Are dogs able to detect ghosts and spirits?

Perhaps as long as man has shared his life with dogs there has been the belief that they have some sort of sixth sense. There are plenty of legends and tales worldwide of the dog’s ability to detect spirits of the afterworld and this Holidays4Dogs article looks into the subject of whether our pets can detect spooky goings on.

Many dog owners may wonder how much truth there is in the idea that dogs can see ghosts, particularly when they encounter their dog barking or howling at seemingly nothing, or staring into space with his hackles raised!  A howling dog in particular is regarded in many cultures as signifying an omen of death.

As far back as ancient Egyptian times the god of the dead was Anubis who was represented with the head of a dog – whenever a dog was heard howling in the night the belief was that it was calling a soul to Anubis. Nordic legend speaks of the goddess of death, Freyja – as she rides a mystical storm on her chariot pulled by cats, its is said that dogs would begin to howl when they sensed her approach.  Closer to home in Ireland, legend has it that dogs howl when they hear a ghostly pack of hounds leading riders on a rowdy hunt across the skies, as they collect the souls of the dying.

This superstition, however, persists in the modern world and here in the UK the Blue Cross conducted a study of 2,000 pet owners (2015) and found that 30 percent of those surveyed believed that their pet could protect them from ghosts and spirits.  Many of the respondents of the survey claimed that their dog would often stare at something that wasn’t there while growling or barking; others stated that their dogs would back away from something that could not be seen, or would raise their hackles, apparently for no reason.

While many people still believe that pet dogs are able to detect death, many also believe they can predict the onset of illness and disease.  This isn’t so far fetched when you consider the fact that dogs are used, quite effectively, as medical detection dogs – having the ability, (once trained) to detect urine samples containing prostrate cancer with almost 100 percent accuracy.

Whether dogs can actually see ghosts and spirits of those dearly departed is certainly up for debate, but as owners we frequently build very strong bonds with our pets – dogs especially.  Dogs have highly attuned senses, with a sense of smell for instance 10,000 times greater than ours, so it certainly wouldn’t be impossible for dogs to be able to tell when we are not feeling on top of the world, or even when something more serious is about to happen.

Dogs have long been our comforters, companions and protectors – so next time your dog barks at an empty space, bear in mind he may also be guarding us from supernatural entities too!