You see stories all the time in the newspapers and online about dogs that have sensed a threat to their humans, and rescued them. Usually, it’s something along the lines of “My house was on fire, and I’d have died if Doodles hadn’t started barking.” Then, Doodles gets hugs and petting and treats, because he’s such a good boy!
Personally, I think Doodles is more likely barking because what he’s saying is “Help, save the dog, dog doesn’t want to burn to death!”
That said, though, I think that the answer to the question “Can dogs sense danger” is probably “Yes.”
Me and Jake
In my post Choosing Our Dogs: Is Male vs. Female an Important Consideration? I told you about Jake, the dog I had when I was a kid. Jake was my best friend, and I loved him more than anything in the world. My mother loved him too, because she figured she didn’t have to watch me all the time – as long as I was with Jake, I could wander wherever I chose. She knew I was safe with Jake.
I didn’t come to realize just how safe I was until many years after Jake passed. See, there was this weird guy, Bob, in our neighborhood. If he passed you on the street, he’d never make eye contact, and never say “Hello.” He always looked like he was mad at the world. Bob lived with his mother, and didn’t seem to have any friends. He was never known to be in a relationship with anyone.
Jake was the most loving dog in the world, and greeted everyone he met with tail wagging and a happy smile – except for Bob.
Jake just flat-out hated Bob. Any time Bob approached, Jake would be all teeth and snarls, and since Jake was a pretty big dog, he was intimidating. Bob always crossed the street when he saw us coming.
So, why did Jake react to Bob with such hostility?
Things I Learned
Back in the day (God, how I hate that expression; it makes me feel so old!) family business was just that – confined to the family. Nobody reported you if you were doing something bad, as long as it only affected your own household, because it was family business. Some guy banging his daughter? Family business. Kids showing up at school with bruises? Family business. Somebody constantly drunk and knocking his wife around? Family business.
On a visit to my hometown, many years later, I discovered what Bob’s “family business” was. It seems that he used to beat up his aging mother and steal her social security checks. When he was in his teens, he molested his 6-year-old sister. He was also known to try to lure children of either sex into his home by offering them a chance to pet his (non-existent) puppy.
Somehow, I think Jake knew that there was something “off” about Bob, and was looking after me. So, can dogs sense danger? I think Jake could, and did.
Dr. Karen Becker also believes that the correct answer to the question, “Can dogs sense danger?” is “Yes.”
Dr. Becker cites as an example the case of Hunter, a Husky mix who was adopted from a shelter. Two weeks after being adopted, Hunter alerted his family to a stove burner that had been left on and was leaking gas. He sat by the stove and howled until his owner woke up and turned off the burner. Then he went back to sleep.
Now again, is this just “Save the dog”? Does it even matter? Clearly, Hunter sensed danger and reacted appropriately.
This might not be all that uncommon. A lot of dog owners insist that their animals have a “sixth sense” that works not just to keep them safe, but to ensure that their humans are safe. In fact, an astonishing number of people (about 72%) of dog owners say that their dogs know when bad weather is on the way.
Even more astonishing, 43% of dog owners say that their dogs know when their humans are about to receive bad news. You could probably put the “bad weather” thing down to a sensitivity to changes in the environment, but how do you explain the “bad news” thing?
Stephanie LaFarge is the ASPCA’s senior director of counseling services, and she says that her dog woke her up in the middle of the night, nudging her, just before the phone rang. It wasn’t good news – her father had just died. How did the dog know?
If you don’t think that what you’ve already read is a pretty good indicator of a “Yes” answer to the question, “Can dogs sense danger?” then consider these examples. Some might be hard and fast evidence of a “Yes” answer to the question, “Can Dogs Sense Danger?” Others, maybe not so much.
1. Psycho and the Dead Snake
A little girl who was outdoors, playing, was about to be bitten by a snake. Her Poodle/Chihuahua mix, Psycho, jumped in front of her and killed the snake. Psycho was bitten, and lost an eye, but he survived.
Now, was he really protecting his human, or was that just something in the nature of the dog? Chihuahuas often don’t know how small they are, and are very willing to take on other animals. I think the jury’s out on this one.
2. Dog Saves Man from Being Run Over
O’Neil is a Yellow Lab. He was being trained as a guide dog, and working with two trainers, one of whom was blindfolded. A car was careening out of control, and O’Neil alerted the “sighted” trainer in time for him to push the blindfolded trainer out of harm’s way.
So, was this an instance of a dog sensing danger? Or had O’Neil simply proceeded far enough in his training that he knew what he was supposed to do?
