Do dogs have a sixth sense?

Dog with floppy ears and a sad face

The American Kennel Club agrees that dogs have extraordinary senses and are able to pick up what to us are unknown forms and energies. They admit that this is a mystery to them. Dr. Desmond Morris in his book DOG WATCHING, published in 1996, provides what I think is the best answer to the question in the title. I’m going to rely on him, if I may. The first point that he makes is that there is nothing supernatural about canine sensitivities, to use his words. They can be explained biologically. However, it appears that even today people are still only beginning to understand the full range of the dog’s abilities.

Dog with floppy ears and a sad face

Dog with floppy ears and a sad face. Image: Pixabay.

Finding their way home

Dogs can find their way home from long distances over unfamiliar terrain. They share this ability with the domestic cat. There have been some extraordinary stories of cats finding their way home over many days and up to a thousand kilometres. Morris says that it is based upon a dog’s ability to detect “subtle differences and changes in the Earth’s magnetic field”. A quick search on the Internet, specifically on Google Scholar, led me to a study titled Dogs Are Sensitive to Small Variations in the Earth’s Magnetic Field. The study starts off in the introduction with a statement that is very confident. It says that several mammalian species “spontaneously align their body axis with respect to the Earth’s magnetic field”.

The study found that dogs preferred to excrete when their body was aligned along the north-south axis. The magnetic field had to be calm. When it wasn’t calm, they were unable to align. They proved magnetic sensitivity in dogs. Dogs can also employ their sense of smell to pick up scent to help guide them home.

Earthquakes

Dogs are capable of predicting earthquakes and thunderstorms. They become very alarmed and rush about the house panting. They may whimper and tremble. Dogs are sensitive to changes in barometric pressure and perhaps also to changes in the level of static electricity. It is believed that this is inherited from their wild ancestor. Wolves select their burrows and dens carefully. They are on slopes where there will be minimal flooding. Predicting a downpour improves survival for their tiny cubs.

Ghosts

Some people believe that dogs can see ghosts. They stop and stare at nothing and their hair begins to rise on their shoulders and down their backs. They refuse to budge and they may snarl and growl. Then suddenly they carry on as normal. The reaction is intense. It is probable that rather than a ghost they detect a strong scent from another species of animal; perhaps a fox. The scent may be strange and strong enough to account for the dramatic response.

Infrared detection

Researchers reported that they had discovered infrared detectors in a dog’s nose. Dr. Maurice questions this but St Bernard dogs have been able to tell whether a climber buried in snow is alive or dead. Heat receptors exist in the snouts of certain species of snakes used to detect the presence of warm-blooded prey. As they exist in wild animals it does support the possibility that heat detectors exist in domestic dogs as well.

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