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Here’s a mystery, Scooby-Doo: Why do dogs poop in line with Earth’s magnetic poles?

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Jan 9, 2020, 10:45 PM EST

What do dogs know about the mysteries of the cosmos that we don’t? Aside from predicting when an earthquake’s about to strike or sitting on the well-kept secret of where half our socks have vanished, our four-legged buddies apparently are deeply in tune with one of Earth’s most persistent natural forces — and of course their way of showing it is the most dog-like thing ever.

A new canine-based study has dropped only a whiff of an answer to the bigger question that its findings pose. And these are the kind of findings you definitely don’t want to flush down the toilet: whenever man’s best friends need to do their business in the great outdoors, they do it (as often as they can) in a linear axis that lines up perfectly in sync with the planet’s magnetic poles. 

You read that right. According to a newly-published scientific report published in the journal Frontiers in Zoology and picked up by PBS (hey, someone has to pick up after them), the doggos of our home planet align their bodies along the imaginary line created by the globe’s north-south magnetic axis when it’s time to go outside and potty. And like an unexplainable X-Files phenomenon or humanity’s endless musings on why cows often face the same direction in a pasture, there’s so far no explaining it. As of now, all we know is simply that, like magic, the doggies just do it on instinct. 

The amazingly thorough two-year study, a joint venture between the Czech University of Life Sciences and the University of Duisburg-Essen in Germany, took a sniff at the pooping habits of 70 dogs from 37 breeds, and recorded the details from a reported 1,893 doggie defecations and 5,582 urinations (and to paraphrase Dr. Ian Malcolm, that is one big pile of poop). The researchers documented the directional orientation in which the pups lined themselves up each time, yielding the amazing discovery that nearly all dogs go to bathroom heaven by alining their bodies “along the North–South axis under calm MF [magnetic field] conditions.”

When Earth’s magnetic field showed any signs of turbulence, however, the dogs abandoned their orderly elimination routine, and just picked a direction and went with it. “The best predictor of the behavioral switch,” the study concludes, “was the rate of change in declination, i.e., polar orientation, of the MF.”

Why do dogs do this? The researchers don’t know, and if the dogs know, then they ain’t talking. It’s the first time, according to the study, that magnetic sensitivity has been demonstrated not only in dogs, but that “a measurable, predictable behavioral reaction upon natural MF fluctuations could be unambiguously proven in a mammal” of any kind. Researchers concluded that dogs aren’t sensitive to the strength of a magnetic field so much as to its direction (polarity), noting that the sweet spot when all the animals’ behaviors followed a consistent pattern only occurred for “about 20% of the daylight period,” when Earth’s magnetic field is at its calmest.

Even as the study breaks ground by answering a question most people didn’t even know we could be asking, it leaves open the bigger question of “why” — and in our view, that’s a riddle worthy of the Mystery Machine. We’re game to award a box of Scooby Snacks to the first Great Dane to crack the question — so long, of course, as they politely clean up after themselves when they’re done.