The Sixth Sense of Pets

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Many pet owners, especially those with dogs or cats have had such a mystifying, if less dramatic experience.  Perhaps they have been warned of impending danger, or perhaps the animal seems to know that something unusual was going to happen, such as its owner going away on a trip.

Is this a “sixth sense,” and indefinable something beyond hearing, seeing, feeling, tasting and smelling, as many with pets believe?  Some have tried to explain it as “animal instinct,” which psychologists say is both vague and unsatisfactory, for it utterly fails to explain even more remarkable phenomena.

Animal lovers, veterinarians, psychologists, and other scientific investigators have long tried to solve the mystery of the “sixth sense” of pets.  They have succeeded only to a small degree.  There are still great gaps and missing clues to the solution.

It is true, of course, that many of the warnings given by dogs, cats and other pet animals are due not to a “sixth sense” but to acute hearing.

Most human beings can hear sounds which range from about 20 vibrations per second to the supersonic limit of approximately 20,000 vibrations per second.

There are numerous sounds beyond this range which a pet can hear distinctly.  One of the most common examples is the dog whistle, which a dog hears because it is pitched in the supersonic range.

Many people have heard dogs howl on occasion when a musical instrument such as an accordion or violin is played.  There are some notes that apparently grate on their auditory nerves just as the sound of chalk screeching on a blackboard may irritate ours.  Their reaction is not “singing,” as we may perceive, but howls of protest.

A dog or cat house pet or a farm pet such as a goat or a hen is vastly more proficient than its owner in auditory localization, the ability to determine where the sound originates.  Many supposed “sixth sense” rescues of human beings from the path of moving or falling objects are due to this acute auditory localization.

A woman was walking along Canal Street in New Orleans when Tilzer, her three-year old German shepherd suddenly grabbed her arm and tugged violently.  A moment later a section of iron railing hurtled down from the third story of a building and crashed on the pavement in the exact spot where she had been standing.

Tilzer’s “sixth sense” was credited with having saved its owner.  Overlooked was his acuteness in hearing the initial cracking of the railing as it separated from its adjoining section and his ability to locate quickly the direction of the danger.
Likewise a pet’s highly developed sense of smell or susceptibility to odors may lead to the belief that it is manifesting its “sixth sense.”

One summer afternoon, Mrs. Spellman called her children and her dog who were playing together on the street.  Although endowed with a hearty appetite, Chingy refused to go in for dinner.  Instead, he acted oddly, growling and snapping at Mrs. Spellman when she took the children into the house with her.  Later when her husband came home from work he, too failed to coax the dog into the house.

Shortly after 3am a flash fire roared through the tenement.  Chingy had been sulking for hours in the areaway.  But when the flames leaped upward, he dashed into the house, barking loudly.  He roused more than 40 tenants including the soundly sleeping Spellmans.  All survived the fire.

Investigation proved that the flash fire had been smoldering for several hours in a pile of oldrags in the cellar before bursting into flames.  The dog’s ability to warn his owners had been due primarily to his keen sense of smell.
A pet’s “sixth sense,” cannot be minimized however, despite the excellence of his conventional senses.  Nor can it be satisfactorily explained.

Professor J.D. Rhine, a well known authority on extrasensory perception in human beings, extended his investigation to include animals.  “We know, of course that people do read a great deal into the behavior of their dogs as do they do in their children,” he told in an interview.  “But the number of these cases has impressed me, especially those in which a person had died at some distance from the home where a dog was kept, and the dog was the first to react to the event.  It started howling before any message was received that could have been a signal to the animal.

“There are even cases in which the behavior of a dog seemed to be strangely related to the death of a dog companion to which it was much attached.  In one such case the dog acted as though it was going through convulsions at the time its canine companion was dying of convulsions in a veterinary hospital miles away.

“To what may these awareness be attributed?  If, as these cases would seem to suggest, there is a genuine response on the part of a dog to the death of his friend under conditions where ordinary communication would be out of the question and no sense of sound or smell would be reasonable basis for knowing, there is only extrasensory perception left to explain such an awareness.  This is not at all an unreasonable possibility.”

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