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Do Dogs Have a Sixth Sense? Interesting Canine Facts (Vet Answer)

Written by: Dr. Ashley Darby BVSc (Veterinarian)

Last Updated on May 15, 2024 by Dogster Team

German Shepherd with a girl at night

Do Dogs Have a Sixth Sense? Interesting Canine Facts (Vet Answer)


Dr. Ashley Darby Photo


Dr. Ashley Darby

BVSc (Veterinarian)

The information is current and up-to-date in accordance with the latest veterinarian research.

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Dogs are amazing creatures with a knack for comforting their human owners and anticipating natural disasters before they happen. There are even anecdotal reports of dogs behaving aggressively towards those with malicious intent, keeping their family members safe.

But are these uncanny abilities due to their heightened senses or a paranormal ability? While we veterinarians can’t speak to the paranormal, dogs may appear to have a sixth sense due to their powerful senses, ability to read human emotions, and knack for associative learning, which we will unpack in this article.

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What Is a Sixth Sense?

Dogs have the same five senses as humans: sight, taste, hearing, touch, and smell. According to the Merriam-Webster definition, a sixth sense is “a keen intuitive power.” Now, dogs can’t tell us why they react in specific ways, so we can’t know for sure if they experience the feeling of a sixth sense or if their reasoning is highly logical based on their superior hearing and smell.

labrador retriever dog standing in the grass
Image Credit: Alexander Rim, Shutterstock

Why Do Dogs Appear to Have a Sixth Sense?

The canine experience is very different from our own. For one thing, they can hear about four times better than us and at higher frequencies.1 Their sense of smell is almost a superpower; they have millions more olfactory receptors than we do and an olfactory bulb in the brain 40 times larger than ours.

Their memory and learning also strongly rely on making associations. For example, when you grab their leash, they know they are going for a walk. Your dog likely appears to have a sixth sense because they are making associations with stimuli you cannot detect, but they can.

Then again, who’s to say your dog doesn’t have a sixth sense? Some situations may defy explanation. Let’s explore some examples of dogs exhibiting their “sixth sense.”

The Moods and Character of Humans

As a result of being domesticated, dogs are exceptionally skilled at reading human emotion through body language and tone of voice. Studies also suggest that our smell may play a role in dogs’ reading of our emotions. Due to their incredible smell, dogs can detect “chemosignals,” which communicate specific emotions.

More than that, dogs will change their behavior based on scenting these odors and other stimuli like facial expressions.2

So, if your dog meets a happy and relaxed person, they are probably going to react positively. If they sense stress, they may react in kind. It’s always jarring when your friendly dog reacts aggressively towards someone. Is it a sixth sense, or are they responding to what they see, hear, and smell around this person?

dog with owner using laptop
Image Credit: SpeedKingz, Shutterstock

Weather Changes

It’s undisputed that dogs can anticipate thunderstorms before us. Dogs with storm phobias will shake, pace, and pant hours before the storm is audible to us. In addition to superior smell and hearing, dogs are thought to be able to detect barometric pressure changes and changes in electromagnetic fields.

These abilities give dogs a “sixth sense” for detecting oncoming storms.

Natural Disasters

In 2004, a tsunami hit the coast of Indonesia, and there were reports that minutes and even hours before the tsunami hit, animals were fleeing for higher ground. Similar reports exist for earthquakes, volcanic eruptions, and, of course, storms.

It has been suggested that this behavior is due to animals detecting electromagnetic changes in the air. Others think that animals may be able to scent certain chemicals released before earthquake activity. Some suggest that monitoring animals could help forecast earthquakes. While we don’t have all the answers, this uncanny ability could be interpreted as a sixth sense.

Human Presence

Have you ever come home at an unusual time during the day, and your dog is excitedly waiting for you at the front gate? There is a widely known misconception that dogs have a psychic ability to know when their human is coming home. This myth has been debunked, but not before it was widely televised.

Your dog probably anticipates your return by memorizing your routine and hearing the sound of your car approaching, which makes them appear to have a sixth sense, but, as with all canine experiences, they can’t confirm this for us.

anxious golden retriever waiting for someone
Image Credit: Kinek00, Shutterstock

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Sometimes, experiences in life defy explanation, and your dog’s seemingly sixth sense might be one of them. However, remember that dogs perceive more than we do through their ordinary senses, so what might seem paranormal to you may be very logical for your dog. Either way, dogs are incredible companions and are all the better for their instincts to love and protect us.

Featured Image Credit: ERIK Miheyeu, Shutterstock

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