Sometimes, much to our confusion and horror, dogs will suddenly change their behavior and bark at absolutely nothing. It’s even spookier when they stare directly into an empty corner with an alarmed posture, and you have to ask yourself: “can dogs see ghosts?”
Can Dogs Really Sense Ghosts?
Nearly half of all Americans (47% according to a 2019 IPSOS poll) believe that ghosts exist. But do dogs have the ability to help us prove this one way or another?
Zac Bagans, host of The Travel Channel’s Ghost Adventures, believes his dog Gracie’s heightened canine senses allow her to feel paranormal activity. He even brings Gracie along to haunted locations in hopes that she can aid their investigations of supernatural experiences.
“I know that she knows when something is there in the room… that isn’t flesh and blood and bone.”Zac Bagans
During one of the Ghost Adventures‘ investigations at the historic William Westerfeld House, Zac picks up on some bizarre behavior that he’s not used to seeing from Gracie. When Zac enters a specific room that is said to be particularly haunted, Gracie jumps up on him to (he believes) get him to leave. Later in the video, you see Gracie staring intently into an empty corner with her ears piqued, then quickly leave with a crouched, fearful body posture a few seconds later.
And this, of course, isn’t the only instance of dogs acting strange at supposedly haunted locations. A quick YouTube search will give you enough creepy material to have your hair standing on end all night.
What Does The Research Say?
The question of whether dogs can sense the supernatural hasn’t just boggled the minds of paranormal investigators—ordinary pup parents also have their own eerie experiences with their dogs. It’s an area of study scientists continue to research.
According to Dr. Stanley Coren, a psychology professor and neuropsychological researcher specializing in canine studies at the University of British Columbia, this “sixth sense” that many dog parents believe their pups have could simply be a result of dogs having keener senses than humans1.
Dogs Hear At Higher Frequencies Than Humans
Dogs can hear about 4 times better than humans due to their deeper ear canals2. This allows sound to funnel more directly to their ear drums. Dogs detect softer sounds at decibels (db) we simply can’t hear—often between -5 dB and -15 dB. You know, like the footsteps of that little girl ghost creaking down your stairs in the middle of the night.
Dogs’ supernatural hearing also includes the ability to hear a wider range of frequencies than the human ear. On average, most dogs can hear sound as high as 45–67,000 Hz3 (Hertz is a unit used to measure the frequency of sound). Humans, on the other hand, are only able to hear up to 20,000 Hz. To put that more plainly, dogs can hear higher pitches of sound than us—think of dog whistles that emit sounds out of human range.
So, are they simply hearing critters stirring under the floorboards? Or maybe just the creaks of a settling house? Or are they actually listening to that colonial woman churning butter in your kitchen, and the echos of that little boy who died of scarlet fever playing with his favorite ball in the afterlife? Well… we might have to leave that one up to you to decide for now.
Dogs See Light Spectrums That Humans Can’t
Although dogs may not be able to see as many colors as humans (by the way, our pups aren’t fully color-blind, they simply see fewer colors than us), or see as many fine details, they do have the ability to see better in low-light conditions, and detect a light spectrum that humans can’t. More specifically, ultraviolet, or UV light.
You know that bottle of sunscreen you have that tells you how much UV light it blocks from the sun to keep your skin from burning? Those UV rays are the type of light the human eye isn’t capable of seeing without the help of technology—or dogs!
So, even if we might not be able to prove yet that ghosts do indeed exist, or that our dog is, in fact, sensing those presences, we can prove that our pups are able to see things that we simply can’t.
Dogs Have A Stronger Sense Of Smell
There’s a reason your dog loves to smell anything and everything in their path, no matter how stinky. And that’s because they’re picking up so much more information in one whiff than we could ever imagine.
Dogs’ sense of smell is about 10,000-100,000 times more sensitive than humans4, and they have about 300 million olfactory receptors (neurons in the brain responsible for detecting smell), compared to our measly 6 million.
Dog Noses Smell Death, Disease, Emotions, & More
Where you and I would just be detecting “dog poo smell,” your pup is actually collecting all kinds of information and data from the same scent. In one single butt sniff, your dog picks up details about diet, gender, emotional state, disease, and so much more from their four-legged friends5 – now that’s a smart dog!
