain, which owns everything from the neck back, and negotiates everything from neck to rump with head brain, but ultimately has veto power over this region (the tail proper is under sole control of the tail brain; wagging is its primary function). Tail brain's dialog is this:

"Head brain, why are we running? Why are we running? Dude, it's time to poop. No, I don't care that you want to hunt. Fuck, you think I care about squirrels? It's winter, do you know that? Damn squirrels are hibernating. Running? Imma stop that. Now let's see, north is about ... there. No, we can't move. I said no. We're pooping. No, srsly, stop asking. Aaaaand done. Fine, yes, we can run again. Wait, you want to what? Eat it? That's disgusting, but it's up to you. Are you happy?"
posted by zippy at 5:31 PM on January 4 [5 favorites]


a huge ass magnet

This is shameless hyphen-bait
posted by zippy at 5:38 PM on January 4 [25 favorites]


I can't find a link, but I remember reading that there are other animals that were found to exhibit this behavior. I suppose I shall have to remodel my bathrooms as my toilets are perpendicular to Earth's magnetic field.
posted by humanfont at 5:40 PM on January 4 [2 favorites]


OK, the last four places I've lived have all had north-south aligned toilets. The place before that was east-west, though. Normally I don't have to spin around before sitting down.
posted by Celsius1414 at 5:50 PM on January 4


"Head brain, why are we running? Why are we running? Dude, it's time to poop. No, I don't care that you want to hunt. Fuck, you think I care about squirrels? It's winter, do you know that? Damn squirrels are hibernating. Running? Imma stop that. Now let's see, north is about ... there. No, we can't move. I said no. We're pooping. No, srsly, stop asking. Aaaaand done. Fine, yes, we can run again. Wait, you want to what? Eat it? That's disgusting, but it's up to you. Are you happy?"

That's about it. This is the dog that fell over trying to get away from his own rear foot that was trying to scratch his ear.
posted by Pogo_Fuzzybutt at 5:52 PM on January 4 [8 favorites]


Great, now the neighbours are going to wonder why I'm stalking their dog with a compass.
posted by arcticseal at 6:10 PM on January 4 [4 favorites]


An obvious follow-up study would be to correlate toilet-direction with bowel movement problems in humans.

Actually, I hope someone will have the guts to research if there is a correlation between which direction your bed is pointing and sleep problems (and perhaps even depression). Some earlier studies have looked at which direction cows like to align themselves, and they also found the (magnetic) north-south preference. The latest study of this seems to confirm the behaviour as well.

IMHO it would not be terribly surprising if humans have the same preference, but the barrier to doing research on this is about the same as that "looking for time travellers on the internet" paper.
posted by Baron Humbert von Gikkingen at 6:11 PM on January 4 [1 favorite]


butt compass

OMG, I just fell off the chair laughing. Butt compass! You realize now I will never be lost in the woods as long as my dog is with me? I will hunt around for a pile of turds, and then I will follow them home. Never mind the moss on the north side of the bear!

I suppose I shall have to remodel my bathrooms as my toilets are perpendicular to Earth's magnetic field.

Ours also. This could explain much. Perhaps I will attempt to align Mr. BlueHorse's prunes in a north-south direction until the great remodel can be done.
posted by BlueHorse at 6:27 PM on January 4 [1 favorite]


My dog never met a shrubbery that he didn't enjoy pooping into. I think this overrides all of his other directional instincts, probably because he enjoys watching me peer through leaves in an attempt to find it, especially when it's dark.
posted by lesbiassparrow at 6:36 PM on January 4 [1 favorite]


zippy: ""Head brain, why are we running? Why are we running? Dude, it's time to poop. No, I don't care that you want to hunt. Fuck, you think I care about squirrels? It's winter, do you know that? Damn squirrels are hibernating. Running? Imma stop that. Now let's see, north is about ... there. No, we can't move. I said no. We're pooping. No, srsly, stop asking. Aaaaand done. Fine, yes, we can run again. Wait, you want to what? Eat it? That's disgusting, but it's up to you. Are you happy?""

As I read this laughingly to my wife, my own wonder pup (border collie/greyhound mix) came up to me gently and stared into my eyes with wise intent, as though to say,

"Finally, someone understands me."
posted by notsnot at 7:10 PM on January 4 [2 favorites]


In terms of other animals expressing a similar behaviour: previously "Foxes jump in a north-easterly direction".
posted by mephisjo at 7:13 PM on January 4 [1 favorite]


Via Blasdelb's profile:

Extremely low-frequency electromagnetic fields disrupt magnetic alignment of ruminants
abstract: Resting and grazing cattle and deer tend to align their body axes in the geomagnetic North-South direction. The mechanism(s) that underlie this behavior remain unknown. Here, we show that extremely low-frequency magnetic fields (ELFMFs) generated by high-voltage power lines disrupt alignment of the bodies of these animals with the geomagnetic field. Body orientation of cattle and roe deer was random on pastures under or near power lines. Moreover, cattle exposed to various magnetic fields directly beneath or in the vicinity of power lines trending in various magnetic directions exhibited distinct patterns of alignment. The disturbing effect of the ELFMFs on body alignment diminished with the distance from conductors. These findings constitute evidence for magnetic sensation in large mammals as well as evidence of an overt behavioral reaction to weak ELFMFs in vertebrates. The demonstrated reaction to weak ELFMFs implies effects at the cellular and molecular levels.
posted by AElfwine Evenstar at 7:15 PM on January 4 [2 favorites]


This study doesn't really prove anything about magnetic alignment even if you believe the statistics. The mean declination from true north in Germany, where this study was done, is close to zero.

