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  • Can dogs see spirits?

    (second of a two-part series)

    So, continuing the theme from last week whether dogs have psychic powers, Stanley Coren (Professor of Psychology at the University of British Columbia) tells the story of a dog, in “Psychology Today” that could predict someone’s impending death.

    A psychologist living in Pennsylvania writes “Growing up my dad had a beagle named Maggie who was a hunting dog and always housed outside in a kennel. One day she started howling. I had never heard her do that. Bark, yes. She had quite a barking repertory as beagles do. This was a sound I never heard before and one I will never forget. I can’t really describe it other than to say it seemed mournful.

    I went to her kennel to see if she was hurt or if I could find out what was wrong. Nothing. No obvious injuries. No problems I could see. The things I tried, petting, treats, playing, did not distract her from the howling. So I asked my dad and he said, “I don’t know who, but someone is dying.” He said he had heard a dog howl like this before and that was the reason. The howling continued.

    About an hour later, a neighbor whose backyard adjoined my parents’ yard came walking through the yard past Maggie’s kennel. Oddly she did not interrupt her howling to give a “pay attention to me” or “warning bark” to the neighbor. She just kept on howling. He told my dad that his mother had recently moved in and was ill and the dog was really disturbing her. Could we do something to stop the howling? Dad told him he would try but that likely his mother was dying and the dog would stop when she died.

    We put the dog in our basement but the howling didn’t stop. That is, the howling didn’t stop till about 6 that evening when the woman died. This dog had no contact whatsoever with the dying woman. She could not see the entrance to the neighbor’s house to notice any comings or goings. Maggie really had no reason to know about this woman’s state of health. She was just howling this continuous mournful howl.”

    Dr. Coren notes “Whether or not dogs can actually detect ghosts, it is interesting to note that they can be used to detect another form of sensory event, which may be troublesome and disturbing and is also invisible to the average person — hallucinations. It is when dealing with a person suffering from such hallucinations that dogs become incredibly valuable. 

    Psychiatric service dogs are often specifically trained to deal with this. At the simplest level—for example, when the person with the psychological difficulty seems to sense that someone is hiding in their bedroom—the dog can be trained to search the room and sound an alert if anybody is present. Generally speaking, when the dog indicates that there is no one lurking about, this gives the patient a sense of confidence, reduces their stress level, and allows them to proceed with the normal course of their life.”

    There is always a reason why dogs act the way they do. They will never act in a certain way just because they can. The fact that we don’t always understand the reason for their action doesn’t make it less real. Maybe their unrecognizable behaviour is a result of a psychic ability we as humans don’t possess. I’ll let you make up your own mind on that one!