There are those who, in 2001, made a book entitled The extraordinary powers of animals (author: Rupert Sheldrake) who has had good success and who foreshadows that dogs, cats and other creatures even have paranormal faculties that would allow him to perceive even what, apparently, perceivable should not be.
It may be that there is something true, if we think about how many times our friends surprise us with anticipatory behaviors that are inexplicable for us.
But without going into the “mystery” and remaining to science, there are really amazing things that the dog’s senses are able to do and that in our eyes seem “magic” but which, in reality, are the result of the qualities that evolution has awarded to survive independently and which have remained unchanged even after millennia of life with us.
Let’s examine them through episodes that we all experienced with amazement.
1. Recognize the destination … long before you get there
A classic known to those who attend a dog center.
If the dog has fun in that place (and otherwise … why take it to us?), Where you usually arrive by car, usually understands where we are going long before we get there.
A few kilometers from the goal, in fact, the dog enthusiastic about sport or any other activity you practice in the center begins to whine with joy, to get excited and often to bark with excitement.
The point is that he often travels in a kennel and has no way of seeing much outside, so he cannot identify visual landmarks.
Furthermore, this behavior is evident even in the middle of winter, when traveling with the windows closed, so the smells that enter the passenger compartment are few … few for us, however.
With the incredible sense of smell he has, the dog just needs to perceive a sequence of molecules floating in the air to sense that they are the same, more or less, that he has already perceived and memorized previously and understand that we are going to a specific place.
Proof? If we change the course from the usual, the dog rarely gets confused because, perhaps, every place has smells that ‘signal’ it and make it different from any other and its nose only takes a few clues to find the destination.
Even more surprising is that sometimes this behavior already emerges at the first repetition of the journey!
2. The orientation. Smell and terrestrial magnetism?
We have all read about dogs that got lost in different circumstances and then managed to find their way home even from incredible distances.
The absolute record lies with a Labrador / Boxer crossbreed named Jimpa who, in 1979, traveled over 3,000 kilometers across Australia to return to his home.
An incredible journey that lasted 14 months! How is it possible?
Certainly the sense of smell plays a crucial role in these enterprises but many scientists believe that the ability to perceive the Earth’s magnetic field and to use it to orientate itself over great distances may also be involved.
An ability not yet scientifically proven but which would be the only one capable of explaining epic exploits such as that of Jimpa and which seems already well established in other species, such as racing pigeons (Colomba livia domestica).
Like birds and like some primates, even the dog would perceive the magnetic poles of the terrestrial globe.
Not as punctually as with a compass, but through the inclination of the magnetic field lines with respect to the earth’s surface.
This was stated in a research published in 2016 and conducted by scientists Christine Nießner and Leo Peichl of the Max Planck Institute for Research on Brain based in Frankfurt together with colleagues from the Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität of Munich, the Goethe-Universität of Frankfurt, and the universities of Duisburg-Essen and Göttingen.
This would explain the episodes of dogs who were able to return to their homes or families after being brought or lost miles away.
3. “Dad is coming!”
Another common event that occurs in many homes when it approaches the time when a family member returned from work.
The dog starts to look through the window or stands near the door, clearly waiting for the reunion and the related parties.
Obviously, it could simply be a matter of time; even if dogs do not have a clock and they certainly do not calculate time with our own systems, they know how to create a daily roadmap marked by repetitive events and the return from work is one of them.
Except that many dogs, and also many cats for that matter, behave in the same way even if the timetable changes!
As if that were not enough, in many cases the ‘premonition’ of the return takes several minutes before it happens and even if there is no one in the house who, involuntarily, suggests with his behavior that “dad is coming”, for example preparing the table.
The studies carried out on this phenomenon have substantially led to a single plausible conclusion: dogs and cats particularly interested in reuniting with the family, which is obviously very dear to them, thanks to their exceptionally developed and precise hearing, focus on particular noises that provide them the necessary clues.
Among these, the sound of the car engine, which distinguish between a thousand others apparently the same (for us), or that of the footsteps, even very distant. It seems incredible but either we accept this explanation or we really have to think about paranormal faculties …
4. Exceptional hearing
Hearing in this case is highly developed thanks to the anatomical characteristics of the external ear (mobile pavilion, positioned at the apex and laterally in the skull, skin corrugations that act as amplifiers) and thanks to a brain area capable of processing information even at very low sound intensity as well as at high frequency (ultrasound).
For the dog, the tone and volume of the voice represent indications of communication but are often excessive compared to the intensity that our species is used to use.
Man has a bad habit of shouting at the dog what he wants, repeating it by increasing the intensity and hardness of the tone from time to time.
This method does not increase the effectiveness of the information either because it is unpleasant and sometimes fearful for the dog, or because it is based on inappropriate means of communication for the canine communication method.
To be able to distinguish the noise of the engine of a car in particular or that of the footsteps of a certain person are needed dvery powerful hearing aids. And the dog has them. THE dogs hear sounds from 65Hz up to 16kHz, which is far beyond the frequency limit of human hearing (twice as much as ours).
The precision with which it identifies the direction of origin, thanks to the mobility of the ears, is very high: up to a third of a degree, in subjects with erect or semi-erect pavilions. Furthermore, the differences in sound are captured with a fineness equal to one octave.
All this allows the dog to perceive and distinguish a specific sound with extreme precision, isolating it from all the others, and to catch it starting from a distance that is at least four times what we can reach in perfect hearing conditions and absence of other noises. . In essence, by comparison we are … almost deaf.
5. Points of view (look like a real predator)
The last example concerns the visual skills, which often surprise us but, this time, on two fronts.
In fact, it often happens that, during a walk on open ground, the dog is immobilized by scanning the horizon and then, if we do not stop him in time, he gallops towards a goal invisible to us.
Often, chasing him, we then discover that it was a hare or another small animal that we had not noticed in the least. If the wind did not contribute to the thing by bringing the animal’s smell to the dog, because it blows towards the prey, it means that our “hunter” has only used sight.
Which is specialized: the dog has more or less semi-lateral eyes, except for some molossoid breeds that have them almost frontal, and for this reason it has a double “monocular” vision excellent for seeing well what moves at a great distance, which is essential for a predator.
Vice versa, close up and on static targets, the dog has less ability to see, in fact in these cases it tends to get closer and sniff.
In addition, the dog has a much clearer vision than ours in case of uncertain light, thanks to a different structure of the eyes, so at dawn or sunset, or with a full moon, it manages to hunt with remarkable efficiency, such as the wolf.
Basically, dogs see the world in yellow, blue and gray, where our green, yellow or orange is a dull yellow for them, our blue and violet for them are blue and our blue-green for them is gray / black.
In addition to seeing fewer colors than humans, dogs also see them less bright and more blurry.
Dogs have eyes positioned so as to have a field of view at 240 degrees (humans have it at 180 degrees) and compared to humans, they have a better peripheral vision and, as we mentioned above, they are able to perceive small movements very quickly.