Horror Studies

“I Smell Dead People”: Can Dogs See Ghosts?

A few days ago, it happened again. My dog, an adult Yorkshire terrier named decided to disturb our sleep. Around 3:00, he started barking at something unclear on the living room wall. The truth is, we usually dismiss it. “That old dog is imagining things again,” I thundered, but I got a questioning look back. Still, I decided not to take any chances. Before I went back to sleep, I looked in the keyhole of the door (there was no scary figure, but the cleaner of the building must be here soon), under the bed (we have to explain to our girls to be tidier. There were Mickey Mouse dolls, socks and a roll of toilet paper with a mouse sticker on him) and the room window (hey, there was a cat there!).

As someone who lives and breathes horror movies, I couldn’t ignore this image appearing in many films. For example, the family moves into a haunted house in countless movies. In one of the first scenes, the dog recognizes a malicious entity and starts barking (in many cases, this dog will be one of the first victims, unfortunately, but we won’t go into that here). As an experiment, a thought crept into my heart – Not for the first time. “Do dogs see ghosts?” I wondered aloud. The dog gave me his confused look again, smelled, and looked at the pillow, apparently thinking of stealing it from me at night and leaving me to sleep on the floor. “If only dogs could understand me,” I said while covering myself with a blanket. The dog barked several times, but I didn’t care anymore. “May the ghosts go haunt someone else. I have to get up early tomorrow morning.”

The Mythology Around Dogs

A quick Google search showed me that I was not alone. Many search terms and questions about dogs seeing ghosts. If we keep scrolling, we will likely find even more fantastic stories. The truth is that these stories – made up, exaggerated or unexplained – are not accidental. The belief that dogs can see ghosts (of people or other dogs) or some supernatural activity is not new. In certain cultures, dogs have ascribed precisely these qualities, and often a personal experience (such as those we described earlier) may create this impression. So the answer to our main question – Can dogs see ghosts or spirits, or maybe even can dogs see ghosts of other dogs – is more complex than we might think.

Here are some examples that make this point clear. We all know the belief that black cats bring bad luck. In some cultures, the dog also has an unflattering role in this. You can find a variety of folk tales and stories about dogs connected with a supernatural presence. Some believe these dogs herald death in battle, guard the world of spirits, or “just” bring bad luck. In other words: if you saw a stray black dog on the street, some would say this is a sign that something terrible or supernatural is imminent.

can dogs see ghosts

Beyond its role as man’s best friend (at least until the smartphone was invented), the dog often takes on guard duties. Another myth in this context is that of The Protective Dog, which says that the dog does not protect us from burglars, other dogs, or anyone who needs protection – but also from ghosts and malicious demons. In Greek mythology, for example, Cerberus is the hunting dog of the underworld god Hades, who serves as a guard at the gate of his kingdom. The belief, in this context, is that dogs can identify malicious entities and keep them away, including from the homes they are in. A guard dog in every sense of the word.

Can Dogs See Ghosts – What The Science Says?

In a way that probably won’t surprise you, the question of whether dogs see ghosts has not received empirical research: after all, there’s no way to directly test it (which is, of course, also accurate of whether humans can encounter ghosts, or even if these ghosts at all There are). We found no empirical evidence of the dogs’ ability to see ghosts and not interact with them. What we get are symptoms that are difficult for us to explain, such as a dog standing in a corner or facing a wall as if it were one of the victims of the “The Blair Witch Project,” barking as if one of the evil creatures of “The Conjuring” is in the room and so on.

It is impossible, in this context, not to mention “The Sixth Sense” of dogs: their gut feeling that something is simply incorrect. If you believe in this sense, you may be happy to hear that it may very well be present in your dog. The difference is that while humans tend to be rational and understand on an intellectual level that there is a specific explanation for their feeling, dogs often act according to the particular emotion they experience. What’s more, it’s clear that the dog’s natural senses – we’re not talking about the sixth sense here, but about senses like hearing and smell – are often developed compared to humans.

Dogs Just Feel The World More Than Us

The claim, which for a change is also scientifically proven, is that dogs perceive the physical world that surrounds them more profoundly than humans – which can explain some signs of dogs seeing ghosts. For example, dogs (and cats, by the way) hear at higher frequencies than humans. Experts in the field point out that dogs can hear up to four times more than humans and smell up to 10,000 times more (!) than us.

Regarding vision, the fact is that humans see more clearly, sharply, and colorfully than dogs. But, dogs have an improved ability to detect movement – especially in low light conditions or the dark. Add to that that ghosts attack us in our imaginations, mainly at night (and many thanks to the horror movies that developed this over the years), and you get unexplained phenomena where the dog sees a ghost at night. In other words: the dogs may, as a result, react to noises, smells, or sights that we cannot identify, which may create the false impression that they feel some supernatural entity. In practice, the dog may react to some other furry opponent from the parallel street that he smelled or to a specific sound that we would not consider important.

In addition, the dogs learn to pick up the signs from their environment – including some that the average person would miss. Minor changes that the dog notices and the person does not attach importance to, such as in the body language or the emotions of the person around them, may cause unusual behavior. It may be the source of stories that seem almost as strange to us, such as a dog that detected cancer in its owners and urged them to get tested, a dog that behaved strangely a few seconds before a person had a stroke, etc. The difficulty of understanding exactly how this happens may take us to the realms of the supernatural. However, in practice, they have a sensitivity that causes, among other things, the ability to recognize disasters before they occur.

Does Your Dog See Ghosts? You Should Check It Out

You would likely be happy to prevent the following scenarios from your dog. Still, unfortunately, they are the reality that many of us dog owners will face at one point or another. Unusual and inexplicable behavior of the dog, such as barking at a “ghost,” may indicate that something is wrong with him. In most cases, this is a natural process. The dog ages and matures, his body systems go wrong, his senses fade, and he may suffer from cognitive problems. All of these may create unusual behaviors.

Aging dogs sometimes suffer from a condition known as “Cognitive Dysfunction Syndrome” (CDS for short), which causes behavioral changes and symptoms such as restlessness, staring into space for no good reason, aimless movement, change in sleep patterns, decreased responsiveness to games or encounters with Humans and other animals and more. Dogs can also suffer from serious diseases such as dementia or Alzheimer’s, which explain the abnormal behavior.

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Dogs, and it’s easy for us to forget this sometimes, have feelings. They may also develop cognitive or mental conditions that explain deviant behavior. Some dogs suffer from anxiety disorders, for example, following an event they experienced or saw. Their natural sensitivity to noises, for example, the sounds of explosions and alarms, becomes a potent trigger for them. The dog may develop hypervigilance under these conditions, accompanying them even after the voices have fallen asleep.

So the next time your dog barks for no reason in the middle of the night, you can rest easy: likely, your house is not haunted. The answer to the main question – Can dogs see ghosts – is probably negative. So could you, dear doggy, stop barking for no reason in the middle of the night?

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