Can Your Dog See Ghosts? Here's What Science Has to Say About It
Have you ever wondered whether your dog can see ghosts, or at least sense whether there’s something spooky going on? Plenty of dog owners have had that suspicion. After all, your dog has impressive abilities to sense all kinds of things in his environment. So does that include the supernatural?
Below, check out what people think their dogs can see and sense — and what science has actually established on this spooky topic.
Many dog owners think that dogs can see ghosts or spirits
It’s not just around Halloween. Year-round, many people get the idea that their dogs can see ghosts or spirits. Perhaps they think the dog is reacting to the spirit of a loved one who’s passed away. Or maybe they think that the dog is alerting them to the presence of a ghost in a home or on a property that’s rumored to be haunted. Even if you don’t have any personal experience that makes you think it’s true, you probably find the idea intriguing, at the very least.
Lots of dog owners also think that dogs can sense the ‘angel of death’
Similarly, many people think that dogs can see the “angel of death,” or otherwise sense when somebody is about to die. As Psychology Today notes, some of the anecdotes are intriguing. For instance, a dog who had never howled before began howling inconsolably. He continued for hours and didn’t stop until a woman in the neighboring house had died. Regardless of whether you believe or disbelieve, you’ve probably heard (and remembered) such stories.
People also think that dogs are sensitive to places associated with death
Another related idea is that dogs are sensitive to places where somebody died. Some dog owners say that their pets may stare, growl, whimper, and refuse to keep walking at a spot where someone died or was found dead. People think that their dogs can sense the person’s spirit, or at least that the dogs know that something happened in the vicinity, thus are reacting accordingly.
The idea is that dogs have a ‘sixth sense’
Psychology Today notes that regardless of your specific beliefs about what your dog can see or sense, it comes down to the idea that dogs have a “sixth sense.” As Stanley Coren writes, “The belief that dogs are in tune with the spirit world, or have some sort of precognition which allows them to anticipate ominous events, is not just something from the distant past. It persists today.”
Dogs seem to warn their owners about impending bad news
As Psychology Today explains, a poll found that nearly 47% of dog owners report that one time or another, their dog has alerted them to some impending bad news. Such dogs sometimes try to hide in a safe space. Other times, they whine or whimper. Sometimes, they behave erratically or seem to have a lot more energy than usual. And, of course, they sometimes bark insistently just before something bad happens.
It’s possible that dogs aren’t reacting to ghosts at all
Coren explains that while some people maintain that their dog can see ghosts, science hasn’t backed up that claim. The real explanation may be a lot simpler. “Dogs have keener sense than we do,” Coren explains.
He hypothesizes that “many of the instances in which dogs are apparently alerting to ghosts or spirits are simply situations in which the dog senses something through normal sensory channels that the average human is not aware of.” He adds, “Whatever the dog is perceiving in such cases is vague and uncertain to him. In the absence of a clear idea of what he is sensing, the dog tends to become wary and acts in a cautious or suspicious manner.”
Dogs really do have keener senses than humans
Think there’s no way your dog could be reacting that dramatically to something you can’t detect? You may want to reconsider. As Animal Planet reports, “A dog’s senses are keener, and different, than ours: His eyes detect more delicate movements; his sense of smell is 1,000 to 10,000 times more sensitive than a human’s. He can hear much higher frequencies, and at four times the distance of a human with normal hearing.” Your dog may be able to sense small movements and sounds that you can’t.
In fact, dogs can actually see frequencies of light that we can’t
Dogs can’t just see better than we can. They can also see things that are completely invisible to us because dogs can actually see some of the ultraviolet spectrum (which humans can’t). So if you believe that ghosts exist but are invisible to the human eye — or even if you’re a skeptic — that may sound like further evidence that dogs can see and react to the supernatural.
Even if they don’t see ghosts, dogs can sense hallucinations
Interestingly enough, Coren notes that dogs can detect another kind of sensory event that’s troubling to the average person: Hallucinations. Hallucinations occur with a variety of psychological conditions, including schizophrenia, Parkinson’s, Charles Bonnet syndrome, some forms of epilepsy, and post traumatic stress disorder. Psychiatric service dogs can help people realize when they’re hallucinating, and reassure them that there’s nobody else in the room with them.
Either way, dogs don’t judge what’s going on in their environment
Pet psychologist Marti Miller tells Animal Planet that she believes that both dogs and humans have a sixth sense. The difference between the two? “Humans judge or deny what they are feeling,” she says. On the other hand, “Dogs don’t judge what is going on in the environment. While our own minds start to analyze what is happening, dogs don’t do that. They feel the barometric pressure change, and may react by shaking, panting, salivating and feeling anxious, or they may not react at all.”
Dogs may be more open to experiencing the supernatural
Miller argues that if there are ghosts or spirits in your environment, your dog is a lot more likely to sense them than you are. For dogs, she explains, “sensing the supernatural is natural because they don’t judge it. People could see auras or spirits, but they either don’t believe they exist, or think that if they do exist, we could not see them.” Because dogs are less judgmental and more open to experiences they can’t explain, they may be more likely to experiencing the supernatural.
Ultimately, you can’t know what your dog is experiencing
Finally, Miller tells Animal Planet that whatever you believe, you’ll have a hard time figuring out what your dog is experiencing. You may see him reacting in an odd way to what looks like nothing. But it’s hard to tell whether he’s sensing a spirit you can’t detect, or if he’s just catching a whiff of the garbage you forgot to take outside.
Even though she believes that a dog who’s barking at something invisible is reacting to “an entity, spirit, or energy that doesn’t belong there,” she also admits, “we don’t know that dogs see ghosts or spirits.”