As unbelievable as it may seem, recent scientific research has indicated that dogs do have the ability to predict weather patterns, including blizzards. If you own a dog, you're probably not surprised to hear that they can add this to the already comprehensive list of their incredible abilities. From sniffing out diseases and injuries, before doctors know about their existence, to identifying illegal drugs and substances while on border patrol, pooches can do it all, so it’s not really a surprise they can sniff out blizzards too.
It's possible you've already noticed this ability in your dog, as they are likely to show behavioral signs when they, themselves, are picking up on atmospheric changes that cause and result from the onset of thunderstorms, ice storms, and even blizzards. But how exactly is it dogs can detect weather conditions before they occur, and what senses are they using to identify these storms?
Signs Your Dog is Sensing Blizzards
If you think your pooch has the ability to detect when a blizzard, or another form of storm, is on the way, it's likely you already know some of the most telltale signs they are known to exhibit. The most common behavioral signs canines are likely to show when something is up with the weather is when they begin to become attentive to it themselves.
This could be as simple as them acknowledging and attuning to the sky by looking out the window, or if they are outside already, looking directly up at it. They may also appear as if they are gazing off into the distance, but they are likely acknowledging their heightened and activated senses, responding to the conditions of the storm that they are able to sense.
In addition to becoming attuned to the weather, some dogs have been found to react in what may be interpreted as a negative way to approaching blizzards. Some of these behavior signs you may see include your dog shaking, which could be because they are fearful for the coming storm or hiding in a comforting place in anticipation for what's to come.
Some dogs may try to get the attention of their owners to let them know that the blizzard is coming by barking, or even nibbling or biting them. This is all an attempt on your dog's part to communicate with you what they already know, that is, that a weather change is coming and we need to be ready for it.
The Hisotry of Dogs Sensing Blizzards
It has been rumored that our dogs' ability to sniff out storms and blizzards has been known about and taken advantage of as early as 373 BCE when a Greek historian claimed dogs fled a Greek city prior to its destruction by an earthquake. This historical fact, however, is not supported by any form of reliable sources. Still, it's clear, there is and has been a long interest in our pooches' innate ability to sense weather conditions before they occur.
Today, we hear all kinds of stories about dogs who have been able to sense out different types of storms before they arrived. One famous story reports that a dog barked excessively and loudly at his owners, before seeking shelter himself, prior to the arrival of an unexpected tornado, resulting in the survival of the family. Its stories like this that got research scientists thinking and interested in finding out more about the topic.
It was not until the early 1990's that an interest in the scientific field began to emerge, leading to research being conducted into how exactly it was that dogs sense out various weather conditions, including, but not limited to thunderstorms, blizzards, and earthquakes.
The Science of Dogs Sensing Blizzards
Many of us have heard anecdotal stories of the unbelievable things dogs have been able to sense out before they happen. From detecting injuries and diseases, including the onset of seizures and specific types of cancers, to the detection of illegal narcotics and firearms, dogs have been seen to do it all. What exact scientific evidence has been collected, though, to investigate these unique phenomena?
For starters, a Japanese researcher interested in dogs' abilities to detect earthquakes examined behavioral characteristics present in our pooches prior to the quakes occurring. He was specifically interested in negative behaviors dogs exhibited before the quakes including excessive biting and barking, and what he found was a significant increase in these behaviors.
Further research into earthquake detection began focusing on how exactly it was that dogs could sense the sounds produced by the quakes. This led to study findings indicating that a dog's ability to sense the quakes lies in their superior hearing, as they have the ability to hear the high and low-frequency sounds associated with the ground shifting before we can feel it.
Hearing also plays a role in a dog’s ability to sense thunderstorms, as dogs are likely to hear sounds of thunder long before we do. Not only can dogs detect sounds associated with oncoming storms, including blizzards, but scientific studies have found dogs can feel changes in barometric pressure in the atmosphere, which is directly associated with the onset of blizzards and storms. Barometric pressure is a fancy way of describing the pressure in the atmosphere. Changes in pressure are felt by our canines, giving them a heads up that the weather is about to change.
In addition to feeling and hearing changes in their surroundings prior to a blizzard, it has also been found dogs can smell aspects of the oncoming storms, including changes in the ozone. These changes have been specifically associated with lightning ionizing the air, but it is also possible blizzards cause a specific change in ozone odor that dogs can sniff out.
Training Your Dog to Sense a Blizzard
If you are looking to train your dog to sense out blizzards, the best way to go about it is by using conditioning methods to reinforce or extinguish the behaviors they are already exhibiting when there is a blizzard on its way.
To actually teach your dog to sniff out ozone would require extensive education in scent-training, not to mention getting a hold of ozone to train your dog to recognize it, which is not an easy task. Therefore, using conditioning methods, we know that we can reinforce and extinguish a dog’s behavior simply by reacting to the behavior in either a positive or negative way (thanks to behavior psychologist B.F. Skinner and his work on Operant Conditioning).
Encouraging the behavior entails rewarding your dog in some way immediately after they do the desired behavior. For example, if your dog becomes attentive to the sky and barks at it to let you know about an upcoming storm when you know one is on its way, then reward them using positive praise ("good boy", "thank you, girl") or by giving them a treat or toy. Be sure to react as quickly as possible to the behavior so your dog associates doing the behavior with receiving the positive reward.
If your dog is exhibiting negative behaviors when a blizzard is approaching, such as becoming aggressive and biting you or excessively barking, it's time to put an end to these behaviors using negative reinforcement strategies. This can be as simple as giving your dog clear, stern commands on the onset of the behaviors such as "No! Stop that!"
In anticipation of a blizzard or storm, you could also prepare your dog, and yourself for safety purposes, by putting a temporary muzzle on your dog to send the message that biting will not be tolerated.
By Becky Widdifield
Published: 06/19/2018, edited: 04/06/2020