Does Your Dog Possess the Sixth Sense?

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For thousands of years, the canine companion has been an essential part of the human experience in almost every civilization on the planet. Even in the midst of our daily routine, they continue to wow us with their role as defender and guardian, steadfast devotion, and amazing abilities. There are also many remarkable stories of dogs displaying extrasensory awareness. 

One man reportedly attributed his survival to his Golden Retriever. He was out strolling and his dog was running a little distance ahead when the dog suddenly stopped and wouldn’t budge. He went over to find out what was going on. It was at this very moment that a huge old tree branch suddenly broke and fell, landing on the road only a few feet away from them, precisely where he would have been if he had not paused to check on his pet at that particular moment. How did his dog know what to do? What is behind this amazing animal instinct?

Heightened senses

Dogs have superior hearing ability. They can register noises at frequencies that humans cannot even imagine. If we can hear something 20 feet away, a dog can hear it from 80 feet away. In addition, dogs’ ears are known to have 18 muscles; they can maneuver around and rotate in the direction of a sound. 

Dogs can often perceive the beginning of an impending earthquake in real time. Some suggest that this is due to their ability to hear underground seismic activity that is beyond our range of hearing. 

Agent Brett Ellis and K-9 Pippa work for the Colorado Bureau of Investigation. Known to be great sniffers, dogs are valuable in police work. (Image: State Farm via Flickr CC BY 2.0)

A dog’s sense of smell trumps its hearing. The portion of the canine brain that analyzes odors is 40 times larger than that of humans. Depending on the breed, dogs can have up to 300 million smell glands. Because of this, dogs’ perceptual skills seem to humans to be almost miraculous. 

Alexandra Horowitz’s New York Times bestselling book called “Being a Dog: Following the Dog Into a World of Smell“ describes it perfectly,  “Explosives-detection dogs smell as little as a picogram—a trillionth of a gram— of TNT or other explosive. What might it be like to notice a picogram of an odor? … The average cinnamon roll has about a gram of cinnamon in it. Sure, the human nose is on it, from the moment we open the door of the house. Now imagine the smell of one trillion cinnamon rolls. That’s what the dog coming in with us smells when we enter.”

Dogs can also sense whether someone has bad intentions. An intoxicated or violent person’s unpredictability and loud voice signal danger to a dog, due to their highly developed social intelligence gained over thousands of years of living with humans. Dogs are also renowned to detect “fear” or “nervousness” in others just by observing their body language.

Tuning in to our signals

Although their skills may seem uncanny at times, there are solid scientific reasons for your dog’s actions. Research shows that dogs are very observant and they watch and interpret human eye movements, which enables them to predict what we’re thinking or about to do. Dogs’ brains are designed to interpret facial expressions. How do they know when we’re happy or upset?  They’ll  snuggle up next to us on the couch or even place a paw on our hearts. Whether they understand them or not, it is clear that they sense our feelings.

“A pet dog knows what is normal behaviour for its owner, and can sense when something deviates from that,” explains clinical animal behaviorist Rosie Barclay.

“We act differently when we’re upset and they pick up on this – both through our body language and because our emotions affect the smell of our body chemicals. Then the dog acts differently, too. And, of course, dogs are famously quick to learn what kind of behavior brings rewards. That’s what makes them such great companions,” she said.

A messenger dog named Jack was an Airedale Terrier and he ran through enemy fire for half a mile. He was sent to headquarters with a message that troops on the front line needed reinforcements. That day Jack’s bravery saved many lives. 

Dogs are hyper-tuned-in with signals from us, and those from invisible sources. (Image: Shubham Jana via Pexels)

Tuning in to invisible signals

Intensive studies have shown that dogs have a unique kind of vision that detects the earth’s subtle magnetic field. Cryptochromes, which are light-sensitive molecules, have been found in the eyes of 90 mammalian species.

Experts believe that animals with this chemical have a magnetic sense that is related to their visual system. Perhaps this is why dogs can navigate their way back home after being separated by hundreds of kilometers. 

Elvis, a six-year-old schnauzer-poodle mix, was taken in by a nurse who had cared for his ill owner. He ran away from his new home in Omaha, Nebraska, nine days after his owner died. He was discovered tired and disheveled outside the chapel where his owner was buried. No one knew how Elvis found the church, which was seven miles from his house.

Dogs can also predict stormy weather by detecting minute changes in barometric pressure that we humans are utterly oblivious of.  Some dogs will hide or suddenly jump on your lap just before a thunderstorm breaks. 

Beagles, known for howling at all hours, may be reacting to things beyond our scope of vision. (Image: Artem Beliaikin via Pexels)

Dogs often bark in response to nighttime noises or images that their human owners are unable to detect. There is a widespread notion that dogs pick up on subtle energy fields that allow them to see movement beyond the human scope of vision. Aside from seeing better in the dark, dogs can also see ultraviolet light, according to a study published in the Royal Society B. Experts believe this facilitates dogs’ hunting instinct, especially during the twilight hours.  

Dog lore

With so many seemingly inexplicable sensibilities, it is no wonder that dogs are represented in the world of myths and legends. The Egyptian deity Anubis was said to sit at the head of the tomb, while guarding the departed person’s body against wild canines. In Greek Mythology, Hades, God of the underworld has a fierce three-headed hound called Kerberos – guardian of the gates of the Underworld. Dogs were also highly revered by the ancient Persians, and in their funeral rites, they would place a dog by the dead body where it was believed to scare away evil spirits.  

While people often claim their dogs are psychic, scientists argue that what appears to be a sixth sense is just a highly enhanced functioning of the existing five. Many studies have been conducted to investigate whether dogs possess extra sensory awareness. Although some experts dismiss it as nothing more than super-heightened natural senses, no one has ever definitively stated that it is impossible for dogs to possess psychic powers. So if you believe your pet is extraordinary, who is a scientist to tell you he’s not.

  • Simone Jonker worked in NTD Inspired for two years. She wrote light articles and inspiring stories.