Dogs’ homing instincts!

This article in The Smithsonian is well worth reading.

I think that strictly speaking I should not be republishing articles from The Smithsonian and if I am instructed to take the post down then all you will read is this introduction.

But hopefully they will look kindly towards me.

For there was an article recently that spoke about dogs and their ability to find their way across often strange land. Very interesting!

Here it is!

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Keeping you current

How Do Dogs Find Their Way Home? They Might Sense Earth’s Magnetic Field

Our canine companions aren’t the only animals that may be capable of magnetoreception
A terrier fitted with GPS remote tracking device and camera (Kateřina Benediktová / Czech University of Life Sciences

By Courtney Sexton

SMITHSONIANMAG.COM
July 27, 2020, JULY 27, 2020

Last week, Cleo the four-year-old yellow Labrador retriever showed up on the doorstep of the home her family moved away from two years ago, reports Caitlin O’Kane for CBS News. As it turns out, Cleo traveled nearly 60 miles from her current home in Kansas to her old one in Missouri. Cleo is just one of many dogs who have made headlines for their homing instincts; in 1924, for example, a collie known as “Bobbie the Wonder Dog” traveled 2,800 miles in the dead of winter to be reunited with his people.

Now, scientists suggest these incredible feats of navigation are possible in part due to Earth’s geomagnetic field, according to a new study published in the journal eLife.

Researchers led by biologists Kateřina Benediktová and Hynek Burda of the Czech University of Life Sciences Department of Game Management and Wildlife Biology outfitted 27 hunting dogs representing 10 different breeds with GPS collars and action cameras, and tracked them in more than 600 excursions over the course of three years, Michael Thomsen reports for Daily Mail. The dogs were driven to a location, led on-leash into a forested area, and then released to run where they pleased. The team only focused on dogs that ventured at least 200 meters away from their owners.

But the researchers were more curious about the dogs’ return journeys than their destinations. When called back to their owners, the dogs used two different methods for finding their way back from an average of 1.1 kilometers (about .7 miles) away. About 60 percent of the dogs used their noses to follow their outbound route in reverse, a strategy known as “tracking,” while the other 30 percent opted to use a new route, found through a process called “scouting.”
According to the study authors, both tactics have merits and drawbacks, and that’s why dogs probably alternate between the two depending on the situation.

“While tracking may be safe, it is lengthy,” the authors write in the study. “Scouting enables taking shortcuts and might be faster but requires navigation capability and, because of possible errors, is risky.”
Data from the scouting dogs revealed that their navigation capability is related to a magnetic connection (Kateřina Benediktová / Czech University of Life Sciences)

Data from the scouting dogs revealed that their navigation capability is related to a magnetic connection. All of the dogs who did not follow their outbound path began their return with a short “compass run,” a quick scan of about 20 meters along the Earth’s north-south geomagnetic axis, reports the Miami Herald’s Mitchell Willetts. Because they don’t have any familiar visual landmarks to use, and dense vegetation at the study sites made “visual piloting unreliable,” the compass run helps the dogs recalibrate their own position to better estimate their “homing” direction.

Whether the dogs are aware that they are tapping into the Earth’s magnetic field is unclear. Many dogs also poop along a north-south axis, and they certainly are not the only animals to use it as a tool. Chinook salmon have magnetoreceptors in their skin that help guide their epic journeys; foxes use magnetism to hone in on underground prey; and, sea turtles use it to find their beachside birthplaces.

Catherine Lohmann, a biologist at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, who studies magnetoreception and navigation in such turtles tells Erik Stokstad at Science that the finding of the compass run, however, is a first in dogs. This newfound ability means that they can likely remember the direction they had been pointing when they started, and then use the magnetic compass to find the most efficient way home.

To learn more about how magneto-location works for the dogs, the study authors will begin a new experiment placing magnets on the dogs’ collars to find out if this disrupts their navigational skills.

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Courtney Sexton, a writer and researcher based in Washington, DC, studies human-animal interactions. She is a 2020 AAAS Mass Media Fellow and the co-founder and director of The Inner Loop, a nonprofit organization for writers.

 

This is, as I mentioned earlier, a most interesting article. I can’t wait to read more in The Smithsonian. We actually subscribe to the paper version of the magazine. So fingers crossed that in time there will be a further report from Catherine Lohmann.

6 thoughts on “Dogs’ homing instincts!

  1. There is the story of a sheepdog here in the UK. Pero was moved from a farm in Wales to the Lake District, in north west England. Initially his first owners thought he would be helpful in herding the sheep but he felt (apparently) homesick so disappeared one day only to turn up 12 days and 240 miles later on the doorstep of his original home. The first owners decided to keep him.

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