As BarkPost writers and editors, we live, bark, and breathe dog stuff all day long. You could de-fur-nitely call us experts in the field. ASK BARKPOST ANYTHING is our weekly series where the BarkPost editors answer the serious, silly, and salacious questions from the world of dog! (And remember, if the answer helps you out, we accept payment in belly rubs.)
A certain Mr. I. Gottago* of Poop Creek, Oregon (*names have been changed) asks:
Hi Barkpost- Why does my dog always have to spin around in a little circle before he settles in to do his business? Is he working on a dance move for my birthday party? Thanks!
Sorry Mr. Gottago, your pup is not learning to dance (and happy birthday!). But as it turns out, the real answer actually is just about as weird!
Let’s start with why your dog spins around before settling in for bedtime. In this case, our pups spin for reasons of hygiene and defining territory. When ancestral dogs were in the wild, circling around in the grass before bedtime helped clear the area out- it pushed snakes and insects out of the area, helped the dogs nest in warmth, and if another dog walked by later on- the flattened grass would help mark the territory as already claimed. So a bedtime spin is kinda like your dog making her bed. Cute!
So scientists assumed that these same instincts might explain why your pup spins before using the bathroom. First of all, stamping down on the grass helps the territory-marking scent of your dog’s business spread farther. And also, it’s no fun getting grass stuck to your butt when you’re- well- you know.
Butt the latest theory is something else entirely. As reported in Frontiers In Zoology, a scientific team watched 70 dogs use the bathroom for two years. And when you spend that much time watching dogs poop, you start to notice things. Not only do you get way less popular at parties- you also pick up on some fascinating trends.
When the earth’s magnetic field is calm, dogs very consistently poop on a north-south axis. Picture a map, north at the top, with your dogs on it- they’d line their heads and butts along a vertical axis, rather than a horizontal axis, when they do their thing. When the magnetic field is disrupted- by a solar flare, or a geomagnetic storm- the behavior was no longer observed. So strangely enough, your puppy’s pooping personality reveals the fascinating sense of magnetoreception– your dog’s ability to sense the earth’s magnetic field.
Magnetoreception is almost a secret sense, and it’s unclear if humans possess it. But for animals that don’t have the benefit of google maps, this sense helps work as a guiding force- for instance, in the migration of birds.
So, why does your dog spin before he poops? Because, magnets! But WHY the preference for north-south vs east-west? Scientists are still working on that one. I guess we all have our preferences when we’re doing our business…
Lastly, here’s a story from Brandon, a writer at Barkpost, when he told his dog-loving brother about this fascinating research:
“When I told my brother that his dog was aligning along the azimuth for magnetic North, his jaw hit the floor. My brother is a soldier who works intimately with directions and map coordinates, so he was mystified by the idea that his dog could find magnetic North without equipment. I was literally leaving to go home when he asked the question. Several hours later, while I was still on the highway, I received a text from my brother:
“I got out my Army compass the last time Oscar took a poop. Guess what. Magnetic North.”
Atta boy, Oscar. Atta boy.
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