I might believe it if they repeated the study in Maine and Washington which have a difference in declination from true north of 30 degrees. Such a big difference in magnetic north should easily should up in the data.
posted by JackFlash at 7:18 PM on January 4 [1 favorite]


It seems there has been a fair amount of research done on animals using magnetic fields for alignment and even navigation.
posted by AElfwine Evenstar at 7:23 PM on January 4



This info is spreading. Just talked to Mom, who is across the country. I said, "Hey I found read something about dogs today." Mom, "Oh, that they align?" Me: "Yeah pooping". Mom: 'It was on my Facebook today.'

She then proceeded to laugh herself to tears when I mentioned this discussion and told her about never getting lost now since we have live butt compasses.

I'm now envisioning many dog owners out for walks and holding compasses in order to see for themselves.
posted by Jalliah at 7:34 PM on January 4 [5 favorites]


Wouldn't they know from experience which way is north in their usual dog-walking haunts?
posted by sneebler at 7:54 PM on January 4


How feng shui.

More like feng poo-i.


no, feng shih tsu.
posted by lester at 7:55 PM on January 4 [5 favorites]


My dog never met a shrubbery that he didn't enjoy pooping into

If yours is like mine, then this goes double if it is some sort of spiny, prickly, holly bush or something. Anything to increase the chance of a poop-bag tear and thus keep things "exciting."
posted by Panjandrum at 8:38 PM on January 4 [2 favorites]


I might believe it if they repeated the study in Maine and Washington which have a difference in declination from true north of 30 degrees.

Now that you mention it, that explains the discrepancy I've noticed in my, um, experimental data. Our pup, in Chicago, has NE skew in his pooping position.
posted by hwyengr at 8:50 PM on January 4 [1 favorite]


This has IgNobel Prize written all over it.
posted by bryon at 9:03 PM on January 4 [6 favorites]


A Google Image search of "dog shitting" shows plenty of examples. The shadow would never fall behind the dog (assuming northern hemisphere). This dog for example appears to be on a west/east axis (or possibly an aussie facing north). But most seem to have a possible northerly axis (hard to tell without time of day or hemisphere info).

As possible explanation, natural selection has selected for animals that crap in the shade of trees/bushes, since they are more camouflaged and less likely to be jumped by a (large) predator, cats for example. And since trees cast a shadow to the north, that's where they line up in the shadow of the tree trunk. A relic habit perhaps from earlier descendants.
posted by stbalbach at 9:14 PM on January 4 [6 favorites]


*checks toilet*

Yep. Definitely facing south.
posted by phaedon at 9:14 PM on January 4 [2 favorites]


log the results

I saw what you did there.
posted by wallabear at 9:19 PM on January 4 [4 favorites]


I'd never really thought about it before, but I suspect our dogs do it too. But then, we have a long backyard, aligned on a N/S axis so it just sort of seemed natural.

I wonder if they align magnetically every time they poop right in front of the TV. Never caught them doing that in person.
posted by Foosnark at 10:22 PM on January 4


I just realized my preferred toilet is oriented on a polar axis. The toilet I seldom use is not. Hmmm.
posted by five fresh fish at 11:00 PM on January 4 [1 favorite]


Must visit dog park with compass.
posted by sibilatorix at 11:06 PM on January 4 [1 favorite]


Do not go into the dog park. It is forbidden.
posted by K.P. at 12:19 AM on January 5 [7 favorites]


"I smell another sequel to National Treasure!" - Nicolas Cage
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 12:37 AM on January 5 [2 favorites]


OMG. I just tested this on our morning ablutions. Absolutely spot-on North-facing arse. That is just amazing.
posted by DangerIsMyMiddleName at 12:57 AM on January 5


Obligatory Onion reference.
posted by How the runs scored at 4:43 AM on January 5


My conclusion: Metafilter dog owners appear to experience an inordinate number of days where the magnetic field conditions are calm.
posted by de at 5:10 AM on January 5


We need to kickstarter a scientific project where a dog is brought to each of the Earth's poles just to see what happens.
posted by Renoroc at 5:16 AM on January 5 [4 favorites]


This is pretty clearly one of those studies where the researchers slice the data a million ways until they find something "significant," they get tons of publicity, and no one is ever able to replicate the result, right?
posted by leopard at 5:35 AM on January 5




Well this mornings datapoint is this.

Dogs: OMG we have to go. Let's go out. Please, please hurry.

Me: Let me get my damn boots and jackets on first.

Dogs: No no, let's go, lets go. Let me help.

Me: Gah, jumping up does not help me get my coat on. Okay open the door. Butt compasses deployed!

