SP1 team publishing in eLife: Dogs may use Earth’s magnetic field to take shortcuts

Hynek Burda and Kateřina Benediktová confirmed that hunting dogs are using magnetic fieled in their homecoming behaviour.

Despite anecdotal reports of astonishing homing abilities in domestic dogs, the sensory mechanisms and cues mediating homing behaviour remain unclear. Hunting dogs have been selectively bred to search forests for game animals and innately return to their owners, oftentimes over thousands of meters across unfamiliar terrain. We equipped free-ranging hunting dogs with GPS collars and recorded tracking data to investigate components of homing behaviour in over 600 field trials. Dogs exhibited two distinct homing strategies when returning to the owner; following their outbound track (tracking) or using a novel route of return (scouting).

We found that the initial track of the homing phase was oriented along the ~north-south geomagnetic axis during scouting returns but was indistinguishable from random during tracking returns. Furthermore, during scouting returns, a significant increase in homing efficiency was found when the initial track was oriented along the ~north-south geomagnetic axis compared to alignments in other directions. We propose that the alignment behaviour in homing dogs is mediated by magnetic cues, helping to structure spatial behaviour and reduce the complexity of long-distance navigation. We discuss exciting possibilities to explain the proximate mechanisms underlying magnetic alignment behaviour in homing dogs that may help to fill several gaps in our current understanding of long-distance navigation and spatial ecology in mammals.

The whole article, you can read here.

Our research attracted attention of Science magazine as well.

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