This is a question that has been asked for many years and the answer will depend on who you speak to.
Because dogs are so in tune with our behaviours, it is easy to confuse their ability to read our body language, and therefore interpret what we are about to do. As humans we all have routines in our life, to a greater or lesser extent, depending on age, upbringing, security, etc. and it is these routines that dogs get to know and therefore are capable of predicting what is about to happen. By constantly studying us and learning to relate to the body language we use, it is uncanny how much dogs know about us.
But every now and then, you hear, or read about, a situation which brings the question of dogs’ psychic powers back into focus. One of the most common instances used to support the idea that dogs are psychic is the way that they seem to know when their people are coming home. “Simply for Dogs” website featured a study by Dr. Rupert Sheldrake (biologist and, from 2005 to 2010, Director of the Perrott-Warwick project for research on unexplained human and animal abilities) in which 500 dogs took part who seemed to be able to anticipate the arrival home of their person. Dr. Sheldrake maintains that dogs know when their owners are coming home, even when the arrival time is irregular and unpredictable. His studies also seem to indicate that it is not a matter of hearing a familiar vehicle, since the dog’s reaction is the same whether the person arrives in the family car, by bus, by taxi or on foot.
One of Dr. Sheldrake’s research subjects, a Lab/Greyhound mix named Sam, was owned by Carole Bartlett in Kent, England. Carole frequently left Sam with her husband while she visited London. She traveled by train, and her husband never knew which train she’d be taking – only that she could be expected to get home sometime between 6 pm and 11 pm. Carole’s husband claims that he always knew when Carole was on her way home – half an hour before she returned, almost to the minute, Sam would leave whatever else he was doing to wait at the front door. That’s pretty amazing – she’d be still miles away, on a train, and 30 minutes out, but Sam knew.
However, some people suggest that dogs anticipate a likely homecoming through their keen sense of smell. When a person leaves the house to go to work, they will leave their own body odour, which a dog can relate as being from that specific individual. As the day progresses, that odour will dissipate but never completely go away. Over time a dog will recognize that a certain level of odour reflects the likely time that a person usually comes home. This theory might explain when a person works regular hours but for those that work erratic hours, not so much.
So, whether you have your own ideas on whether dogs have psychic powers or not, let’s never underestimate how astute our dogs are in reading and understanding our behaviour.