4 min read


Can Dogs Sense a Death in the Family?



4 min read


Can Dogs Sense a Death in the Family?


We can all agree that owners can have an incredibly deep connection to their four-legged comrades. It’s been suggested over the years that dogs have an amazing ability to sense a variety of things in our lives such as diseases or changes in the weather. However, could it also be true that dogs can sense even more? Often, people wonder if perhaps dogs can sense the death of a family member. Are our pets so connected to us that they can sense when something as devastating as losing a loved one occurs?

To say for certain that your dog can sense a death of a loved one may very well come down to certain characteristics of your dog. Perhaps your dog is incredibly connected to people or tends to be very observant. If you’ve noticed that your dog seems to understand and connect on a much deeper level then you may wonder if he has some sort of sixth sense that allows him to know instantly when a loved one passes away. Let’s take a moment to examine the feasibility of this potential phenomenon.


Signs That Your Dog Can Sense a Death in the Family

The body language of a dog is much different than that of a human. Understanding what certain non-verbal signs mean may help you understand if your dog is sensing something as significant as death. You must first consider how dogs interact with each other. While they may bark or whine to communicate with one another, most of their communication is nonverbal.

Dogs can identify weakness in other animals by their body language. For example, a dog that is cowered or hunched over indicates that this dog is weak and maybe even ill. Often, dogs are much better observers than people. When they meet a person that is quiet and frail they may be much more likely to notice that they are unwell. If a person appears sick enough then a pup may become increasingly aware of the seriousness of their condition and the potential for death.

With this knowledge in mind, you can easily gather how a dog may react to a person who is near-death. Perhaps they will want to quietly sit near the person for comfort or they may even take on the role of protecting the person from preconceived dangers. Perhaps the dog will whine to other people to try to get help for the ailing person.

Body Language

Here are a few body language signs that may indicate that your dog senses death in a family member:

  • Whining
  • Howling
  • Ears Drop
  • Pacing

Other Signs

Here are a few additional signs that your dog may showcase if he senses the death of a family member:

  • Staying Close To Owners
  • Acting Overly Protective
  • Licking Or Sniffing Owners
  • Appearing Sad

History of Dogs Sensing Death in the Family


For years, people have debated on whether or not dogs can actually sense death. Some people argue that because dogs have much better senses than people, they are genetically created to be more aware of things such as sickness or death. One thing that is accepted by people from both sides of the argument is that dogs are very observant and are probably one of the first beings that will notice even the slightest change in their owner's demeanor.

For example, consider when you are ill. Oftentimes, when a dog owner doesn't feel well, their trusty side-kick is nearby. Many dogs are nurturing and simply want to take care of their owner. Because of this, they will likely notice if your condition doesn't improve. Furthermore, if you exude sadness or anxiety about your health or the health of a loved one, your dog will pick up on those vibes easily. 

Science of Dogs Sensing the Death of Loved One


The closest related science to understanding how a dog may be able to sense death rests largely on understanding their ability to sense in general. For instance, dogs have over 300 million olfactory senses in their noses compared to only 6 million found in humans. You've probably noticed (how could you not?!) that your dog's nose is usually moist. This is due to mucus that comes from their nose and helps them capture scent.

It's important to understand a dog's incredible ability to smell because a sick and deceased person experiences changes in odor. This could go a long way in why a dog can sense if a family member has passed. They may simply be able to smell it. 

Additionally, dog's are incredibly social animals. Of course, some breeds are more so than others. However, all dogs develop a pack-mentality when it comes to their owners and family members. In the wild, a pack of wolves work together to take care of the young and the weak. The same is true for dogs. If a dog senses that a person is ill or near death, then they will likely showcase signs of comfort and care. It's simply in their nature. 

How to Train Your Dog to Sense Death of a Family Member


Specifically training a dog to sense the death of a family member isn't likely a training course that you will find in the mainstream training programs. However, it's already proven that dogs can work on search and rescue teams, become cadaver dogs, and even therapy dogs. 

There are specialty training programs available for dogs that showcase the ability to develop the necessary skills to take on one of these types of positions. While all dogs naturally have a great sense of smell and hearing, temperament also plays a role in identifying the best candidates for these type of training programs.

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Safety Tips When Your Dog is Sensing Death of a Loved One

  1. If your dog is appearing agitated, try to soothe him.
  2. Keep in mind that dogs don't always know their size so if they are comforting a sick person, make sure they are doing so safely.
  3. Be aware of dogs that bite or nip while trying to protect a sick or injured person.

Written by a Golden Retriever lover Sheree McDonald

Veterinary reviewed by:

Published: 02/14/2018, edited: 04/06/2020

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