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Can Dogs Predict the Future?

By: Dr. Nicholas Dodman

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Moments before an earthquake hits, one dog becomes agitated, almost frantic. Just before a severe storm arrives, another dog becomes troubled, although he and his owner are standing under sunny skies.

Are pets clairvoyant? Although we may like to think they have some extra special sensory powers above and beyond the normal five senses, the facts speak against this. Dogs (and cats) do, however, have exceptionally acute senses. They can often pick up on physical events much more acutely than us. This gift appears to be extrasensory perception, but there is no reason to credit dogs with more than super-sensitivity of the five senses they already possess.

Predicting Storms

Many thunderstorm-phobic dogs become agitated, or even overly anxious, some time before a storm actually arrives. For example, they may start to pace and pant on a perfectly clear, sunny day an hour or more before their owners notice darkening skies and realize that a storm is in the offing. Storm-sensitive dogs probably realize early that a storm is brewing because they hear it, smell it, perhaps even feel it, a long time before we know that there's anything going on.

Unlike humans, dogs can hear in the ultrasound frequency range, and can hear dog whistles that are silent to us. It is possible that thunderstorms are associated with sounds in the ultrasound range – as well as the characteristic low rumblings that probably include infrasounds – and that dogs detect these sounds from a distance while we hear nothing at all.

Another possibility is that dogs may smell storms coming. Dogs' noses are so sensitive that they can detect concentrations of chemicals in the low parts-per-million range. In fact, dogs' noses are said to be more sensitive than a mass spectrometer. Lightning ionizes air with the formation of ozone – which has a characteristic metallic smell. Perhaps dogs detect this odor, or some other odor associated with the storm, while we remain oblivious to it.

Finally, it is possible that dogs can detect the vibrations caused by thunder through their feet in much the same way that Native Americans employed to detect herds or other tribes moving around in the distance. They would put an ear to the ground to hear distant rumblings; it is not inconceivable that dogs are able to pick up vibrations through their feet and possibly their limbs.

It goes without saying that the composite of darkening skies, certain cloud patterns, rain in the distance, and wind noise, could easily be interpreted by a dog as indicating an encroaching storm. That's not so difficult to imagine as observant humans can also draw such conclusions.

Natural Disasters

It has been fairly well established that some dogs seem to be able to detect earthquakes before they actually occur. Though some say that this early warning precedes even seismographic evidence of a quake, this is hard to believe. But dogs may feel the ground trembling before a person can sense the vibrations through their feet and/or so-called proprioceptors in their joints.

Owners Coming Home

Some dogs can hear, see, and perhaps feel the return of their owner's return before other members of the household. They may pick up on the characteristic sound of their owner's car before it is even on the same street; they may see their owner at a distance even in dim light; or they may feel vibrations of a vehicle before it actually comes into view. All this is quite plausible, and at least one of these cues must provide early warning of an owner's return. But one scientist, Dr. Rupert Sheldrake, thinks that dogs are telepathic and can become aware of their owners' intention to return even at a great distance. This conclusion is more wishful thinking and almost certainly is not the case. Studies in the British Journal of Psychology have refuted Dr. Sheldrake's claims, suggesting that the results of his case studies were probably an artifact of the methodology.

One of the reasons that dogs detect things so much better than humans is that they have superior sensory ability and they use their senses better and are more attuned to their environment. Dogs' sharp senses and excellent powers of observation and deduction must have had survival value for their ancestors in the wild. Now they seem little more than a curiosity, a conversation piece.

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