For many years animal trainers, pet owners and naturalists have reported various kinds of perceptiveness in animals that suggest the existence of psychic powers—or at the very least, powers that are not well-developed in humans.
Since 1994, with the help of hundreds of animal trainers, shepherds, veterinarians, and pet and service dog owners, I have been investigating some of these unexplained animal powers.
The most common form of seemingly telepathic response is the anticipation by dogs and cats of their owners’ homecoming, or departure; the anticipation of being fed; of when their owners intend to take them to the vet; of when their owners are planning to take them for a walk; and animals that get excited when their owner is on the telephone, even before the telephone has been answered.
As skeptics rightly point out, some of these responses could be explained in terms of routine expectations, subtle sensory cues, chance coincidence and selective memory, or put down to the imaginations of doting pet owners. These are reasonable hypotheses, but they should not be accepted in the absence of evidence. To test these possibilities, it is necessary to do experiments.
My colleagues and I concentrated on the phenomenon of dogs who know when their owners are coming home. Many pet owners have observed that their animals seem to anticipate the arrival of a member of the household, often ten minutes or more in advance. The pets typically wait at a door, window or gate. In random household surveys in Britain and the U.S., an average of fifty-one per cent of dog owners and thirty per cent of cat owners said they had noticed such anticipatory behavior.
The dog I investigated in most detail was a terrier called Jaytee, who belonged to Pam Smart, of Manchester, England. Pam adopted Jaytee from a shelter in 1989 when he was still a puppy and soon formed a close bond with him.
In 1991, when Pam was working as a secretary at a school in Manchester, she left Jaytee with her parents, who noticed that the dog went to the window almost every weekday at about 4.30 pm, around the time Pam left work, and waited there until she arrived home some forty-five minutes later. Pam worked routine office hours, so the family assumed that Jaytee’s behavior depended on some kind of time sense.
Pam was laid off 1993 and, unemployed, was no longer tied to any regular pattern of activity. Her parents did not usually know when she would be coming home, but Jaytee still correctly anticipated her return.
In 1994 Pam read an article about my research and volunteered to take part. In more than one hundred experiments we videotaped the area by the window where Jaytee waited during Pam’s absences, providing a continuous, time-coded record of his behavior, which was blind-scored by a third party who did not know the details of the experiments. To check that Jaytee was not reacting to the sound of Pam’s car or other familiar vehicles, we investigated whether he still anticipated her arrival when she traveled by unusual means: by bicycle, train, or taxi. He did.
We also carried out experiments in which Pam set off for home at times selected at random, communicated to her by means of a telephone pager. In these experiments, Jaytee still started waiting at the window around the time Pam set off, even though no one at home knew when she would be coming. The odds against this occurring by chance were more than one hundred thousand to one.