Monday, January 06, 2014

Puppies poop in the direction of the magnetic field

The Christian Science Monitor and lots of other news outlets inform about a seemingly crackpot-sounding yet fascinating Czech-German (well, mostly, 10:2, Czech) research published in Frontiers in Zoology,
Dogs are sensitive to small variations of the Earth's magnetic field (PDF full)
Incidentally, do you agree that the "mainstream" media on the Internet prefer not to link to the original papers even though they're freely accessible and it's easy to link? Readers who are gullible sheep that have to rely upon "interpreters" are apparently more attractive for the journalists.

But back to the result. During defecation, dogs apparently prefer to sit along the North-South direction.

I found the Table 3 on Page 7 of the paper to be the most informative summary of the results.

How strong the results are? The researchers kindly asked their dogs of various breeds to urinate more than 5,000 times and to poop almost 2,000 times over a two-year-long period.

For both activities, significant deviations from random orientations were found. Only for defecation, the rule was clear: the dogs as well as bitches (doggesses) like to align themselves with the North-South magnetic direction, at least when the magnetic field is "calm" i.e. unperturbed. The overall significance of this claim is way over 5 standard deviations. The direction at which they stand was something like 181±5 degrees (5 degrees is the standard deviation which seems incredibly exact: how could they even define and measure the direction of the dog with a better precision? BTW they prefer to talk about 95% and 99% confidence intervals which are comparable to 10 degrees). I didn't catch whether the dogs like to orient their head to the North or to the South or whether this bit is random. If you were able to determine this detail, please let me know.

So unless they are lying to us, the effect seems to be indisputably real. Some tablets contain compasses, some tablets don't. Similarly, humans are similar to the low-brow tablets that were not given compasses. Dogs possess them.

I think that due to the dependence on the magnetic fields' being unperturbed, one may exclude other ways how the dog could orient themselves. For example, in principle, dogs could feel the tiny Coriolis' force, a fictitious force caused by the Earth's spin. But that force is really small – something like a million times smaller than the ordinary gravitational acceleration for speeds of liquids in a body – and moreover, this explanation wouldn't explain why the orientation was only preferred for "calm" geomagnetic fields.

So far, this research was about "playing with the dogs" performed by some playful adults who know some statistics. The results open lots of questions for a more genuine scientific research:
Where is the compass located in the canine bodies?

How does the compass work?

How did it evolve?

Why did it evolve?

Why do the dogs prefer to orient themselves in this way while pooping? Would they be distracted by a "magnetic wind" from the side?

Why don't we seem to have these abilities? Or do we?

Do cats and others have these compasses? Does someone have GPS receivers? ;-)
If you have puppies, you are invited to check this research. Be careful that the dogs can't actually use some other signs to orient themselves (don't forget Feynman's story about the rats and mazes). If you are a physicist, you may try to do experiments with stronger (fridge?) magnets and dogs. Can you find a place on the dog where it starts to respond in some way?

One more story that has something to do with biology, physics, Czechia, and Germany follows.

Gregor Mendel: 130 years from death

130 years ago, Gregor Johann Mendel (1822-1884) died in Brno, the 2nd largest city in Czechia.

This ethnic German physicist spent most of his important life in Moravia, Czech lands, Austria-Hungary. He was born on a farm in Hynčice and died in Brno (don't these names sometimes sound better to English ears than the German counterparts, Heinzendorf bei Odrau und Brünn?). Řehoř Mendel, as we would call him in Czech, had two sisters, Veronika (older than him) and Theresia (younger).

He worked as a gardener and a beekeeper but went to study to Opava's gymnasium, Northeastern Czechia. Between his 18th and 21st birthdays, he would study both physics and theoretical and practical philosophy in Olomouc, the spiritual capital of Moravia. He had to take a break for a year because he was ill. Due to financial stress (he was also expected to feed his nephews), he became something that most greedy people who need some bucks pick: a monk. His physics teacher Friedrich Franz actually encouraged Mendel to become a priest. Johann Mendel was his secular name; Gregor (a name popular among Popes and similar occupations) was the name adopted when he became a professional religious manipulator.

In the early 1850s, he went to Vienna where he studied some more religion. He took some physics classes as well – by Christian Doppler, the discoverer of the velocity-induced red shift. With the extensive physics training, he was an unusual priest. He published lots of physics work, especially in meteorology (he also founded the Austrian Meteorological Society) but also astronomy, and began his research of physics of inheritance (now called genetics).

His superiors didn't like the idea that he would scientifically participate in animal sex so he gave up mice and later bees as his research tools in favor of plants. His most important experiments were pea experiments. He "macroscopically" discovered laws that make much more sense in terms of chromosomes and DNA.

The first law, the law of segregation, says that every individual has a pair of alleles for any trait and he or she gives a random copy from these two to each son or daughter. It's the alleles that segregate; only one copy goes to the offspring. Which allele "wins" depends on the rules of dominance.

The second law, the Inheritance Law or the Law of Independent Assortment, says that different genes are inherited independently. Those laws resulted from ratios 3:1 and 9:3:3:1 when he was mixing one trait or two traits, respectively.