Dogs: Run out and screech to a stop. What the hell. It's snowing sideways! Gah let us back in. Can't we just use the nice calm and warm floor?

Me: Go. We're staying out here.

Dogs reluctantly: Fine. Okay but we're making this quick.

Dogs run back and forth and end up going in any direction, then immediately run back to the door.

Butt compasses don't appear to work in blizzard conditions.
posted by Jalliah at 6:36 AM on January 5 [4 favorites]


This is pretty clearly one of those studies where the researchers slice the data a million ways until they find something "significant," they get tons of publicity, and no one is ever able to replicate the result, right?

Not sure.

Read the article (please note: I have some very basic engineering type mathematics, this stuff is more advanced and I can't claim to follow everything they're saying).

The authors explicitly state that they only noticed the correlation after the data was collected and originally analysed. They also talk about how they applied different sorts to the data to find the one that gives the best correlation. They don't have a super-large sample size (70 dogs, including one dog for which they have no defecations or urinations and presumably only included to keep the numbers up, plenty more dogs where only defecations or urinations were recorded, not both), but 70 is still pretty good for finding effects. The data was manually recorded (hand-held compass) and the deviations in the magnetic field that needed to be accounted for in order for the effect to be noticeable were all taken from data recorded by a geomagnetic observatory in Germany.

The study focussed on defecation / urination based on the presumption that it would be the act least influenced by human interaction, I think. The recorded events all happened in open areas such as fields and woods.

They assure the reader that there was no hint from the observers that the dogs were facing the 'right' direction before relieving themselves.

On the positive side, the results seem reasonable. The stronger the magnetic field, the stronger the effect (i.e. steady field, noticeable effect; slightly unsteady field, some effect; unsteady field, no effect). The effect is stronger in middle-aged dogs (not puppies or elderly dogs) - I could see that as being an indicator of sensitivity.

I would like to see the raw data. I'm not a statistician, but I could at least plot stuff out on a few graphs and get a gut feel for how strong effect they're seeing and if they really have something.

If you really wanted to investigate this effect, it should be possible to strap a GPS module on a dog's back and either have a human record just the time the dog did its business or else have a sensor system to detect activity. This would, of course, be expensive, but it should remove a lot of potential for bias and get a lot more data (as long as the GPS didn't skew things itself, of course). Should be able to put a hall effect sensor or whatever is appropriate on the doggy too, to spot strength of magnetic field locally.

So, uh, maybe fishing for results in a sea of data. Maybe not.
posted by YAMWAK at 6:47 AM on January 5 [3 favorites]


Oh, and for everyone out there wanting to add dog's butts to their survivalist tool kit, I believe the article mentions that conditions where the effect is noticeable only occur about 30% of the time, so unless you toolkit also happens to include a decent magnetosensor, it's probably best to rely on your phone's GPS signal.
posted by YAMWAK at 6:52 AM on January 5


Dogs: Run out and screech to a stop. What the hell. It's snowing sideways! Gah let us back in. Can't we just use the nice calm and warm floor?

If only.

My dogs run out and bound around enthusiastically. After a few miuntes, the small one scratches at the door, wanting inside. The big one is staring at a tree, ignoring my calls to come in.

Several more minutes later, she's waiting quietly by the back door. I let her in, shaking my head.

Several more minutes later, there's fresh poop on the living room floor.
posted by Foosnark at 7:03 AM on January 5 [1 favorite]


We have a minus 22 actual temperature and a minus 50 windchill at present. The Corgi/Pom did a quick pee but I know damn well he hasn't dropped a deuce since yesterday afternoon. Whatever happens today might not line up on an axis but it will be as long as my guitar's neck and it will be on the laundry room floor.
posted by Ber at 7:45 AM on January 5 [1 favorite]


Today's doggie datapoints: One north west shit, and one shit that lasted a long time and took in most of the compass points while it was going on.
posted by emilyw at 9:14 AM on January 5


Here's the paper and abstract:

http://www.frontiersinzoology.com/content/10/1/80/abstract

I suspect that they'll discover that their experiment has been confounded by wind, which at 49 degrees latitude (Germany and Czech Republic) has tendencies (see Ferrell cell).

Any experiment involving a dog that does not involve its nose is incomplete, and there is no control in the experiment for wind direction or air speed.
posted by the Real Dan at 12:01 PM on January 5 [1 favorite]


the Real Dan: "Any experiment involving a dog that does not involve its nose is incomplete, and there is no control in the experiment for wind direction or air speed."

Hmm, I was going with the sun's position, but Germany is so far north it'd just show up as an anti-south bias.
posted by pwnguin at 12:21 PM on January 5


My dog faces DUE WEST. Every time. Huh.

We live near the front range. Is it possible that these gigantic mountains just to the west have a stronger pull than magnetic north?
posted by mochapickle at 12:40 PM on January 5


So much brainpower in this thread, dedicated to puzzling out issues involving dogshit. Humans are weird.
posted by five fresh fish at 1:13 PM on January 5 [1 favorite]


« Older Grauniad:...  |  The Adventures of Fallacy Man,... Newer »


This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments