Many people claim that their dog can sense when they are coming home. The say that the dog knows when they are going on a trip and even seems to respond to their thought commands as if they had telepathy. Some dogs howl orv behave oddly in spooky places and even dramatically there are stories of lost dogs that manage to track their owners down over hundreds or even thousands of miles?
A California survey revealed that 45% of dog owners claimed that their dog knew in advance when they were on the way home. Sixty-five per cent said their dogs knew beforehand when they were going out, long before the owner showed any physical sign of leaving and 46% said their dog responded to their thoughts or silent commands. Surveys in London and the greater Manchester area in England yielded even high percentages of owners who believed that their dogs have psychic abilities.
Being psychic is having the ability to obtain certain information or influence matter in ways that defy all conventional explanations– in short possessing extrasensory perception (ESP). Mentally influencing matter is a forms of ESP called psychokinesis (PK).
The most commonly reported canine psychic abilities include:
Precognition: This is the ability to forecast future events without using reasoning or the normal sensory channels. In dogs this involves anticipating when owners are about to return or warning them about some impending danger. Frequently there have been claims that dogs can predict earthquakes or other natural disasters.
Clairvoyance: This is also known as remote viewing or second sight. It is the ability to perceive events that are taking place some distance away– well beyond the range of the normal sensory abilities. It may involve hearing or smelling, as well as sight. A dog that somehow knows its distant owner is in immediate danger, may be said to be clairvoyant. Israeli psychic Uri Geller, is a firm believer in canine ESP. He says ,”When I was a child living in Cyprus I got lost in a cave. I was obviously distressed. My dog Joker appeared out of nowhere and led me to safety. He was at least 5 miles away from that cave.”
Telepathy: This is the ability to communicate using only the mind. This ability is usually manifested when a human sends mental commands which the dog then obeys. Occasionally owners claim that they receive thought messages from their dogs. To rule out signaling, the sender and receiver are typically separated in telepathy experiments. This distance apart does not seem to be important and highly emotional messages are thought to be easier to transmit. Practically it may be difficult to distinguish among precognition, clairvoyance, and telepathy. They often overlap. Geller says, “My dogs sense telepathically that I am about to take a trip, although it is about 3 or 4 days ahead of time. They go and lie beside my suitcase, showing sad faces to me.”
Mediumistic Sensitivity: The ability to detect other psychic phenomena or serve as a medium for psychic communication is called mediumistic sensitivity. Claims have been made that dogs are highly sensitive to manifestations of spirits, ghosts, or other so-called hauntings.
Psi Trailing: This term is applied to the ability of some dogs to track down their lost owners, often over enormous distance. It seems to be related to the homing and migratory instincts in birds. For dogs, home is where the pack is. Richard S. Broughton, Ph.D., Director of the Institute for Parapsychology in Durham, North Carolina says, “The claims for ESP in animals (mostly pets) are primarily in the form of anecdotes. Typically the more impressive ones are cases where dogs or cats have tracked their owners over what appear to be impossibly long distances. We have hundreds of such cases on file. Unfortunately, while the accumulated weight of these tales may be
impressive, it doesn’t amount to proof of ESP in animals in any scientific sense.”
There has been considerable research on the psychic abilities of animals. In addition to dogs, parapsychologists have studied cats, mice, rats, hamsters, gerbils, chicks, cockroaches, and even paramecium.
Anecdotal accounts of psychic dogs abound. Two well known collections are Bill Schul’s The Psychic Power of Animals and John Sutton’s Psychic Pets. Stories in these anthologies range from Missie the amazing psychic Boston Terrier from Denver who accurately predicted both a birth and a death, to Pepsi the Border Collie-lurcher cross, who was tracked by a satellite transmitter, as she found her way home from an unknown location two miles away.
While the belief in psychic phenomena is of ancient origin, some of the first modern experimental studies involved dogs. In the early 1920’s, Russian scientists, Vladmir M. Bekhterev and Alexander Leontovitch conducted extensive studies of canine ESP. In Leningrad they studied telepathic communication between Mars, a performing Alsation, and Vladmir Durov, a famous animal trainer and circus entertainer. Durov claimed to use telepathy to direct animals in his renown “Animal Theater”. Besides Mars, Durov also communicated mentally with a Scottish Terrier named Pikki, and a St. Bernard named Lord. These dogs were said to obey complex thought commands from Durov, as well as other “senders”, even when the “sender” was several rooms away. Upon mental command these dogs were said to bark, fetch specific items, and even count out numbers. From 1922 to 1924, over 10,000 highly successful telepathy experiments were reportedly conducted with these dogs.
