No matter what age you are there is likely a movie or a TV show with dogs at its core that you are incredibly fond of. Perhaps you are an older generation and most familiar with Lassie. If you are a millennial then you may be more familiar with the movie Homeward Bound. If you are even younger then ‘A Dog’s Way Home’ may be your preferred choice. These movies all have one thing in common, they show the incredible ability of dogs to be able to find their way home from places that are incredibly far away. This trick is not just one for the movies either. In reality, dogs are often able to do this and scientists are now starting to understand why.
Of all the shows and movies mentioned, Homeward Bound is clearly the best one. With a score of 87% on Rotten Tomatoes and Michael J.Fox in a starring role, it is an incredibly heartwarming movie that will mean you never want to leave your pet’s side again. Yet there are stories in real life that are very similar to it. Only recently in the news, we heard about a dog that traveled 60 miles to her first home after her owners’ moved. If 60 miles isn’t impressive enough then there is the legendary story of one dog called Bobbie who traveled nearly 3,000 miles in winter to be with owners. So do dogs have a superpower?
A new study suggests they might. It turns out that dogs have some connection with the magnetic poles in the Earth and can therefore use it to navigate long distances. This is something that many other animals are known to use but until now no one knew that dogs had it. The study revealed it using a clever approach.
Researchers took a variety of breeds deep into the forest and let them off their leash. They fitted the dogs with GPS trackers and cameras. The dogs roamed far away from their owners with many over 1 kilometer away. Then the dogs were called back to their owners and the study showed that they used two methods. The first method will come as no surprise, the dogs tracked their own movements and went in reverse to find their way home. They basically retraced their steps. The second way though, called scouting, was far more interesting. Here the dogs began with a ‘compass run’ where they run along the Earth’s axis from north to south for about 20 meters. Scientists believe this is done to calibrate their position. After this, the dogs know their direction home and start to make a straight line in that direction.
The two methods are used depending on the circumstances. Experts say that tracking is easier but takes longer while scouting is faster but more difficult. The second part of the study is now beginning where magnets will be placed on the dogs to see if it impacts their ability to Scout. If it does this could explain why dogs are not always able to perform this task as there are many large magnets in the world that could impact their ability.
For years we have known that foxes hunt prey using this magnetoreception, salmon use it on their long journeys, and turtles use it to return home. Yet finding out that dogs use it may mean that we have to elevate their status even higher in our society and start to use their tracking abilities even more in the wild. While we have used them for many years for their keen sight and a great sense of smell we may now have to use them for their incredible inner compass as well.