le there is a prevailing belief that animals can sense things paranormal, I would suggest you first seek out explanations based in the, well, normal first.”
I’m asked more often about pets and the paranormal than any other topic of discussion. Why is Fido acting afraid in the kitchen or barking at the wall in the den? Could, should we consider the paranormal? This always leaves me in a bit of a quandary because I’m a paranormal researcher, not an animal behaviorist. So I hit the internet and the books for evidence for and against. I will speak primarily of dogs, with no disrespect to cat people, but the last three inquiries were specifically about dogs. My line of questioning was simply what can make an otherwise normal-acting animal start to act weird? What I found is that there are many sources for anxiety in animals, one of which may be sensitivity to the paranormal.
Egg on your Face
The worst thing I feel a paranormal investigator can do is to label something paranormal before exploring the more rational explanations. If you come out on the side of the paranormal when something normal is proven you look all the more like an idiot. Case in point:
The Animal Planet channel hosts a television show entitled The Haunted which “chronicles” the haunting experiences of animals and their terrified owners. One particular episode is about a young couple who move into an older home with their beloved pet rabbits. This particular couple was very free with their furry friends, letting the rabbits out of their cages to roam free about the house. Not long after moving into the home they noticed that the rabbits were becoming sick and dying. Saddened beyond words at the tragedy unfolding, the couple concluded that negative spirits in the home had tragically killed their beloved bunnies one by (big sigh) one.
Now, I thought this was a rather abrupt leap of faith. After all, it’s common knowledge that houses built before the 1950’s are famous for lead paint. Undoubtedly the lead paint has been covered over with fresh new paint. But what do rabbits do naturally? They chew. Happily, gleefully, these fuzzy rodents love to chew on anything, but especially wood – or wood work. Wouldn’t it first make more sense to seek out toxins in the environment, before assuming evil spirits were killing the animals? The show producers of course never even suggested this explanation. After all lead paint poisoning does not drive up ratings, evil demons do. It’s much more exciting, though less plausible, to suggest something sinister.
While television shows such as this one make for a half hour of spine tingling entertainment, they do nothing to promote rational thought. Still, when the family dog or cat suddenly starts acting bizarrely I can see why people would seek out an otherwise irrational explanation. While there is a prevailing belief that animals can sense things paranormal, I would suggest you first seek out explanations based in the, well, normal first. So below, I’ve compiled the most comprehensive list I could as to what may make an otherwise normal animal start acting abnormally.
Fido may be Feeling Funky
On the Doggit discussion board of Reddit.com I found an interesting exchange between dog lovers who were having similar problems. The first suggestion made was to take the animal in question to the veterinarian. An animal may develop a hearing or sight problem unbeknownst to their owners that would cause them to start acting skittishly. Having spent my youth among horses I can recall having dealt with horses that have lost eyesight in one eye. These animals become very skittish when approached on their blind side. It makes sense, as they can’t see anyone approaching, and then suddenly you’re there touching them. Another of the writers recounted how her dog had developed pain in its hip. It began to act afraid of her, somehow connecting its owner with the pain it was experiencing. Animals don’t reason through situations, but react to the stimulus present.
The article, “7 Signs that a Dog is in Pain” offered some telltale signs of doggy pain. Such symptoms such as limping or crying are no-brainers. But the author also mentions:
1. Excessive salivation (salivation above the norm that is) along with obviously diarrhea, constipation and vomiting as signs of gastrointestinal discomfort.
2. Whining and whimpering for no apparent reason can be a sign of pain, though knowing where the pain originates may be harder.
3. Temperament changes could be a sign that your dog is ill. An otherwise gentle dog may bite for no reason, while others may seek out more attention than is usual.
4. Strange and unusual behaviors that may indicate a neck or back injury are a refusal to go upstairs, or to lower their heads to eat. They may stop jumping up on the couch or a favorite chair.
5. Loss of Appetite especially if they’re experiencing oral pain, such as a toothache.
6. Excessive Licking especially if a localized spot may mean the area is sore or tender.
7. Panting can be a sign of pain in dogs. Dogs in pain may pant excessively; sometimes trembling at the same time. The author suggests you watch for panting at odd times, such as the middle of the night, when the animal normally would not be panting.
Strange Smell or Sounds
A veterinarian on the radio talk show recently pointed out that smell is a dog’s most developed sense. In fact the sense of smell is 1000 times better in a dog than a human, especially dogs who are trained to track (Gilbert) Think of it this way, humans see the world through their eyes, but dogs “see” the world through their nose. If a dog begins to react to one spot of the house in particular, barking, growling, backing away, it might mean they’re getting a whiff of something worrisome. It is true too that dogs can have visceral reactions to a similar stimulus.