Aristide H. Esser, M.D., a psychiatrist with the Rockland Psychiatric Research Institute in Orangeburg, New York, conducted a series of studies on canine ESP in the 1970’s. Using two specially constructed sound and vibration proof, copper-lined rooms, he placed a dog owner in one room and two of his hunting beagles in the other room and then observed the beagles’ reaction when the owner shot an airgun at slides of animals he had previously hunted. The beagles reacted with great excitement at each shot, despite the fact that they could not have known what was taking place in the other room. In a similar experiment, Dr. Esser isolated a boxer in one room and his owner in the other. The experimenters then suddenly and unexpectedly frightened the owner. Simultaneously, the boxer immediately exhibited obvious distress, despite the physical separation. Dr. Essner conclude that there was an unmistakable “psychic link” between some owners and their dogs.
In a early study, the father of American parapsychological research, Dr. J.B. Rhine, from Duke University and his daughter Sara Feather employed a standardized criteria and verified 54 bonafide cases of animal psi trailing — mostly in dogs. Twenty-five of these cases involved distance more than 30 miles.
In 1971 Dr. Rhine conducted a study with two German Shepherd dogs. The dogs and their trainer tried to locate empty land-mine cases buried in sand under 6-12 inches of water. The dogs and trainer were highly successful for the first 200 trials, but then their performance significantly declined— precipitating an overall ambiguous result, as is often seen in ESP research.
One canine celebrity who caught the public’s imagination is a five-year-old mixed breed terrier named Jaytee, owned by Pamela Smart, an administrator and counselor, from Northwest England.
Jaytee’s fame stems, in no small part, from his association with maverick scientist, Rupert Sheldrake. In 1994 Dr. Sheldrake wrote a book entitled, Seven Experiments that Could Change the World, in which he suggested that public get involved in conducting important experiments that conventional science neglects.These experiments were chiefly designed to find support for Dr. Sheldrake’s controversial theory of morphic resonance, which he says is the basis for memory in nature. A morphic field is an energy field which organizes the characteristic structure and activity of systems at all levels of complexity; including atoms, cells, organisms, societies, and even galaxies. Such fields are shaped and stabilized by morphic resonance from previous similar units, thus creating a cumulative memory over time. Such fields account for the interconnectivity and wholeness observed in nature , according to Dr. Sheldrake.
Two of Dr. Sheldrake’s suggested experiments deal with animal extrasensory perception— studies of pets that anticipate their owner’s return and studies of the homing instinct in animals. If such phenomena were substantiated, the data would support Dr. Sheldrake’s notion of morphogenetic fields linking humans with their pets.
In 1991, Ms. Smart’s parents began to suspected that her dog, Jaytee, could tell when she was about to return home. They observed Jaytee often waiting at the window, about the time Ms. Smart started for home. In May of 1994, Ms. Smart and her parents began recording Jaytee’s behavior, as it related to Ms. Smart’s homecomings. In a article published by Ms. Smart and Dr. Sheldrake in 1998, they describe the results of 96 sets of observations. According to this study, Jaytee reacted 10 minutes or more in advance of Ms. Smart’s return on 82 occasions, and showed no anticipatory reaction on 14 (an 85% success rate). They also reported a highly significant correlation between the times when Jaytee reacted and the times when Ms. Smart started for home. During the study Ms. Smart had been up to 51 kilometers away, but distance was not a significant factor in Jaytee’s ability to anticipate his owner’s return. To rule out Jaytee’s possible recognition of the distinctive sounds of Ms. Smart’s car, other vehicles were also employed, and Jaytee still reacted on 4 of 5 occasions. Jaytee also anticipated Ms. Smart’s return on 4 out of 4 occasions when she was sent home at times randomly selected by another party. On one occasion, an Austrian television crew recorded both Jaytee’s reactions and Ms. Smart’s movements on videotape. On section of the tape shows that eleven seconds after Ms. Smart was told to go home (at a randomly selected time unknown to her), Jaytee exhibited a significant anticipatory reaction. Dr. Sheldrake and Ms. Smart concluded, “The evidence suggests that Jaytee’s reactions depended on an influence from his owner detected by the dog in a manner currently unknown to science.”
But Jaytee’s story doesn’t end here. Uri Geller’s archnemesis, James Randi, a professional magician and debunker from the James Randi Educational Foundation (JREF) in Ft. Lauderdale is highly skeptical of canine ESP, saying there is, “No supporting evidence. Lots of anecdotal reports, but we at the JREF have tested these claims. They fail.” He adds, “We saw the Sheldrake experiment. Viewing the entire tape, we see that the dog responded to every car that drove by, and to every person who walked by. All that TV viewers got was the tiny segment in which the dog appeared to react to the distant event.”
The plot further thickened when well-known British parapsychologist, Dr. Richard Wiseman, from the University of Hertfordshire was invited by Dr. Sheldrake to conduct an independent study of Jaytee’s abilities. After four experiments, Dr. Wiseman was unable to substantiate the phenomena and concluded, “Analysis of the data did not support the hypothesis that Jaytee could psychically detect when his owner was returning home.” Dr. Wiseman suggests that Jaytee’s behavior might be explained just as well by more familiar factors, such as responding to routines or sensory cues from people.
With more than a hint of betrayal, Ms. Smart recently remarked, “Thinking that Wiseman was an open minded skeptic, he was offered the chance to test Jaytee for himself, which he did with his assistant Matthew Smith on two visits, where they did 4 experiments. One of them didn’t work very well as the experiment was interrupted. A fishmonger’s truck pulled into the neighborhood, stirring all the local cats in to a frenzy, as well as distracting the hapless Jaytee. On all the other three experiments Jaytee did exactly as he has done on our experiments, which proves his telepathic link with me. Last August Wiseman published a paper in the Journal of Psychology here in the UK with an analysis totally of his own making. He decided to look at only 2% of the data and therefore rubbishing the other 98% and putting an artificial spin on all of the experiments. His results have very much validated our work.”
To these charges, Dr. Wiseman cautiously replies, “We see the data in quite different ways. However, I stand by the paper, but Rupert disagrees.” Such conflicts are common in parapsychology research.
When asked if Jaytee shows any other special powers Smart says, “Jaytee doesn’t have any other psychic abilities that I am aware of. It is important to say that Jaytee is just an ordinary little mongrel terrier. There are thousands of pets doing this every day out there. Jaytee has just been tested more than any other dog and of course, I love him to bits.”
From Lancashire England, John G. Sutton is a teacher, feature editor of Psychic World Magazine, and author of the aforementioned Psychic Pets. Being familiar with Dr. Sheldrake’s work, he says “Electro-magnetic morphogenic fields of energy emit from every living thing in the universe. Animals are sensitive to such fields.” As to why dogs specifically may have ESP, Sutton says. “They are natural not socialized creatures.” Canine ESP according to Sutton is, “…simply a fact denied only by the professionally blind.”
Maureen Hall from North Hollywood, California has over 40 years experience as an animal communicator and trainer of theatrical animal and pets. She says, “People need to know that they are capable of conversing with their pets. And they need to know that their animals have deep thoughts capable of far more than the owner ever dreamed. I teach people to ‘speak’ telepathically to their pets and in fact to all animals. I have at least a 95% success rate with my students. TRY IT and you will become a believer!”
Dr. Wiseman has described seven possible natural explanations for reported psychic phenomena in canines, such as Jaytee’s anticipation response. These include:
1. Responding to routines: Dogs are certainly able to develop a sense of time, as every owner has observed around supper time. Dogs may also develop a sense for other aspects our schedules, such as our departures and arrivals. They may appear to read our minds, when they are just responding to learned routines.
2. Sensory Cueing from the Owner: Whether conscious or inadvertent this is a major factor. Human-canine rapport can occasionally become so intimate, that communication becomes extremely efficient and abbreviated. This is called “calibrated communication” and it occurs when only minimal gestures or signals are necessary to transmit tremendous amounts of information and meaning.
Canine communication relies heavily on interpreting cues from the alpha dog and other pack members and this skill is routinely transferred to canine-human communications. Dr. Caroline Watt, Senior Research Fellow at the Koestler Parapsychology Unit at the University of Edinburgh, says, People unwittingly give off clues as to what they are thinking. For instance, say they are thinking of taking the dog for a walk, they may become restless, start to adjust their clothes, look to the windows to check the weather, drink up their cup of tea, etc. Animals are very observant and are known to be able to detect these kinds of cues, long before the owner says ‘walkies’!” Dogs who exhibit separation anxiety are especially adept at reading cues suggesting the owner is leaving.
Dr. Broughton says of all the canine ESP claims, except for psi-trailing, “It is far more simpler to suppose that the dog is responding to subtle cues on the part of their master–so subtle that the human doesn’t recognize them, but the dog does. Our founder, J.B. Rhine, observed precisely that back in the late 1920s with a horse thought to be psychically reading the thoughts of its master.”
