Can Dogs See Ghosts or Spirits?

In cheesy horror movies and TV shows, dogs can always sense things that humans can’t – whether it’s body-snatching aliens, lurking serial killers, or supernatural evil-doers. But what about in real life?

According to one recent survey, over 40% of Americans believe that their pets have a sixth sense. Does this sixth sense allow them to see dead people just like that kid in the Bruce Willis flick?

Dog looks shocked

It’s not as far-fetched as it might seem. Dogs certainly hear and smell better than humans, which in many instances allows them to anticipate dangers long before we can. In some cases – canine cancer detection, for example – their abilities are well-documented, but difficult for science to explain.

With their superior senses, dogs might also be able to perceive ghosts, spirits, and other entities we humans rarely glimpse.

Doggy Ghost Hunters

Do you believe in ghosts? If so, it’s not much of a stretch to conclude that dogs can sense them better than humans can. Some people claim that animals, like children, have a paranormal ability see “the other side.” However, there’s a simpler explanation that doesn’t require dogs to have any abilities beyond what has already been well documented.

First, let’s define some terms. A ghost is the manifestation of a person (or perhaps an animal) who is no longer living. A spirit is a broader term that includes not only ghosts, but other supernatural entities that may occasionally make their presence known.

Both ghosts and spirits are known for being difficult to spot – otherwise everyone would believe in them, right?

It makes sense that dogs could perceive ghosts in ways that humans simply can’t. In fact, you could say they’re natural ghost hunters, with abilities that humans can only approximate with sophisticated electronic equipment.

Cartoon of a Bulldog in detective outfit
On the case.

Consider some of the phenomena professional ghost hunters try to document, how they go about it, and how dogs match up:

Sounds. Ghost hunters often use amplified microphones to capture every little sound, hoping to record a few bone-chilling ghost whispers. Dogs naturally hear sounds at higher frequencies than humans, and can move their ears independently toward wherever the sound is coming from.

Visuals. Ghost hunters employ night vision cameras. Dogs naturally see much better than humans in low light (cats see even better).

Electromagnetic Fluctuations. A popular tool in the ghost hunter’s arsenal is the EMF detector, which measures the surrounding electromagnetic field. While not widely accepted, many people believe that dogs can sense electromagnetic changes as well.

Of course, the area where dogs really shine is sense of smell. They can smell thousands of times better than humans. It’s no exaggeration to say that dogs experience a whole other world of scent that’s completely closed off to us.

It’s possible that ghosts and spirits can be detected through minute odors that we humans don’t even know exist.

What the Skeptics Say

The first thing any card-carrying skeptic will say is that ghosts and spirits aren’t real. It’s pointless to debate whether dogs can see, hear, or smell something that doesn’t exist. End of debate.

Setting that aside, naysayers are quick to argue that people only remember their dog’s strange behavior when it correlates to something weird or noteworthy.

For example, if our dog gets freaked out by the sound of a plastic bag blowing in the wind, we tend chuckle and forget about it. But when the same dog gets spooked for no reason at all that we can see, we imagine it to be a ghost.

In fact, the dog might be barking at the sound of another plastic bag a block over, one we can’t see or hear ourselves.

It’s also possible that your dog isn’t reacting to a ghost at all, but something else altogether – namely, you. Dogs can pick up on subtle cues that we don’t even realize we’re giving off. If you’re spooked, your dog can definitely sense that – and might become tense or confused as a result.

That might not be the most satisfying explanation, but it’s remarkable in its own way. Dogs may or may not be able to see ghosts, but when it comes to reading living humans, they can be downright scary.