Surprisingly, it has been discovered that dogs’ noses contain infrared detectors. Infrared detectors can pick up thermal radiation and in doing so dogs are able to pick up the heat radiated from, for example, a person trapped under the snow. This may explain why dogs are able to be so effective in detecting people who are alive and buried in the rubble of a building which has collapsed because of an earthquake. We know that a dog’s nose is up to a 100 million times more sensitive than ours but it is a remarkable discovery that they can sense weak thermal radiation. This ability may also help to explain why dogs with impaired sight and hearing can still hunt successfully.
Dr. Desmond Morris wrote about this in his book Dogwatching which was published in 1996. Although the research appears to be published in February 2020 on the Science website. It is an interesting discovery in another sense because a lot of people ask whether dogs have a sixth sense and this is an example of that albeit explained scientifically.
People think of a sixth sense as being something mysterious and supernatural but I would argue that it can always be explained scientifically. Desmond Morris refers to what people thought were the supernatural abilities of some breeds such as the St Bernard for being able to detect a climber buried under an avalanche. Well, perhaps St Bernards are particularly well endowed with these infrared detectors in their noses? It’s not that far-fetched because certain species of snake have heat receptors in their snouts which are designed to detect the presence of small, warm-blooded prey. Black fire beetles and the vampire bat are also said to have the ability to sense weak radiating heat.
Researchers tested this ability at the universities of Lund and Eötvös Loránd. After training three dogs they found that all three we able to successfully detect the objects before them through weak thermal radiation. They weren’t able to see or smell the difference between the objects but detected them through by the emission of thermal radiation.
They confirmed that like vampire bats, dogs can detect weak hotspots. A specific area of their brain is activated when their noses detect the infrared radiation. It appears to be an inheritance from their wild ancestor the grey wolf.
This leads me to the concept of a sixth sense. For example, dogs (and indeed cats) can find their way home from long distances over unfamiliar terrain. Dr Desmond Morris argues that this ability is due to a dog being able to pick up the Earth’s magnetic field which can guide a dog like a compass.
Dogs are also capable of predicting earthquakes and thunderstorms. He claims that dogs are sensitive to changes in barometric pressure and possibly to alterations in the level of static electricity in the air. Once again this ability is inherited from wolves. Wolves have to select a den very carefully which are built on slopes to minimise the possibility of flooding which could prove fatal for cubs. The ability to detect oncoming thunderstorms is an evolutionary adaptation to protect their family. So when dogs rush around the house when thunder threatens, it is claimed to be an inheritance from the grey wolf.
As to a dog’s ability to see ghosts or spirits, first you have to believe in ghosts and a lot of people don’t. But if you do and if your dog suddenly stops and stares into what appears to be thin air with great intensity it is probable that they have smelled a strong scent deposit which their human companion cannot detect and which might be from a fox or some other animal.
It reminds me of domestic cats looking at the walls of a home. Their owner cannot see anything on the wall but the cat will be hearing the movements of an insect or some other sound perhaps from a neighbour’s home. The cat can detect these sounds whereas the human cannot which lends them to believe that something mysterious is happening.
P.S. “Most of the thermal radiation emitted by objects near room temperature is infrared” – Wikipedia.