We’ve all done it. We return home to find our pups waiting for us by the door, as if they knew before we did that we’d leave work early that day, and we make a mental note: this dog is beyond special, she’s almost otherworldly. The anecdotal evidence among dog-owners of their furry friends sensing future events is everywhere. Distressed behavior preceding earthquakes and storms. Advanced knowledge of sicknesses or pregnancies. Dogs that can sniff out bad people, bad days and even ghosts. The science around proving these claims has been much hazier, though, with most scientists concluding that rather than dogs possessing actual psychic abilities, they are simply animals whose heightened senses of hearing and smell (not to mention intelligence and empathy) give them certain abilities that, while not technically magical, are reminiscent of the same mythologies surrounding our favorite superheroes. So move over Superman, you’ve got nothing on Fido!
What a Dog Smells
Many of dogs’ most impressive capabilities derive from their extraordinary sense of smell. James Walker, former director of the Sensory Research Institute at Florida State University, estimates that a dog’s sense of smell is between 10,000 to 100,000 times more acute than a human’s capabilities. They contain up to 300 million olfactory receptors in their noses (compared to our 5 million), which are structured differently than ours, allowing separate flow paths for breathing and olfaction. All of that unobstructed odor transport allows dogs to not only do great police work by sniffing out drugs and bombs, but also alert their owners to a myriad of practical matters.
Storm prediction is largely attributed to dogs’ ability to smell chemical changes in the air, particularly faraway traces of ozone, a byproduct of lightning. Dogs can also smell changes in our health. Humans emit volatile organic compounds (VOCs) in our sweat and breath. The composition and smell of these change with our health, allowing dogs to sense human health events before we do, including pregnancy, labor, oncoming seizures, impending hypoglycemia, cancer and more. Service dogs have been trained to alert owners to emergencies such as diabetic attacks and seizures, and many believe that dogs become more protective of their pregnant owners. A firm called Medical Detection Dogs is even working with dogs to sniff out various cancers in human urine samples. Not surprisingly, other organizations are following suit.
What a Dog Hears
Dogs hear four times the distance of an average human. They can also hear higher-pitched sounds and detect a larger frequency range than us. This makes them great protectors, of course, but also enables them to perform other neat tricks, too. Like predicting their owners’ return from work, which most people now believe is a function of a dog’s internal clock matched with acute hearing. Your dog can identify the specific sounds of your car and your footsteps and hear them from an impressive distance, leaving plenty of time to position themselves by the door well before you reach it!
Dr. Stanley Coren asserts that a dog’s earthquake detection skills can also be attributed to their ability to hear tectonic shifting. In a 2012 study, 49 percent of the nearly 200 dogs studied showed a marked increase in anxiety the day before an earthquake, with no change among hearing-impaired participants. Some reports claim they can even predict avalanches!
What a Dog Sees
A dog’s vision is generally considered to be worse than its human counterpart because dogs can’t see well up close or far away. A recent study found, however, that they also have ultraviolet vision, meaning your dog may see things that are invisible to you. We don’t yet understand how this superpower is used by our pups, but prepare to be further wowed in the future when someone figures it out!
We may not know everything about our canine friends, but we certainly know they’re special, even if not technically psychic.