During the Cold War, especially in the USSR, Mendel's insights were suppressed because of the influence of a careerist communist crackpot and a predecessor of the climate alarmists named Trofim Lysenko who introduced an alternative "consensus science" based on Lamarck's flawed version of "evolution".

I chose to classify Mendel as a physicist not just because of his training and the bulk of his publications but also because his publications were ignored by the biologists of his age (and several decades after he died). He was decades ahead of the world, as a good physicist should be.

In March 2013, we had discussions with the Communist and Socialist Swine on whether or not the discovery of the laws of inheritance was due to the textile industry in Brno and due to "globalization", among related questions. This blog post is only fifth TRF article mentioning Mendel.


  1. Unfortunatelly, I can't confirm the result. One needs some cherrypicking. My dog has ca 15 favorite defecation locations and each of these is characterized by specific alignment.

  2. Maybe dogs have their religion like Islam where muslims have to turn their back to the Mecca ;-)

  3. You must perhaps make the candidate slots isotropic and neutral first, and then they choose North-South? Or isn't your dog magnetically deaf? :-)

  4. LOL, I suppose that the dogs' Allah is Santa Claus who lives on the North Pole. :-) I didn't know that Muslims poop in the direction to Mecca - I see, you meant a prayer, right? :-)

  5. I think I figured out this puzzle but I don't want to kill it for you it's fun!

  6. I would surely love to know what's your "solution to this puzzle".

  7. Hehe. While the study seems legit, I'll wait for confirmation by an independent group of researchers before believing any of it :)

  8. Nope. Alignments are practically constant. Seriously, many dog owners are puzzled about this issue. Dogs use to "spin" when they are choosing defecation alignments and sleeping positions. And if there is a spin, magnetic field is a kind of natural guess. ;)

  9. Has there been any resolution to the German-Czech dispute about whether cows align themselves North-South?

  10. maybe the dogs face predominantly one way in the Northern hemisphere and the other way in the Southern hemisphere, especially if it were coriolis-related. Then the statistics would reflect the North/South distribution of the sample.

  11. Wow! What can I do except quote Gilbert and Sullivan:

    You're very good at integral and differential calculus
    You know the scientific names of beings animalculous
    In short, in matters vegetable, animal, and mineral
    You are the very model of a polyglossal polymath!

  12. LOL what a title, I look forward to read this potentially very funny article :-)

    But before I have to dig through some other very nice posts that have pilled up since Thursday. Since then I am hospitalized because of a serious issue, but I am feeling much better now such that I am able to enjoy some nice TRF posts in the course of time from my smart phone.

    It might be that my seven lives are reduced to six by now, but this should still be sufficient to enjoy doing what I like best.

  13. LOL, it's clearly the same group of researchers. If that's hoax, it's pretty amazing that they can get away with it repeatedly.

  14. Don't squat with the sun in your face. Squat with the sun on your flanks, warming you. Dogs have poor heat management. We expect a brutally hot day with bright sunshine will rotate orientation. Unfortunately, this can be tested. Don't do it. Ditto putting a rotatable magnet on the dog's collar. Suppose an unfundable result, ah, results? Refrigerator magnets are unsuitable. They have tight alternating strings of poles.

    Theory is preferred to experiment because virtual mud packs tighter than real gems.

  15. Okay here I show my Idea as to what happened.
    this is a response to Lubos' comment on my comment but I needed a wider column.

    Dogs may or may not
    have significant sense of the earth's magnetic fields. On an
    evolutionary view one would think that it can be useful for navigation,
    but it's virtually impossible to come up with a theory where dogs can
    yield any benefit from being aligned with the earth's magnetic poles
    while defecating.

    So It would be reasonable to expect many many factors
    to be much more relevant to dogs' defecating habits including the
    position and orientation obstacles, peers and light sources. apparently
    most of them were excluded, but maybe not one.

    The dog-owners
    themselves(who were collecting the data) preferred to be aligned with
    the magnetic field instead of the dogs. And they are in close enough
    relationship with their dogs to influence them in a significant way.

    idea originates from my foot-orienteering couch, who once told that me
    that you can always tell orienteerers from regular tourists as tourists
    not confortable with using a compass and a map mostly align themeselves
    and the map with the north-south direction to keep things simple,
    whereas pros only rotate the map to match earth's alignment and keep
    running towards they intended direction(on orienteering maps there
    aren't many texts to read anyway).

    I checked they "Methods"
    section and it seems they did not explicitly train the participants to
    "align randomly" when they record they dogs' defecation data.

    thing even on the illustration they pictured the dog so that the
    observer is aligned with the northern direction although it is not
    required for illustration purposes.(its just for us humans heading north
    seems a so natural direction. reserchers project that it would be for
    dogs too(but dogs never used compasses and certainly not maps.) see
    also: mind projection fallacy)

    they also claim something about
    the rate of change of the magnetic field of earth but it is order of 2
    degrees per century so I'm not sure what it is about.

    I may not be right but even if dogs do have magnetic perception i doubt they would use it to align their poop.

