Are Dogs Fetching the Latest Breakthroughs in Science?
Originally published in slightly different form on August 6, 2010 at PsychologyToday.com.
Dogs That Know When Their Owners Are Coming Home
Have you ever answered the phone and said, “I was just thinking about you!” Have you ever had a gut reaction to someone because of their bad “vibe?” Has anyone you know experienced a sinking sensation that a child of theirs has just been in a terrible accident, which turned out to be true? These are all examples of telepathy, the ability to sense or feel things about friends and loved ones without direct contact. (Telepathy comes from the Greek for distant feeling.)
I think dogs experience this type of thing with their owners all the time.
In his book, book Dogs That Know When Their Owners are Coming Home, Rupert Sheldrake, the current director of the Perrot-Warwicke Project of Trinity College at Cambridge, wrote in great detail about his research into telepathy in animals. Before Sheldrake’s book came out, I’d already come across my own evidence that dogs may be able to pick up our emotions and desires telepathically.
The first time this happened was early one morning in Central Park, in February of 1994. I was playing fetch with my dog Freddie when a woman with an English springer spaniel named Brandy approached us. The two dogs sniffed each other for a bit, while Brandy’s mom and I engaged in small talk about dogs and dog training (my favorite subjects).
After a few minutes we noticed that Brandy had wandered down a hill toward the park drive. There are no cars allowed on weekends, except during the holidays. But still, Brandy had wandered too far away.
The woman called her dog, but Brandy kept moving away.
“I was afraid of this,” the woman said. “Now I’ll never get her back.”
“Don’t worry. I’ll tell Freddie to go get her.”
Surprised, she asked, “Will he do it?”
“I don’t know, but it’s worth a shot.” As a joke, I said to Freddie, “Go get Brandy’s leash and bring her back here.”
Freddie just stood there a moment, then turned, looked at Brandy, trotted down the hill, grabbed her leash in his mouth, and brought her back to us.
The woman was astonished. “You must be a really good trainer to teach him that.”
“Honestly, I didn’t think he’d actually do it. He’s never done it before.”
And he never did it again.
Telepathy of Coincidence?
After that incident, though, I started to notice ways that Freddie behaved oddly in certain situations. For instance, when we walked around our neighborhood he’d sometimes pull me toward a store we’d never been into before. At first I thought he was mixed up, that he’d intended to go into one of our usual stops, but had gotten his signals crossed. Then one day he pulled me toward a dry cleaners we’d not only never been to, we’d never been to any store on that particular block. This was really weird.
At first I was irritated. “Why did he do that?”
Then I remembered that a few moments earlier I’d had a passing thought about going into that store and asking what they charged for dry cleaning.
Was Fred confused, or was he obeying my unconscious desires?
I started to wonder if maybe I could do this deliberately, you know, picture him sitting and seeing if he’d sit. It never worked. Our telepathic connection only seemed viable when I was lost in thought and not trying (consciously) to tell him (telepathically) what to do.
I also had a similar experience while playing fetch with a Jack Russell terrier named Mack. Our usual routine was that after the first couple of throws, I’d give Mack a treat in exchange for dropping the ball. On this particular day, I was preoccupied and forgot to give Mack his treat right after the first throw. I didn’t notice the change in our routine until about the twentieth toss. Then, I had a sudden, vivid image of myself reaching into the pocket of my training vest and taking out a treat. When Mack brought the ball back that time, he dropped it but didn’t back away or get ready for the next toss. He just stood there, staring a hole in my pocket.
Some owners of boarding facilities report that dogs who’ve been boarded will one day start acting “strangely,” whining and barking for no apparent reason. This almost always happens at the exact moment that the owner sets out to pick up the dog, even if they’ve changed their usual schedule.
I’ve had a similar, though in a way, opposite, experience. The first time I pick up some dogs for boarding, as soon as we arrive on my block, they pull straight toward my building, even if they’ve never been there before. Some have even started running up the stoop, as if they know exactly where we’re going. (And since they usually have their backs to me, they’re not reading my body language.)
