We've all heard that urban myth before - a dog approaches a sickly or dying person and sits with them for hours - sometimes days - before they pass away. Whether or not we've seen this happen for ourselves, it definitely begs the question: can dogs sense death?
It's a complicated question, and the short answer is, under certain conditions, yes. A lot of people think it's because dogs harbor some supernatural sense that allows them to detect positive and negative forces (in fact, some people even think dogs can see spirits). The real answer is a bit more practical, though.
Consider your doggo's nose. We've talked extensively about how dogs' sense of smell is incredible, and with their super-powered olfactory cortex, they're able to pick up on significant differences in peoples' bodily chemistry. This means, with their acute sense of smell and ability to detect changes in the composition of atmospheric air, dogs can predict natural disasters, gas leaks, and changes in your body's composition. With a nose about 40x more powerful than ours, are you surprised?
Want to know a bit more about the distinctions among dog-death-sensing? Want to know how you can train your dog to let you know when something is smelling a bit off? We've got you covered. Check out our guide below to answer all your questions!
Signs Your Dog is Able to Sense Death
While dogs might not be endowed with the ability to sense death quite to the degree - or for the reasons - that people think they can, it is true that dogs have heightened senses that can help them sense not only oncoming natural deaths, but natural disasters, gas leaks, and more, which could cause death.
We can credit this to dogs' amazing sense of smell as well as their ability to hear far better than we can. It's likely that your dog is going to give off some signs if they're sensing immediate danger, impending sickness, or even death. It's important to know which signs to watch out for if your dog is trying to give them to you.
For example, if your pooch might be sensing an illness or death in a person or another dog, you can guarantee your dog will pay that person or animal more mind. There will be lots of sniffing and licking, a dog's attempt at healing. You can also expect a ton of barking, howling, and vocalizations, an attempt by your dog to get your attention about what they know. Watch for lots of following around, extra attention, and melancholy behavior from your doggo, too.
The History of Dogs Sensing Death
Dogs being able to sense death is nothing new. In fact, dogs have been sensing death, alerting people to oncoming death, and even sniffing out those already dead for centuries. In fact, some dogs are specifically trained as Hospice Dogs to sit with and comfort those are dying. Do dogs understand what they're doing and why they're doing it? Probably not.
However, due to their acute senses, dogs are able to pick up on the sounds and smells that are associated with oncoming death. Some dogs make a career out of comforting those at their deathbeds and have even been thought to predict death - a theory that dates back to ancient Egyptian times.
Egyptian tombs were said to be guarded by Anubis, the jackal-headed deity that was said to sit at the head of the tomb to protect the dead. It's a theory that many cultures believe and get behind. For example, in Persia, a dog is stationed by the doors of dying people in order to protect their soon-to-be-released souls from evil spirits. The Greeks are on board, too, stating that because they believe that dog's can sense death long before people, they're the perfect protectors of souls.
The Science of Dogs Sensing Death
We're a practical people led by science though, so it's hard to jump on the sixth sense train that many people do when it comes to dogs' sensing death. Instead, there's a realistic reason for doggo-death-sensing, and it depends wildly on your pup's ability to smell.
Dogs have around 300 million olfactory senses in their noses, and compared to the 6 million found in human noses, it's easy to see why dogs can smell much better. Dogs are also able to smell the subtle changes in the atmospheric air, which means that if a natural disaster is on its way or if your body composition is changing, your dog can smell it without a problem.
This is why many people believe that dogs can predict death - it's not so much that they know what is happening, just that your change in smell is concerning.
Training Your Dog to Sense Death
If you think your dog is already pretty capable of sensing death before it happens, you might consider teaching him or her to sniff out death in an orderly, trained fashion. We know, we know, it sounds morbid to train your pup to sniff out oncoming death, but it can be a saving grace for people, as well as an enormous comfort for those who are facing death alone.
This job typically falls on hospice dogs and requires special programs for training. Dogs are pretty qualified without the training to detect impending death, but a specialty program can teach them how to give you proper signs to determine an oncoming death before it happens.
Though all dogs have a natural sense of smell and hearing that can detect and predict death, a program that teaches them which senses to detect and how to react appropriately to them can do your dog wonders! Typically, these programs will associate the smell of death, illness, and natural disasters and teach your pup how to alert you properly. The dog will typically be rewarded when he or she has done this correctly to cement the behavior into their head.
By a Great Dane lover Hanna Marcus
Published: 04/17/2018, edited: 04/06/2020