You've probably seen it in a movie or read it in a book: The natural disaster is coming, but the humans in the scene are clueless. The only savior is the lone doggo, who perks their ears up, sniffs the air, and sounds the warning signal that an earthquake is coming or a tornado is going to hit the town.
It's fun to imagine that your dog has a sixth sense for this type of thing, but is there some truth to it? Can dogs really sense a natural disaster coming? The short answer: Kind of.
Dogs have less of a sixth sense and more of a heightened version of all of the senses we have. Their acute senses allow them to understand that something has shifted in the air, changed in the wind, or smells different, which could signal that something big is coming.
It's a complicated process, but when it comes down to it, dogs typically are able to sense a natural disaster before we are. Read on to learn about how dogs can do this and how you can tell if your dog is letting you know something is going on.
Signs your dog senses a natural disaster
When it comes to doggos and how they'll tell you that something is up, they tend to show signs of restlessness. If your dog is sniffing or hearing something different in the air (maybe it's a tsunami, a hurricane, or a volcanic eruption), it's likely they're going to have a hard time staying calm. Your dog may be restless, antsy, anxious, and hard to settle down.
You can expect lots of barking, jumping, howling, whining, and even pacing and panting. It's also possible that your pup will become more protective than usual. If you find that your restless pup is having a hard time leaving you alone, is trying to herd you, or is constantly trying to lick, sniff, or touch you, something might be up.
The history of dogs sensing natural disasters
There have been hundreds of recorded instances of dogs being the first to know when a natural disaster is going to strike. In fact, many people have noted animals acting strangely in the hours before a natural disaster.
One of the most famous examples of this occurred in the Chinese city of Haicheng in 1975, when unusual animal behavior seemed to predict a 7.3 magnitude earthquake. More recently, before the devastating Indian Ocean tsunami of 2004, there are eyewitness accounts of dogs refusing to go outside, and numerous other species fleeing for higher ground well in advance of any waves arriving.
While there's no scientific evidence to support the argument that animals have a sixth sense about natural disasters, their ability to hear and smell better certainly supports the idea that they can sense things sooner and to a better degree than we can. According to the US Geological Survey, animals are more likely to perceive earthquakes than humans due to the ability to feel the smaller P wave (compressional wave) that arrives seconds before the larger S wave (shear wave) arrives.
The science of dogs sensing natural disasters
Dogs don't really have a sixth sense when it comes to sensing natural disasters, but they definitely have heightened, acute senses that can help them determine something is wrong far before people can.
For starters, doggos can smell things that people cannot. The part of a dog's brain that processes smells is about 40 times the size of ours. Additionally, dogs have over 300 million smell receptors on the surface area of their nose, and it's estimated that their sense of smell could be as much as 100,000 times better than our own.
Their ears are nothing to scoff at, either. With 16 muscles in each ear, pups are better able to control the direction they perk their ears, almost allowing them to act as antennae to hone in on what sounds they're hearing. They can hear and smell things from much greater distances, and break up smells and sounds in a way that we can't, to determine what's going on in the world around them.
Training your dog to alert you to natural disasters
While it's probably incredibly difficult to train your dog to sense a natural disaster and let you know specifically what's going to happen, you can train your dog to better communicate signs that something is wrong. Your dog isn't going to be able to give you a concrete, verbal idea of what's going on, but if they sense that something is happening, you can train them to best communicate their senses in a way that makes sense to you.
For example, just as some people train their pups to ring a bell on a door when they have to go outside, try to train your pup with a similar signal if they're feeling peculiar or sensing something funny.
The other thing you can do is focus on building a strong bond with your dog. This is not just great for your dog's happiness and mental wellbeing, it will also help them feel comfortable enough to communicate their feelings to you. At the same time, work on improving your understanding of your dog's body language, which will ensure that you're well placed to pick up on any signs that your pet is anxious, stressed, or maybe even frightened about something.
Need some help training your dog? Book an in-home training session with a 5-star dog trainer with Wag! today.
By a Great Dane lover Hanna Marcus
Published: 06/15/2018, edited: 06/17/2022