Dogs’ incredible sense of smell goes beyond learning new information about their own species. Dogs’ powerful noses give them the ability to to detect all kinds of things, like drugs, explosives, cancer, blood sugar levels, Covid-19, reproductive cycles, emotional states6… and maybe, just maybe, ghosts too!
While the exact answer as to whether or not dogs can sense actual spirits is still up for debate, it’s widely known that dogs can, in a way, smell death. You’ve most likely heard of cadaver dogs and search-and-rescue dogs who help find survivors or locate bodies after natural disasters. In addition, there are also numerous anecdotes about dogs sensing a family member’s impending death or refusing to leave the side of their person’s grave after they’ve passed.
People Experience “Supernatural” Smells, Too
Meanwhile, there have also been various reports of people being overwhelmed with sudden bursts of scents like cigar smoke, perfume, flowers, or food during a supernatural experience. You can watch one such incident on an episode of The SyFy Channel’s Ghost Hunters. In this episode, investigators Steve Gonsalves and Jason Hawes are repeatedly inundated with strong phantom smells of chocolate during an investigation at a reportedly haunted elementary school in New Jersey.
The fact that even humans can occasionally connect scents with supposedly haunted locations suggests there could be a larger connection to scent and the afterlife than we realize. And perhaps that our dogs detect those scents much more often.
Dogs Can Sense Impending Natural Disasters
Dogs are often able to sense danger before humans can. For example, before the massive tsunami in 2004 that destroyed multiple cities across Asia, many animals, including dogs, exhibited behavioral differences and ran for cover or refused to go outside.
This was far from the first time animals seemed to predict natural disasters. The first recorded incident goes all the way back to Greece in 373 BC when dogs and other animals scrambled to safety days before an earthquake.
Some experts like Stanley Coren believe this phenomenon could also be due to animals’ heightened senses7. During an unrelated canine research study in 2001, Coren noticed the dogs he was monitoring began to exhibit signs of anxiety days before an earthquake happened to hit the Pacific Northwest. After Coren’s observations and data collection on the incident, he concludes, “I believe… it is dogs’ hearing abilities, specifically their sensitivity to higher frequency sounds, that allows them to serve as sensors for approaching seismic events such as earthquakes and avalanches.” Dogs can also feel and smell changes in barometric pressure, changes which are closely associated with many natural phenomena such as storms.
The truth is, because dogs can’t offer their explanation, there’s no telling why they bark at nothing or act uncharacteristically anxious out of the blue. Until dogs can tell us about Casper the friendly ghost taking up residence in our home, we won’t know whether or not they can see ghosts. But one thing we know for sure is that dogs can certainly see, hear, smell, and possibly sense things that we just can’t. And we think that makes our dogs supernaturally awesome.
1Coren, S. (2017, August 29). Can dogs detect ghosts, spirits, or hallucinations? Psychology Today. Retrieved April 14, 2022, from https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/canine-corner/201708/can-dogs-detect-ghosts-spirits-or-hallucinations
2Bukowski, J. A., & Aiello, S. (2022, March 22). Description and physical characteristics of dogs. Merck Veterinary Manual. Retrieved April 14, 2022, from https://www.merckvetmanual.com/dog-owners/description-and-physical-characteristics-of-dogs/description-and-physical-characteristics-of-dogs?redirectid=355%3Fruleredirectid#v3199628
3LSU. (2017, April 10). How well do dogs and other animals hear? Frequency hearing ranges in dogs and other species. Retrieved April 14, 2022, from https://www.lsu.edu/deafness/HearingRange.html
4Tyson, P. (2012, October 4). Dogs’ dazzling sense of smell. PBS. Retrieved April 14, 2022, from https://www.pbs.org/wgbh/nova/article/dogs-sense-of-smell/
5Encyclopædia Britannica, inc. (n.d.). Understand the science why dogs sniff each other’s butts. Encyclopædia Britannica. Retrieved April 14, 2022, from https://www.britannica.com/video/187069/dogs-each-other
6Kokocińska-Kusiak, A., Woszczyło, M., Zybala, M., Maciocha, J., Barłowska, K., & Dzięcioł, M. (2021). Canine olfaction: Physiology, behavior, and possibilities for practical applications. Animals, 11(8), 2463. https://doi.org/10.3390/ani11082463
7Coren, S. (2012, May 9). Can dogs predict earthquakes? Psychology Today. Retrieved April 14, 2022, from https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/canine-corner/201205/can-dogs-predict-earthquakes