For example, if a dog got the losing end of a tussle with a raccoon she might retain the memory. If she later encountered another raccoon – or caught the scent of said coon –she would remember the episode and recoil in fear. I always think of raccoons because they’re stubborn creatures. For years now, my parents have had a problem with raccoons making nests in the attic crawl space above their garage. Every spring my parents have the creatures forcefully removed, and every fall a new family moves in. By now I’m sure the scent of raccoon is pungent throughout the property. So I postulate that if a pest or pests find a way into a house, the scent may be sending Rover into fits of fear. Check for telltale signs of pests, such as feces in the attic, holes in an outside wall, foot prints in snow or mud that appear to stop right at the foot of the house etc. There may be sounds as well. When the raccoons have moved back in for another winter foray, we will hear them scrabbling overhead or pitter pattering in the walls.
Hearing is another sense in which dogs excel. Dogs can hear sounds that humans simply cannot detect, especially high pitched noises. Take the phantom sounds of the dog whistle for instance. I postulate that a dog may act oddly, therefore, to a high-pitched whine in a building that humans are otherwise unaware of. Electrical appliances, lighting fixtures, ceiling fans, televisions; all such appliances may create a disruptive hum when malfunctioning. Or perhaps the dog is reacting to the chattering of a critter living in the wall that we cannot otherwise hear?
We’ve certainly all met people who won’t cross a bridge or fly in an airplane. It makes no difference that far more people die in automobile accidents than aircraft crashes in a year. The fear is still there. It appears that dogs can develop irrational fears just as humans can. The T.A.P.S. team investigated a house where the dog was afraid of the kitchen. The dog appeared to avoid the area by the back door for no plausible reason, so the family assumed something paranormal was to blame. T.A.P.S. brought their own dog to the investigation, and the dog was perfectly calm in this area of the house. The team noted that the flooring in the kitchen by the back door was rather slick, and concluded that the dog’s fear was probably due to the fact that it couldn’t get a sound footing on the floor.
For years our family dog had a similar fear of storm drains. We would take him out for a family jaunt and everything was fine, until he hit that storm drain grate. Then without warning the dog would take off in the opposite direction sometimes hauling us after him. We finally figured out that the dog didn’t like that echo-ish sound the grates made when walking over them. He probably feared he’d fall in. Finally after many grates had been traversed, he got over his fear.
If an animal appears afraid of one area of the house but not others, than it may behoove you to do a little investigative reasoning. Are the floorboards creaky in this area, or the flooring slick? You might also try some training techniques. Put the dog on a leash and take him into the area calmly. Have him lie in the area for a while. Use your best calm and assertive behaviors and always reward the actions that you wish to see repeated. When the animal acts calmly give him a treat to reinforce the calm behavior you wish him to exhibit.
Storms are a common source of distress for many dogs, and they can undoubtedly sense an oncoming storm before we can. I spoke to one gentleman who said that his dog spent every thunderstorm cowering in the bathtub. In the article, “Why do Dogs Act Weird when a Rainstorm Comes” Animal Behaviorist, Nicholas Dodman admits it isn’t really understood how an animal might sense an oncoming storm; whether it be sensed changes in barometric pressure, or changes in the odor of the air, or rising static electrical fields which herald an onslaught. Dodman did say that in some dogs the polarized ion buildup that occurs before a thunderstorm can cause the fur to become statically charged. In other words, Zippy may be taking some uncomfortable zaps of electricity, and it may be these dogs that develop the worst storm phobias. By the way, dogs that take refuge in bathtubs, sinks, shower stalls or behind toilets do so for a reason. Apparently these spots are non-conductive and help dissipate the static electricity.
The terror that some animals experience due to storms is real. According to a 2005 study in “Applied Animal Behavior Science” the cortisol level, a stress hormone in dogs, spiked 207% in the tested saliva of dogs with storm phobias. And the cortisol levels stayed high for hours after the storm had passed.
Dodson continued to speculate that storm phobias in animals may be triggered by more than one element, and goes on to suggest that it may symptomatic of a “general noise phobia.” During storms the panic attack may be triggered by high winds, thunder, and rain pounding on the roof…. At times when there isn’t a storm their phobia may be triggered by noises that are similar. So check the barometric pressure and bar the door, for a storm may be brewing and Rover is way ahead of the Doppler radar reports.
Dogs and Electromagnetic Energy
Paranormal investigators are extremely fond of anything to do with electromagnetic energy. However, I found no studies on the effects of high EMF’s on household pets. However, a 2013 study that has gained notoriety on the internet examined the polar electromagnetic sensitivities of pooping pooches. The Czech study, which appeared in the Journal, Frontiers in Zoology, examined 70 dogs comprising of 37 different breeds. The dogs were allowed a free