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  • Can dogs see spirits?

    Part one a two-part series

    This question has been debated for years without firm conclusions being drawn either way. In fact, it may be one of those questions that we may never conclusively answer. As humans the idea of having a “sixth sense’ has been well documented without solid proof of what this actually means. Comments such as “something didn’t feel right” or “my gut told me something was amiss” are often the closest we get to a definition of “sixth sense”. 

    Alexandra Anastasio writes in the American Kennel Club, “While there are people who believe in the paranormal, have you ever wondered whether your dog is able to sense the spirits? After all, canines have extraordinary senses that are much sharper than a human’s. And wouldn’t it be comforting to know that your dog is able to detect a loved one who has passed on? As much as we’d like to believe there is some truth to the idea that dogs can sense the paranormal, the scientific answer is that we just don’t know. Despite the fact that there is no scientific proof that dogs can see ghosts, so much of animal behavior is uncertain that the possibilities of a dog sensing something a human can’t is not out of the question.”

    Much of a dog’s behavior can be a mystery to an owner, but there are countless examples that leave us wondering if the unimaginable is actually conceivable. “When someone is inclined to believe in the paranormal, some dogs may exhibit behaviors that make it look like they are perhaps sensing an apparition is nearby,” says Dr. Mary Burch, director of the AKC Family Dog Program and a certified animal behaviorist. “This may be the dog that stops and stands still at a given point in the house, and the owner later finds out someone died there.”

    If a dog is standing in a corner, barking at nothing visible, could it be that he senses something out of the ordinary? Or perhaps he stays close to an object that is associated with a deceased family member, whether it be a favorite chair or side of the bed, as if that person is still present.

    The level of a dog’s hearing also surpasses a human’s, and dogs possess the ability to hear higher-pitched noises from a much greater distance. “Dogs’ auditory perception is another area where they perceive the world around them in a vastly different way from human beings,” points out Russell Hartstein, a certified dog behavior consultant and dog trainer in Los Angeles. “These differences may be connected to their ability to pick up on different and undetectable phenomena that we do not.”

    A dog’s field of vision is much wider than ours; they can see objects at a greater distance, and their ability to see in twilight, dusk, and dawn is far superior to ours, making it possible to pick up certain movements that are undetectable to the human eye. “It could be absolutely accurate that the dog is picking up on something we may not be able to see. But what they are perceiving may not be Casper the Friendly Ghost,” explains Dr. Burch.

    Superior sight and smell or paranormal activity? We’ll continue looking at dogs’ potential psychic powers next week.