  16. Thanks, if that's the case, that's a pretty elementary error - or trick - indeed. Give the dog owners a compass, let them choose how they stand, and look how dogs will orient relatively to their owners.

  17. Dear Dilaton,

    GET WELL SOON :) :) :) :)

  18. California has happy cows; at least that's what the milk and cheese companies tell us. Evidently these animals are happier when they face away from the sun as is obvious to even a casual observer because that's what they almost always do.

    The authors arguments against solar dazzling are absurd. I don't believe a word of it.

  19. No, not a prayer... it is in their "Hadith", their holy book (even more important than the Coran) where they are told what to do for everything happening in their day-to-day life. :-)

  20. I read about this a few days ago, and since then have observed my little Shih Tzu to orient mostly north, once south. He hits magnetic north, not aligning along the streets which are 15 degrees off around here. He also has a single place where he sleeps in a linear alignment, and here he also always orients himself north. His circular alignment sleeping positions do not follow the magnetic fields.

    It is amazing that I never noticed this before, but even more amazing is that nobody else ever noticed either. Migrating birds have been shown to be sensitive to magnetics, so the circuitry is already available in the DNA shopping store. I also can rule out any influence from the sun, since these have been cloudy days. Later today I am going to go out with him carrying a big magnet, and see if I can direct the emission of the effluent in a direction that meets my nefarious requirements.

  21. Dear Dilaton, I wish you a speedy recovery. ;-)

  22. Dear Dilaton, good luck and get well soon! I was hoping that your previous encounter with the hospitals would be the last one for long years.

  23. I don't think it's outlandish at least as a possibility. We know migratory birds use the Earth's magnetic field to navigate. The problem is that there is a reason for that to develop, but it is not at all obvious why it matters to a dog in what direction it does it's business.

  24. If it could develop once, it could just stay there, couldn't it?

    Are you sure the similar claims about the birds are solid?

  25. Well, when I was a kid I aimed much higher than a mere major general, a field marshal at the minimum. But with time one learns to scale down one's ambitions.

    However, I come about a completely different matter! Today I finally found on youtube one of my most favourite films of all times. It's really for connoisseurs of such things only and since I see you are one, I strongly recommend it. Or, quite possibly, you already know it:

  26. how dogshit turns into bullshit?

  27. 1. If the dogs' alignment works better than a compass in the Arctic, this is a good way for global warming researchers to avoid getting lost up there.

    2. I've rotated my toilet to align with magnetic north, although it wasn't far off in the first place.

    3. Last night - really! - by sheer coincidence, I dreamed that my dog was trying to poop in the bathtub. He was aligned with the bathtub, which is aligned the same as the toilet. I see this as confirming the entanglement with the dream world of which you spoke recently.

  28. It looks like a lot of those links are supporting the idea. Which ones specifically challenge it?

    I'll admit, I am not too confident that the research on this topic is solid, but I am not aware of it being controversial so I tend to believe it. It could be wrong though.

    I suppose if a mutation developed and is not harmful there is no reason for it not to stick around. I am just having a hard time guessing what possible benefit a Dog gets by defecating in alignment with the magnetic field. At least the birds using a compass in their brains makes sense as something that could be benefited from and I would think evolution would take advantage of.

  29. Perhaps Capt. James T. Kirk has an explanation for your happy cows @ 32:00

  30. Okay, I will look at my phone compass while my dog is doing her business tomorrow.

  31. Have missed you and do join all in wishing you a speedy recovery.

  32. Dear Werdna, I wasn't claiming that I had "links" challenging the ideas. Take it that it is me who is challenging it.

    But the large number of stuff repeating a thesis doesn't make it true for me. Theories about internal mechanisms inside animals or any other theories are established by evidence which you haven't shown, not by their "not being controversial".

  33. Thank you, I look forward to viewing the movie as soon as I get a chance.

  34. There seems to be some experimental evidence although (not surprisingly, I think) it is not decisive. But see here:

  35. My kitty always uses the same corner of the cat toilet, but this rather depends on the topology of my bath room I think :-)

    And thanks for all the nice wishes and comments :-)

    I will probably have to reorganize certain things a bit, in particular to devide between good things which are worth my time and attention (my TRF family and the interesting things one can learn here, improvin my physics and maths knowledge, building up the PhysicsOverflow, nice real world things) and non constructive unhealthy energy sucking and upsetting activities (tangling with SE politicians for example...).
    And I blame Lumo to a large part too for the fact that I am now longer completely satisfied with my current topic but rather want to bring some more TP methods into my work, about which I have to think too ;-)


  36. Exactly this, it always drives me up the wall when some pompous fools claim that the scientific method and / or way of thinking is just another philosophical world view, religion, or what else ...

    Maybe McEvans is more happy with 12 dimensions ... ;-P

    Darn, how I want to watch this video, but it has to wait till I'm dehospitalized ...

  37. Hi Lumo,

    is there a download link for the video?
    Even with wlan the connection is too slow, such that I can not watch it from my smart phone ...:-(

    But I want to watch Nima :-))) !

  38. Try from here:

    (or just type "pwn" before "" in the address)