Early this year, I painted a memorial pet portrait for a good friend of mine, her dog’s name was Zoey and she was the best-est girl.
Why am I telling you this? Well, my friend told me that in the midst of her mom getting really sick, healthy Zoey suddenly fell ill, too. And as her mom got better, Zoey got sicker.
Her mom made a full recovery, but Zoey crossed the rainbow bridge.
They believe that Zoey, in essence, took the sickness for herself.
And this isn’t an uncommon belief here in my side of the pond, there are tons of anecdotes about this. I remember hearing it all the time when I was growing up.
It’s one of the many beliefs and superstitions common here. Another big one is of dogs barking at dark corners or even at empty spaces, the belief is that the dogs are barking at spirits or ghosts.
And while I can’t speak on the supernatural aspect of this conversation, it did get me thinking about the many other ways dogs can sense negative energies like fear, danger, sickness, panic, etc.
And here’s what I found out:
1) Dogs go into “protect mode”
We had a chihuahua once before, the sweetest and most gentle dog we’ve ever cared for (shocking for a chihuahua, isn’t it?) Her name was Bubbles.
Tiny dog, a total little love bug. Loves kisses and scritches. Only barks when she’s playing or excited.
But I’ve seen her be wary of strangers, too. Seen her be the first to scout a visitor, despite trembling. Barks at some, but offers her belly for petting to others.
And despite us not understanding what differentiates the bark-worthy from the not. I know, in her little loving body, she went into “protect mode”. Despite being a tiny slip of a thing.
I’ve seen even the most docile of dogs go into this, too. Being on guard with strangers and sometimes even growling at them.
If you’re a dog owner, which I have a feeling you are, you’re probably aware of these signs.
Chill Paws, a pet supply company specializing in CBD pet products for pet relief of physical and mental aches, did an article on the topic.
- Being constantly vigilant
- Standing alertly
- Immediately focusing on new stimuli (e.g., person or animal) in the environment
- Growling or barking at the perceived threat(s)
- Moving between you and the perceived threat
- Returning to normal if no threat is perceived
And while our tiny chihuahua did her best to protect us, she wasn’t necessarily what you would call a guard dog.
My sister, however, had Rottweilers. Massive dogs, sweet around family but tough around strangers. Even dog lovers might think twice before approaching them.
And Rottweilers, in fact, are in this list that Reader’s Digest made of the 21 best breeds for guard dogs to protect your family.
Is your pup one of them?
- Airedale terrier
- Tibetan mastiff
- Caucasian shepherd
- American Staffordshire terrier
- Giant schnauzer
- Appenzeller sennenhund
- Belgian Malinois
- Black Russian terrier
- Chesapeake Bay retriever
- Cane Corso
- Bouvier des Flandres
- Doberman pinscher
- Estrela mountain dog
- German shepherd dog
- Anatolian shepherd
- Great Dane
- Rhodesian ridgeback
A note on protective dogs
When dogs are in their guard mode, they are extra vigilant over perceived threats. Some will not hesitate to attack.
This actually made me think of this viral TikTok talking about the Great Pyrenees and how it’s a very protective breed of dog. The TikTok video told the story of Casper and how he fought a pack of 11 coyotes and killed 8 of them.
He was protecting his partner Daisy, who was pregnant with 8 puppies.
In this article from People, Casper’s owner said that Casper was a very gentle dog, even resting his head on the smallest sheep on the farm.
Stating, “The breed [Great Pyrenees], known as working dogs who can get as large as 160 pounds, are frequent fixtures on farms due to their ability to protect livestock. The dogs thrive on having “jobs” and can be fierce when provoked; an Atlanta-area Great Pyrenees rescue expert told the newspaper.”
Casper, luckily, survived his injuries.
2) They have a sharper sense of smell.
“Dogs devote lots of brain power to interpreting smells. They have more than 100 million sensory receptor sites in the nasal cavity compared to 6 million in people, and the area of the canine brain devoted to analyzing odors is about 40 times larger than the comparable part of the human brain. In fact, it has been estimated that dogs can smell anywhere from 1,000 to 10,000 times better than people.” – Ryan Llera, BSc, DVM; Lynn Buzhardt, DVM | How Dogs Use Smell to Perceive the World
See that last part? Dogs can smell anywhere from 1,000 to 10,000 times better than people. No wonder certain industries and practices use dogs to sniff out danger.