3. Dog Saves Baby
Duke was typically an obedient dog, and had a good concept of where he was allowed, and was not allowed, to be. One place that he wasn’t allowed to be was on his humans’ bed. But one night, he leapt up on the bed, stood there shaking, and refused to get off. His humans, figuring that they were up anyway, decided to go check on their baby.
The baby wasn’t breathing. Duke’s humans called 911, and paramedics saved the child.
I think I’m giving this one a “Yes.” Can dogs sense danger? I think Duke did.
What About Danger from Other Humans?
Well, I think Jake is a case in point. I don’t think I’m the only one, though, who thinks that dogs pick up on “stranger danger.” I say this in the face of all the researchers who say that there’s nothing to it – that there’s no way for a dog to know if a person has evil intentions.
The anecdotal evidence suggests otherwise.
Just think about the other “dog people” you know. How many of them say “If my dog doesn’t like someone, then I trust his judgement”? I’m thinking there are a lot of people who feel this way. And why not?
For one thing, our dogs watch us all the time. They pick up on body language, facial expressions, and some researchers even think that they scent pheromones. Why wouldn’t we think that this would translate into an ability to identify bad character and evil intentions?
Of course, that doesn’t mean that every dog that reacts badly to a person is picking up on something. It might just mean that the dog is badly socialized, and afraid of strangers. The other possibility is that the human is suspicious of people they don’t know, and the dog is picking up more on that suspicion than to any real threat.
I would suggest, though, that if your dog is the sort that figures “There aren’t any strangers; just friends I haven’t met,” and that if you’re not of a suspicious nature yourself, it might be best to rely on your dog’s judgment.
Ways That Dogs Alert You to Danger
Don’t assume that your dog’s “out of character” behavior necessarily means that you’re in danger. When a dog acts erratically, there’s always a possibility that there’s a medical issue. The following symptoms could indicate danger, or a medical problem:
- Whining or crying
- Barking persistently
It’s up to you to discover what’s at work if your dog displays any of these symptoms.
The Life You Save Could Save Yours
We’ve all heard stories of stray animals that have saved human lives. Most of the time, though, if a dog is going to look after you, it will because you have a close bond.
I’m going to make a shameless plug for animal rescue here, and tell you that rescued dogs are incredibly grateful. I’ve heard stories of even horribly abused dogs that, after being rescued, were beyond fearful – except when it came to their rescuers. Then they’d do anything to keep their humans safe.
A rescued dog can be your best protector, but of course there are also other reasons to rescue:
- Any time you rescue a dog instead of buying one from a pet store (in other words, a dog that originated in a puppy mill), you help to prevent irresponsible breeding.
- When you rescue a dog from a shelter, you’re freeing up space for other animals in need.
- You can find all kinds of breeds and mixes at animal shelters.
- It costs a lot less to adopt an animal from a shelter than it does to buy one from a breeder or pet store, and if you adopt an older dog, he’s probably already neutered and vaccinated. This takes the cost of ownership down even more.
- Taking an older dog from a shelter also eliminates the chewing, peeing, pooping, destroying phases that you have to go through if you get a puppy. Also, there’s no guesswork – you don’t have to worry about adopting a puppy, thinking that he’s going to end up being a small dog, only to discover that you’ve ended up with a monster. Conversely, if you love big dogs, as I do, you won’t end up with a puppy that you think is going to be big, and then end up with a lap dog.
- Temperament issues also aren’t usually a problem with shelter dogs, since when a dog comes into the shelter, the staff will evaluate him to determine if there are any personality issues, or whether the dog has issues with humans or other pets. They’ll also be able to find out how much (if any) obedience training the dog has had. You’ll know exactly what to expect when you bring your rescue dog home.
- If you have children, adopting a rescue dog can give them great insight into the problem of homeless dogs. It helps to build compassion in your child.
- You’ll feel so good, knowing that you’ve prevented an unwanted dog from being euthanized!
- You’ll experience unconditional love. If you’re lonely, you’ll have a friend. If nothing else, you’ll have a reason to get up each day – after all, you have to take care of your dog.
And of course, finally, you might find that the dog you’ve saved could end up saving your life, because the correct answer to the question, “Can dogs sense danger?” is “Yes.”
The Final Word
I very much believe that dogs can sense danger. I know that there’s no scientific evidence to prove that theory, but I’ve seen it happen. I know beyond any doubt that when I was a kid, Jake had my back. He knew that “Weird Bob” was a potential threat, and he made it very clear to Bob that I was off limits.
The other stories I’ve told you about also seem to suggest that if you’re wondering, can dogs sense danger, you can put your doubts to rest. They do. They’re our best friends, and they use their “sixth sense” to make sure that we’re safe.
Has your dog ever alerted you to potential danger? Leave a comment.