Meticulous, Careful Research
Sheldrake’s book is full of stories, and meticulous scientific research, showing that many dogs will get up and go to the door or window at the exact moment that their owners decide to come home. Sheldrake was very careful to do his experiments in a way that ruled out such things as hearing the owner’s car, (sometimes the owners were asked to take a cab home), or smelling the owner from a distance (in some cases the dogs would anticipate their owner’s return a half an hour or more before the owner was anywhere near the house). 
Most scientists find the idea of animal telepathy absurd. Some readers may agree, and believe that animal communication, via something like a primitive form of language,  is far more believable and understandable than the ‘new-age’, mumbo-jumbo of telepathy. But Sheldrake says that “telepathy is not specifically human. It is a natural [biological] faculty, part of our animal nature.”
Different Pathways in the Brain
I would go even further and say that telepathy is more specifically an animal, not a human form of communication; language has superseded telepathy as our default-mode of communication. In fact, this is why I was never able to (consciously) tell Freddie what to do (telepathically), because there are two different parts of the brain that separate our ability to tune in to our gut feelings and our ability to form conscious thoughts. And just as it’s impossible for a radio dial to tune into both AM and FM frequencies at the same time, it’s very rare for these two types of cognition to operate simultaneously in the human brain. 
In order for any form of communication to work, it has to have at least three working parts: a sender, a receiver, and a medium of transmission.
Audible forms of communication—speech, bird calls, wolf howls, whale songs—have, as their medium, the transmission of sound through vibrations originating in the vocal chords of the sender. Visual forms—written words, smoke signals, body language—operate through how the receiver’s brain translates wavelengths of light into internal representations of written words, or actual objects located in three-dimensional space.
What sort of medium would telepathy require?
Sheldrake calls the medium morphic fields. Dog trainer and natural philosopher Kevin Behan proposes that it’s an emotional field, which may be consonant with research done by pharmacologist Candace Pert, the scientist who discovered the existence of opiate receptors (not only in the brain, but in every molecule in the body), and UCLA’s Valerie Hunt (though her area of interest is more specific to bioenergetic fields).
Are any of these fields visible or tangible?
No, but neither are radio waves, broadband, WiFi; the world around us if full of invisible vibrations of energy. We know they exist because we’ve invented technology that not only proves their existence, it puts them to work for us. But since spoken and written language are the default forms of human communication, particularly in Western Civilization, most mainstream scientists have little interest in investigating how if telepathy exists, how it works, and what its transmission medium might consist of.
Candace Pert writes: “Whenever something doesn’t fit the reigning paradigm, the initial response in the mainstream is to deny the facts.”
Though the “facts” I’ve related about my personal experiences are hardly proof that telepathy exists, there is no other rational explanation for these events except coincidence (which is no explanation at all). There is also no rational explanation for how dogs can behave in certain ways that suggest that their minds are able to operate independently from the most basic principles of evolution and neuroscience. This is the quandary that mainstream dognitive scientists now face. Do we rewrite evolution? Or do we explore the idea that something else—something wonderful and miraculous—may be going on, right under our noses?
As Hamlet tells his best friend, “There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy.”
If you ask me, dogs are happily fetching a new philosophy for us to see and marvel at.
“Life Is an Adventure—Where Will Your Dog Take You?”
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1) Sheldrake also reports on cats who disappear on the day of a scheduled vet visit (a common occurrence), and equestrians who feel they’ve formed a telepathic bond with their horses. One woman in particular tells the story of an easily spooked horse who was afraid, among other things, to cross a white wooden bridge. There seemed to be no way to get the horse to cross this bridge until his rider solved the problem by creating a mental image of the two of them crossing the bridge safely and successfully. As long as she held that mental picture in her mind, the horse had no problem crossing the bridge with her.
2) Linguists, who understand how language works far better than anyone, say there’s no such thing as a “simple language.”
3) Body awareness is located in the ventral medial prefrontal cortex, sense of self and the ability to think conscious, self-aware thoughts, are found in the dorsal medial prefrontal cortex. As Alan Fogel, a professor of psychology at the University of Utah and licensed massage therapist, has written in an article here, “We can either be in embodied or conceptual self-awareness, [but] not both at the same time.”