We have all heard of dogs being able to detect illegal narcotics, firearms, and even find missing people. With scientific research blooming throughout the past century, it's clear to us that dogs have pretty impressive capabilities when it comes to their senses. So impressive in fact, that research is now supporting the idea that canines have the ability to detect storms before they even arrive.
How, you might be asking yourself? Well, the answer partially lies in their unique ability to detect atmospheric changes that happen prior to the onset of a storm, such as those before a hurricane. As you will soon discover, dogs have a sensory system unlike our own, making their abilities seem endless.
Signs Your Dog is Detecting a Hurricane
Dogs, like most animals, have been observed to react in a certain manner when they sense an approaching weather change, such as a hurricane. The way a dog reacts and the signs they show when they sense a hurricane is approaching, are the same signs you would see in the animal when they sense any form of storm on its way.
Depending on your dog, they may make it more noticeable that they are being impacted by the atmospheric changes that are leading up to the storm. Some pet owners claim they notice no changes in their pooches, which others notice significant changes that they can't ignore.
The most prominent of these changes is the way their dog becomes protective before the onset of a storm. This can involve the pooch staying close by their owner or other family members, appearing alert and ready to react. Your pup may also become more curious with what's happening outside, by starring out the windows, or pacing by a glass door or window.
Vocal dogs are likely to get the attention of their owner by barking or whining to let them know something is up. Dogs that are timider are likely to seek shelter or a hiding spot, in anticipation for the storm.
The History of Dogs Sensing Hurricanes
The first example of dogs detecting storms before they occur dates back to 373 BCE. It was during this time that a Greek historian made a claim that packs of dogs were seen fleeing from a Greek city just prior to it being devastated by an earthquake. Although there is little evidence in the literature to support the occurrence of this event, more recent examples throughout the past 50 years have helped support the notion that dogs have the ability to detect storms before they arrive.
The first example we can look at occurred in the city of Haicheng in China, on February 4th in 1975. According to records, a variety of animals, including dogs, began to act abnormally prior to the onset of a 7.3 magnitude earthquake that hit the city. Because of their behavior, an evacuation was ordered in the city, saving an estimated 150,000 people. Although there were casualties, the fatalities would have been far greater had the evacuation never occurred.
A more recent example is from the tsunami that hit India and Sri Lanka in 2004. According to the accounts of locals, many dogs showed strange behavior prior to the tsunami, including their refusal to walk on the very beach the wave hit. This behavior was noted and later attributed to the tsunami.
All three examples are evidence that dogs do in fact seem to have a sixth sense that lets them detect storms, however, science helps us understand how it's actually their heightened senses that do the trick.
The Science Behind Dogs Sensing Hurricaines
Many of your dog's senses kick into gear in the wake of a storm, allowing them to sense factors leading up to the storm before we ourselves can. How many times have you gone outside just before a rainstorm and noticed that it "smells" like rain? Well, your pooch can definitely smell that rain too. In fact, because a dog has a much more developed olfactory system then we do ourselves, they can smell all sorts of things that we are oblivious to.
The first difference in their olfactory system is that dogs have far more scent receptors in their noses compared to humans. How many more? The average dog has over 250 million olfactory receptors compared to humans, who have around 5 million. This gives dogs the advantage of having a sense of smell that can range from being anywhere from 10 thousand to 100 thousand times greater than a human's. On top of this, the area of the brain responsible for processing olfactory information is actually 40 times proportionally larger in dogs compared to our own.
These benefits our pooches have not only allow them to smell rain, but they can actually detect changes in the way the atmosphere smells prior to the onset of a storm. Additionally, dogs can also feel changes that lead to a storm that we are unable to feel. Such changes may include minor vibrations or shifts in the earth that occur before a storm, or changes in barometric pressure.
Research in the area of animal detection of storms is on the rise and has peaked the interest of scientists. A more detailed understanding of the science behind sensing storms is needed, but at least we do know that it is possible and it's not because of a sixth-sense.
Training Your Dog to Sense Hurricanes
Training your pup to detect a hurricane or other type of storm before it occurs can be difficult, because it is their natural sensory abilities that allow them to detect factors leading to the storm. Therefore, teaching them to feel atmospheric changes, isn’t something that’s easy to do. What you can do, however, is reinforce the behaviors your dog is already exhibiting prior to the onset of a storm, by using positive reinforcement strategies.
Behavioral Psychologist B.F. Skinner is well recognized for his work and theories on Operant Conditioning. According to Skinner, any behavior can be reinforced or extinguished, just based on how you react to that behavior. In other words, if your dog does something you like, such as barks or looks for a hiding spot prior to the onset of a storm, you can encourage them to continue this behavior by giving them a treat or by praising the behavior. This is positive reinforcement.
If you are aware of an oncoming storm, such as a hurricane, and your pup begins to show signs of detecting the storm, immediately reward the behaviors you want them to continue so that they have an incentive to do it again in the future. If you punish your dog for letting you know about a storm by giving them a timeout in their crate or taking away a reward (negative reinforcement), then you will impact the likelihood of the behavior occurring again in the future.
Written by Becky Widdifield
Veterinary reviewed by:
Published: 07/12/2018, edited: 04/06/2020