And if you’re someone who watches a lot of True Crime content, you’re probably already aware of how dogs are trained to aid in law enforcement and forensic science. From bomb detection to fire accelerant detection. From locating suspects to pursuing wanted murderers.
From locating missing people to locating the scene of the crime.
Dogs are being trained to detect these.
The American Kennel Club (AKC) has an interesting article on how Search-and-Rescue (SAR) dogs find missing people. In the article, they explained that there are two primary disciplines within SAR dogs: “live” or “dead”.
Here’s an excerpt:
““Live” training involves either tracking/trailing or air-scent dogs. Tracking/trailing dogs, or scent-specific dogs, are trained to follow the unique scent of an individual. Tracking or trailing dogs is done on a long line with the handler following the dog on the track.
“The other “live” discipline is air scent, or area search. This requires the dog to cover large areas quickly, off lead, quite some distance from their handler. An air-scent dog samples the air currents for the scent of any human, follows it to the source, and reports back to the handler. These teams are often called wilderness search teams because the style is suited to large tracts of unpopulated land.”
Meanwhile, “cadaver dogs” are dogs who are trained to locate the deceased. Or as the AKC puts it, “dead” work, or human-remains detection (HRD).
The dogs are trained in air-scent methods to detect the scent of human decomposition.
Dogs have such powerful noses that they can smell traces of decomposition even if the remains are moved, buried, or underwater.
They further added that “Usually, a dog and handler will specialize and certify in one discipline or the other — not because the dogs can’t do both well, but to avoid confusion in findings in criminal cases.”
Dog-tors of medicine
I’m getting a kick at the idea of “Dogs in Medicine” just being literal dogs in lab coats and stethoscopes. Unfortunately, but also fortunately, that’s not what I mean.
Dogs are also trained to be of help in the medical field.
The First Responders Foundation listed the different areas in which dogs can be trained in a medical situation: Medical Alert Dogs, Medical Response Service Dogs, and Medical Assistance Dogs.
The literature changes depending on where you look but essentially, dogs can sense an oncoming medical crisis. In some cases, it’s untrained and instinctual, in others, it is trained.
In cases of trained “Doctor Dogs” (honestly, I’m still getting such delight with the image of Doctor Dogs), dogs’ superior olfactory senses have been used to detect cases of cancer, diabetes, malaria, and Parkinson’s disease to name a few.
Early detection of some of these diseases could potentially be a difference of life and death. Honestly, dogs are amazing to even be able to do this.
A little fun fact: A lot of people believe that dogs can detect pregnancy. While it’s not scientifically proven, I can follow the logic of dogs having such sensitive noses that they can smell the hormonal changes during pregnancy.
They might not know exactly what’s happening but they know something is.
The scent of fear
Dogs can smell fear. Well, sort of. Similar to the fun fact I listed above about pregnancy hormones, this follows the same logic.
3) They have a sharper sense of hearing.
“The truth of the matter is that, for some sounds, a dog’s hearing is really hundreds of times better than ours, whereas for other sounds, dogs and humans have sound sensitivities that are very much the same.” -Stanley Coren, Ph.D., author of “How Dogs Think”
I find it fascinating that even though dogs cannot see the multitude of colors we can potentially see, they can instead smell at much higher sensitivities than us.
Alongside that, dogs have excellent hearing. They can hear sounds as high as 47,000 to 65,000 Hz. They can also hear sounds that are too soft for humans to hear.
This means that they can hear new stimuli before we do, like a person approaching the house. They can also sense incoming thunder, even though that one is scientifically unproven.
Dog owners would know that this checks out, though. When storms roll in, our canine companions start showing signs of distress. They might start pacing, whining, or trembling.
It’s also why loud noises, like fireworks and sirens, can be distressing to them. They interpret these loud noises as dangerous.
Saying that, there are still no studies that explicitly link dogs’ acute senses to seismic activity prediction. At least not just yet.