3. Sensory Cueing from Other People: Besides the owner, other people in the immediate environment may also be transmitting unintended messages. Animals, as well as humans, tend to respond in accordance with the expectations of others. A controversial book, Pygmalion in the Classroom, by Professor Robert Rosenthal, described how children’s grades improved significantly when teachers were simply lead to expect that greater achievement was imminent.
4. Selective memory: This involves selecting observations that support the phenomena and simply forgetting or disregarding all of those that do not. Selective vigilance is a principle which is often cited in parapsychology research. Dr. Watt says, “Another factor that may be important, is the human tendency to forget occasions when the dog ‘got it wrong’ and remember occasions when the dog ‘got it right’. For instance, in a dog that seems to be able to anticipate the owner’s return, observers are likely to end up with an exaggerated view of the dog’s skills because they will overlook the occasions when the dog anticipated wrongly and the occasions that the dog anticipated rightly will be more memorable and impressive. Finally, once people have a belief (e.g., my dog is psychic), psychologists have shown that they tend to make observations and decisions that will confirm and support their belief (sort of ‘I’ll see it when I believe it’).”
5. Multiple guesses: This factor stems from not operationally defining the target response. Firm criteria and an objective description of what behavior constitutes the target must be established in advance. In any situation, a dog is likely to make a variety of responses. Without set criteria, the owner must interpret what the various behaviors mean, converting the experiment into a Rorschach Test for the owner.
6. Misremenbering: In some instances participants in such research may simply forget or confuse critical details. Careful monitoring and data recording are therefore crucial.
7. Selective Matching: Like multiple guessing, this factor is related to ambiguity of animal behavior. In the case of Jaytee, according to Dr. Wiseman, if someone is attempting to determine when the dog has made a signal of anticipation, this person should not be privy to the actual time selected for the owner to begin home, since it might bias the judgement. Such “blind” and even “double blind” experimental conditions are usually the rule in parapsychology research.
In addition to the factors above, many professional parapsychologists believe that much of canine ESP phenomena is simply a misinterpretation of normal canine capacities that we tend to greatly underestimate. Besides their unique skills in interpreting visual cues, there is their phenomenal auditory and olfactory abilities. Dr. Watt says, “Animals also may be able to detect a wider range of acoustic frequencies than humans, and may be more sensitive to other physical cues such as vibrations and smells. All of these factors may provide the chance for normal information transfer, that may look like ESP to the owner.”
Along similar lines Dr. Broughton says , “Dogs probably have higher levels of sensory acuity than we do. Their survival might depend on learning how to respond to very subtle signs on the part of humans that we do not pay attention to. Consider some raptors. They have far greater visual acuity than humans, so they can spot tiny rodents from great heights. If a human were to be looking down from the height of a hovering hawk, he might venture that hawks have a psychic ability to locate rodents
because he can’t spot them, but that would not be the case.”
Many owners seem to really wish that their dog was psychic. Dr. Watt, says, “One of my interests is human psychology, and the way in which we may mislead ourselves into thinking that something psychic has occurred, when in fact an ordinary explanation exists – what you might call ‘pseudo-ESP. Some general psychological principles may come into play with ‘psychic animals’, leading their owners to conclude, wrongly, that ESP has happened.”
Randi’s explanation for such thinking is more direct and simple, He says, “It’s called ‘anthropomorphizing ‘. They [the owners] would like it to be true.” and Dr. Broughton says the claim for such powers, “Makes them feel their pet is special.”
There’s no doubt that many owners develop a very special rapport and keen ability to communicate with their dogs. Whether this can be considered psychic phenomena, however, is in still in dispute, despite over 80 years of laboratory research. Dr. Broughton concludes, “I think current research would agree that many dog owners believe their dog possesses psychic abilities. Whether the dogs actually do have such abilities remains an open question.”
Testing Your Dog’s ESP
Is Your Dog Psychic?
Developing a test for canine ESP is possible, although difficult according to Dr. Broughton, Director of the Institute for Parapsychology in Durham, North Carolina. He says, “ The key is to see if one can demonstrate that the dog is obtaining and responding to information that it could not have obtained through its very good sensory system (not just vision, but hearing and smell).”
