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Are Pets Psychic or Just Super-Sensitive?
Remarkable stories of animal telepathy, sense of direction and premonition. Are they examples of animals' keen senses, or are they evidence of an unexplained psychic ability?
More of this Feature
Part 2: Incredible journeys and premonitions

Dogs That Know When their Owners Are Coming Home - and Other Unexplained Powers of Animals
by Rupert Sheldrake

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We've all heard the stories:

  • a pet cat jumps up onto the windowsill every day, several minutes before its owner arrives home
  • a pet dog barks just before a certain person calls on the phone, as if knowing the call was being made
  • a pet parrot, who's learned to talk, says things seemingly in response to what its owner is thinking
  • a beloved pet, somehow lost on a family trip, miraculously finds its way home - sometimes traveling hundreds or even thousands of miles

How are these things possible? Do our pets - perhaps even all animals - possess some innate psychic ability that allows them to tune in to human brainwaves or even to see the future? Or are they just more sensitive than humans to visual, aural, magnetic and other subtle environmental factors and changes - and because we are not aware of these subtleties, their actions seem miraculous?

It's an ongoing debate, usually with the psychically minded and a lot of devoted pet owners on one side, and the more skeptical and scientifically minded on the other.

Rupert Sheldrake, author of Dogs That Know When Their Owners Are Coming Home (Three Rivers Press, 1999), believes that animals have abilities that humans may have possessed at one time, but somehow lost. Through his extensive research, he has concluded that there are three major categories of unexplained perceptiveness by animals:

  • Telepathy - a psychic connection that some pets may have with their owners through connections Sheldrake calls "morphic fields." It is this ability that enables pets to "know" when their owners are on their way home.
  • The Sense of Direction - this ability accounts for the "incredible journeys" some animals make to be with their owners, including homing pigeons.
  • Premonitions - which may explain why some animals seem to know when earthquakes and other events are about to occur.


In the section of Sheldrake's book focusing on telepathy, he asserts that this ability arises from the strong bond that develops between human and family pet. He relates several anecdotes from pet owners who believe their animals are psychically picking up their intentions. For example:

I just cannot understand how my dog, Ginny, a mixed breed I have had for seven years, can know when I am going to walk him. Only my thinking of it is enough for him to jump about joyfully. In order to exclude the possibility of eye contact and information through the other senses, I left the dog outside in the garden and behind closed windows and doors when I thought of taking him. And still the same result every time: He acts crazy out of sheer joy and expectation. When I dress to leave for work, however, he remains totally quiet.

It could be argued that this very perceptive dog is picking up some kind of cues from the owner without the owner realizing it. There could even be an odor cue that a human releases with a certain intention that only the dog can smell. More difficult to explain, however, is the story of a cat in Switzerland that seemed to know when a specific telephone call was coming:

After my father had retired he sometimes worked for an acquaintance in Aargau. Sometimes he called us from there in the evening. One minute before this happened, the cat became restless and sat down next to the telephone. Sometimes my father took the train to Biel and then used a moped to get home from there. Then the cat sat down outside the front door 30 minutes before he arrived. At other times he arrived at Biel earlier than usual and then called us from the station, and the cat sat down near the telephone shortly before the call came. After it she went to the front door. All this happened very irregularly, but the cat seemed to know exactly where he was and what would happen afterward.

Next page > Incredible journeys and premonitions > Page 1, 2

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