4) Reading body language.
“Some people think how we say something can be more important than what we say. Dogs read more into our tone and body language than our actual words. They focus on us and observe our physical clues to determine what we want them to do or not do. They watch our facial expressions, posture, and body movements. They listen to the tone of our voice. They combine all of these observations to determine our meaning.” – Lynn Buzhardt, DVM | Eavesdropping Dogs…Do Dogs Understand Our Conversations?
Dogs are some of the smartest animals around, I think that’s something we can all agree on. Saying that, I believe we still underestimate them.
Their ability to perceive danger is not only reliant on their instincts, sharp sense of hearing, and superior sense of smell, it’s also their ability to read body language and distinguish vocal cues.
But it’s not only in danger that this is useful, it’s also in times of sadness.
Howl you doin’?
Dogs are man’s best friend for a reason, right? If you’re having a “ruff” day, your canine companion is there to cheer you up.
I remember the Tumblr post of someone being gifted potatoes by their service dog Zeus when he noticed that they were lonely. The person who posted did not own potatoes, they didn’t know where Zeus got them.
That’s the thing though, our pups will find a way. In times of distress, they will nudge you, paw at you, or even give you their favorite toys in hopes to cheer you up.
Or how rescue dogs immediately warm up to the people who give them love. And in that same respect, how they know who might hurt them.
They see how we act and determine their actions from there. Love equates love, distress equates distress, and hostility equates hostility.
5) They mirror their owner.
“When someone is inclined to believe in the paranormal, some dogs may exhibit behaviors that make it look like they are perhaps sensing an apparition is nearby. This may be the dog that stops and stands still at a given point in the house, and the owner later finds out someone died there.” – Dr. Mary Burch, director of the AKC Family Dog Program and a certified animal behaviorist. | “Can Dogs See Ghosts?”
At the start of this article, I mentioned the common belief that dogs can sense spirits or ghosts. To date, there is no scientific proof of this.
But for many, scientific proof is not necessary. That is the nature of belief, after all, especially when it comes to the supernatural or paranormal.
With what we have talked about dogs so far, I can see where the belief comes from. With dogs barking towards a dark and empty space or lingering in corners seemingly looking at something despite there being nothing.
I can understand why the belief is so persistent though.
Especially if you think about how dogs are able to hear things we could not and sense things we could not. Not to mention their animal instincts that keep them safe from danger.
A bone to pick
There’s scientific support that dogs mirror their owner’s personality and emotions.
In an article from Discover Magazine about the research conducted by two researchers from Michigan State University, they said, “After parsing the data, the researchers found an interesting tidbit: dog and owner personalities often mirror each other. Active and outgoing people tended to have canine companions that behaved similarly.”
Adding, “Dogs that were anxious or aggressive had owners that possessed more negative personality traits.”
So, in theory, if the person is feeling threatened, their dog will pick up on this and be equally as on guard—if not more. If the person is displaying hostility over someone, their dog might pick up on this and be hostile as well.
If the owner is happy and relaxed, their dog will pick up on this, too, and feel calmer.
If the owner is feeling like they’re in danger, this, too, will alert their dogs. (Honestly, just look up loyal dogs rescuing their owners from danger! There are tons of stories out there.)
In essence, they sense the negative energy that *you* sense. They are affected by the energy that you put out.
Remember? How we talked about dogs having a sharper sense of smell and hearing and how they can read body language? All of those are utilized to notice *your* current state.
How cool and heartwarming is that?
Say it with me: We don’t deserve dogs.
Dogs are such complex creatures that this tiny article barely dug the surface of their capabilities. And if you’re a dog owner, there’s a great chance that you have your own stories to share about this topic (please reach out, we would love to know!)
Just to refresh your memory, the 5 reasons why dogs sense negative energy are:
- Dogs go into “protect mode”
- They have a sharper sense of smell.
- They have a sharper sense of hearing.
- They can read body language.
- They mirror their owners.
And despite all we know about these amazing creatures, from anecdotal evidence to scientific studies, there is still so much left unresearched.
And you know what?
The paw-ssibilities are endless!
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