Keeping this in mind I have devised these brief ESP tests that most dog owners can conduct. I have avoid testing for the anticipation response, because I don’t believe this can be conducted properly without considerable effort. These tests try to prevent the possibility of unintentional cueing by owners, but they are far from foolproof. All of these tests employ both positive reinforcement for demonstrating psi ability and immediate feedback. The statistical standards are rigorous, but reflect generally accepted experimental methodology. You may wish to take a few days to complete these tests, so your dog will not get overtired or overfed. Use very small bits of favorite food treat as rewards or lures. Any time your dog stops responding to the food treats, he is telling you it’s time to quit. Respect this and try again later. Good luck and have fun.
Materials Required: One experimenter and one assistant
Two small food bowls (one white, one black)
One die (from a pair of dice)
One marking pen
A supply of dog treats divided into small pieces
One stop watch
Two clipboards with paper and pens to record results
Experiment 1. Precognition: This a test to see if your dog can predict the future.
1. Take one die (from a pair of dice) and using the marking pen, paint all of the even sides black. These sides represent a black response, the unpainted sides represent white.
2. Obtain two new small food bowls (one white, one black). For a few days before testing, familiarize your dog with the bowls by putting half of his food in each bowl at meal times. Vary the relative of the position of the bowls at each meal.
3. To begin the precognition test, with your dog out of the testing room, place the two new bowls about three feet apart and put a very small amount of your dog’s favorite food treat into each bowl.
4. Keeping all other animals and distractions away, bring the dog you wish to test into the testing area. Hold the dog at least ten feet away from center of the space between the two dog dishes.
5. Release the dog and make a note of what color dish he/she contacts first. Give the dog two minutes on the stopwatch to contact the dish. It doesn’t matter if the dog goes immediately to the other dish.
6. Using a small cup, roll the die (letting it fall on a table) and if it is the same color as the dish that the dog contacted FIRST, reward the dog with another dog treat, petting, and praise.
7. If the color does not match the dish the dog contacted first, just lead the dog out of the test area.
8. With your dog out of site, switch the relative positions of the bowls and repeat steps 3 through 8 until your have 21 trials. Not counting trial 1 (this was a learning trail), calculate how many correct choices or “hits” your dog has.
Experiment 2. Telepathy: This is a test to determine if your dog responds to mental or telepathic commands.
- Use the painted die as prepared above
- Set up the two colored dishes as in steps 2,3, and 4 above. This time however have a partner restrain the dog, while you go (taking the whistle and stopwatch with you) into another room, out of sight of the dog. Using the cup roll the die to establish a target color. Then give your dog a mental command to go that that color bowl. Visualize the dog going there, and visualize the color of the bowl as vividly as possible.
- Blow the whistle one short loud blast as a signal for your assistant to release the dog. Your assistant should note what bowl the dog approaches first. The dog should be given 2 minutes after the whistle is blown to contact a bowl. After two minutes, you should return to the testing area and reward the dog with an additional food treat, praise, and petting if he/she made the correct response. Not responding should be treated as a miss.
- Repeat steps 2 and 3 until you have 20 trials. You should keep close track of the dish color you tried to transmit for each trial.
- Determine the number of correct approaches or “hits”.
Experiment 3. Psychokenesis (PK): This experiment determines your dog’s ability to use mind over matter.
- Take your prepared die and using a small cup and roll it on to a table in the presence of your dog.
- If the die reads “Black” reward your dog with a small food treat. If the die reads “White”, ignore your dog.
- Repeat steps 1 and 2 until your have a total of 21 trials.
- Calculate the number of times black appeared on the roll of the die, starting with the second trial. Again trial 1 results are omitted because it was a learning trial.
Scoring and Interpretation: All three experiments are based on a 50-50 (equal chance) probability. So for each test, the expected score is always 10 hits out of 20 for average (non-psychic) performance.
0-14 Average performance—lovable perhaps, but no Uri Geller. Scores in this range either reflect no psychic ability, or have a high likelihood of being due to chance factors alone. Since you are trying to detect ESP effects, we are using what statisticians call a “one-tailed test” (only looking for high scores).
14-20 Possibly a canine Kreskin! Scores in this range are significantly better than chance, using the generally accepted probability that scientists employ (p< .05). Which means that less than five times out of hundred, such differences would be due to chance alone. Of course the more hits, the better the probability of detecting a genuine effect. For example a score of 20 hits out of 20 trials has a probability of p<.0000039. But don’t collect your million dollars yet. These results have to replicated and all extraneous natural explanations have to be ruled out. Inadvertent or even unconscious signaling is the most likely culprit.
Based on an article originally published in Dog World Magazine