Do Dogs Have a Sixth Sense?

Read on if you've ever felt like your dog could see ghosts or predict the future so that you can understand what's really going on.

Nov 3, 2023By Donna Hobson
do dogs have sixth sense

Numerous owners claim that their dogs can see a world beyond the one that we perceive. It's easy to see why when we look at some of their behaviors, such as "looking" at something that's not there or reacting to an event before it's even happened.

Discover whether dogs possess a sixth sense and how this mysterious instinct adds to a dog's abilities.

Do Dogs Have a Sixth Sense?

jack russell eyes looking sense
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When we refer to the sixth sense, many of us conjure an idea of something paranormal such as talking to ghosts or seeing glimpses of some other, spiritual world. Still, when we talk about a "sixth sense" in dogs, we can refer to any sense that is unique to their species.

It might be interesting to think that your dog can talk to spirits, but the truth is there's no way to prove this scientifically. In contrast, it's much easier to determine whether dogs can "sense" things that lie outside the capabilities of a human.

What Is a Dog's Sixth Sense?

bulldog sense smell
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A dog's sixth sense essentially stems from the perspective of humans; we need a label to describe the behaviors we cannot categorize on a standard system.

Dogs rely entirely on their senses to understand the world, so they put much more trust into their "gut feelings" than we do, making them more likely to act on their feelings than a person would. And it is this intuition that can come across as a kind of premonition or clairvoyant ability to predict the future.

Can Dogs See Things That We Can't See?

dog eye sense
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Have you ever seen your dog suddenly stop and stare off into the distance as though they could sense a presence that wasn't there?

Dr. Mary Burch described it perfectly in an article for the Chestermere Anchor, "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. 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."

However, there could be a perfectly rational explanation for this behavior. Maybe your dog pauses for a moment of reflection because they associate something in that area with the deceased person.

How Do Dogs Display Their Sixth Sense?

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Does your dog seem to intuitively know when you'll be home? Behaviors such as this are more likely learned through repetition; your canine will have a rough idea what time you get home each day, and even if they wait a little longer than usual, they will still be there to greet you at the door, so it'll seem like they "sensed" your arrival.

One of the most famous ways that dogs display their "sixth sense" is when they seem to predict natural disasters such as earthquakes or floods before they happen.

Documentation of animals predicting earthquakes dates to 373 BC, when a gathering including rats and weasels, left their home to head for safety before a deadly earthquake struck.

One way that dogs may be able to detect earthquakes is through sensing the P waves that emanate from the source of an earthquake. These are the faster but smaller waves that precede, the larger S waves. Most humans do not sense these compressional waves, but the sharper sense of a dog may pick up and react to them before humans realize what is happening.

How Do Dogs Predict the Future?

labrador retriever looking sensing
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There are several ways that dogs appear to predict the future, though we can explain many of these through science.

While the theory of P waves explains a dog sensing imminent danger, it doesn't explain how some dogs seemingly predict natural disasters hours or even days ahead of time. One theory is that your canine could detect a slight tilt in the ground or changes in the magnetic field. Another possibility is that their ears pick up the high-pitched sounds of underground seismic activity.

In a study by Dr. Stanley Coren, he observed the raised anxiety of dogs 24 hours before an earthquake occurred. His canine sample contained 12 hearing-impaired dogs, 92% of whom did not experience the same increase in anxiety ahead of this natural disaster.

Dr. Coren's study suggests that a dog's acute sense of hearing allows them to sense changes beneath the Earth's surface.

Is Smell a Dog's Sixth Sense?

dog nose sense smell
Credit: Image by DaModernDaVinci on Pixabay

As we all know, smell is one of the main five senses, however, dogs possess an extra nasal organ, so could this be responsible for a dog's sixth sense?

While we use sight as a primary sense, dogs rely on smell, possessing up to 300 million scent receptors. And this incredible sense enables a dog to pick up on the subtle scents undetectable to the human nose. For this reason, they can sense impending labor, predict oncoming seizures, and detect early-stage cancer.

Donna Hobson
By Donna Hobson

Donna believes that keeping a pet is the key to a happy life. Over the years, many creatures have passed through her home - Sooty the cat, Millie the rabbit, Stuart (Little) the guinea pig, and Trixie the tortoise, alongside her pet goldfish, Zippy, who lived to the grand old age of 24 years! She currently resides with her black kitten Jinx and an aquarium full of fish and snails to entrance them both. When she is not looking after her pets, Donna enjoys researching and writing the answers to all your pet-related wonders.