Question: Is it true that dogs can be clairvoyant?
Answer: I’ve personally known at least two dogs who appeared to regularly prepare for their owner’s arrival before they got there. And my mother’s dog used to post up at the door as I was headed their way when I was maybe an hour out from their house … even though I hadn’t seen her in months. She certainly appeared to be waiting for me.
I don’t know what I think about that, although there has been some research on this very phenomenon. Long story short, the research appeared to be fairly inconclusive for a number of reasons.
But let’s talk about some things that are well documented. First, dogs do seem to have a sixth sense when it comes to predicting storms. Fluffy may seem agitated or clingy, long before a thunderstorm arrives. Dogs are more sensitive to changes in barometric pressure than we are, and very often a drop in pressure precipitates a storm. Your dog figures out patterns, and it would be predictable for Fluffy to come to associate this pressure drop with the arrival of a storm. Additionally, there is a “static electric field” associated with thunderstorms. Changes in this field can trigger the same anticipation. And dogs can hear at much higher (and lower) frequencies than we do. Fluffy may hear a distant low rumble we cannot.
Of course, Fluffy’s sense of smell is off the charts. She can detect concentrations of chemicals in the low parts-per-million range. This is more sensitive than devices used to separate isotopes, molecules and molecular particles. So before a thunderstorm arrives, lightning ionizes the air, and it gets that characteristic metallic smell, perhaps miles and miles away. Dogs can pick up on this odor, or some other smell associated with the storm … and do so long before we could.
This sophisticated sense of smell also enables dogs to perform a number of remarkable tasks in the service of man. Dogs can sniff out explosives, dope, accelerants for arson investigations, dead people, termites, cancer and COVID. They can also alert a diabetic when they sense a shift in their blood sugar. And there are dogs that not only can find buried people, but can stand on the bow of a boat and detect a dead person 10 feet or more under water.
Some dogs appear to be able to detect earthquakes, too. There’s been some skepticism about this so-called early warning system, since it often precedes any seismographic evidence of a quake. But researchers say dogs may feel the ground trembling through their feet, long before a person can sense the vibrations, because of something in their joints called “proprioceptors.”
The best way to explain this phenomenon is to relate it to our ability to touch our nose with our finger without looking at it, or to walk without watching where each foot falls, or tie our shoes without looking. This is our “proprioceptive sense.” It’s sensory perception from within the body. And dogs are sensitive to seismic events at a much keener level than us because of their unique wiring in this aspect.
You may have noticed your dog appearing to know when you’re sad or blue, but research has not concluded dogs “understand our pain.” A study published by the University of London a number of years back does appear to indicate that dogs do actually respond to crying in a unique, submissive way, but hey couldn’t prove conclusively it had anything to do with “empathy.” And it’s quite possible this behavior may arise because we always pet them in that scenario.
Because of their keen sense of smell, dogs can absolutely tell when we’re frightened or apprehensive, though. Our body chemistry changes under stress or anxiety, and Fluffy can literally smell these changes. This may be how the expression “dogs can smell your fear” has arisen.
Originally from Louisiana, Gregg Flowers is a local dog trainer who “teaches dogs and trains people.” Contact him at email@example.com or dogsbestfriendflorida.com.