Can Dogs See Ghosts?

Ever notice how dogs bark when there’s nothing there? 👻

scared dog sees ghosts

You see it all the time in scary movies. A dog’s barking at a window or a doorway, but when the hero goes to check it out, there’s nothing there.

Sure, that’s just in the movies. But maybe you’ve noticed your dog does the same thing IRL, and you can’t help but wonder: Can dogs see ghosts?

To get some answers, we spoke with Dr. Vanessa Spano, a veterinarian at Behavior Vets in New York, and Dr. Linda Simon, a veterinary surgeon and a consultant for FiveBarks.

Can dogs see ghosts? What to know about your dog's senses

Whenever you notice your dog barking at something you can’t see, you’ve probably wondered how he’s picking up on something you’re not.

It turns out your dog’s senses are pretty different from your own, so it’s totally possible that he is actually sensing something you can’t.

Here’s how your pup’s senses work:

Sight

Your dog’s vision isn’t always crystal clear, but his peripheral sight — aka what he can see out of the corner of his eye while he’s looking straight ahead — is pretty sharp.

“They do not have ‘20/20’ vision like us, and things can seem blurry when close up,” Dr. Simon told The Dodo. “They have good peripheral vision and can pick up on moving objects quickly.”

Dogs also have a tough time seeing certain colors.

“They see yellows, blues and grays the best and struggle to make out reds and greens,” Dr. Simon said.

Hearing

Your dog’s hearing is a lot better than yours, so if he’s barking at something you can’t see, it’s possible he’s heard something you missed.

“Dogs have a keen sense of hearing and can generally pick up on noises that owners cannot,” Dr. Simon said. “This is especially true of noises with higher frequencies, which are difficult for older humans to detect. As a dog gets older, their hearing will naturally decline, but they should still maintain a good level of hearing.”

There’s actually a pretty big difference between what you can hear and what your dog can hear.

“Studies have indicated that dogs may be able to hear frequencies up to 45,000 hertz,” Dr. Spano told The Dodo. “The average adult human can typically detect frequencies only up to 20,000 hertz.”

Smell

It shouldn’t be much of a surprise that your dog’s nose is way better at picking up scents than your own, since he can sniff out exactly where you stash his treats.

“Dogs and other animals have an incredible sense of smell, especially when compared to that of humans,” Dr. Spano said. “Dogs can detect certain substances at a concentration of 1/1000th [of what] humans detect.”

Touch

Your dog’s sense of touch might not be his sharpest sense, but his whiskers do have a ton of nerve endings that help him sense things nearby.

And even though your dog will rely on smell, hearing and sight way more than touch, this sense is still a big one for him.

“As they mature, this sense is not as important to them,” Dr. Simon said. “However, it is still used on a daily basis as a dog navigates their environment and bonds with their owner and other pets. They communicate with the world around them by touching (for example, when nuzzling us or putting their face on our lap) and being touched.”

Taste

When it comes to taste, humans have the advantage here. But it’s probably not a huge shock that your sense of taste is more advanced than your pup’s, seeing as he eats his own poop and all.

“They have far less taste receptors and most have a preference for meaty flavors,” Dr. Simon said.

But while your dog’s palate might not be the most refined, some experts believe those receptors remind him to stay hydrated.

“Interestingly, it is thought that dogs have specific taste buds which allow them to taste water and encourage them to do so, especially after eating something salty,” Dr. Simon said.

How do dogs sense barometric pressure?

Do you ever feel like your dog knows when the weather’s about to change? Well, you’re not alone.

“It is widely believed that dogs can sense changes in barometric pressure and are far more honed into this than we are,” Dr. Simon said. “If the weather is going to change, your dog may realize this, and some dogs might even react physically by becoming aloof, overexcited or trembling.”

If you’re wondering how your pup could possibly pick up on changes in barometric pressure, it actually might have something to do with those heightened senses of his.

“It is thought that dogs can detect changes in pressure via both their sense of smell and through receptors in their joints,” Dr. Simon said.

Why do dogs bark at nothing?

Because a few of your dog’s senses are much sharper than yours, he’s probably not actually barking at nothing, but instead he’s barking at something you just can’t sense yourself.

“Chances are they are barking at some sort of trigger,” Dr. Spano said. “We just need to take the time to assess the context of the situation.”

And that trigger — whether it’s a ghost or not — can get your dog riled up enough to want to bark.

These triggers can lead your dog to bark because they’re causing emotional states that motivate your dog to vocalize. Some motivations for a dog’s barking include:

  • Excitement
  • Seeking attention
  • Possessiveness
  • Fear
  • Pain
  • Cognitive issues

What to do about your dog’s excessive barking

It’s up to you to decide if those invisible things he can smell or hear are actually ghosts. But no matter what your pup is sensing, you might have to step in if he’s barking a lot.

According to Dr. Spano, different triggers require different approaches.

If the barking is fear- or anxiety-related, and your dog seems stressed, you should try to remove him from the trigger (by taking him to another room or distracting him with a toy, for example). If you think your dog’s barking at something outside (like if he’s focusing on the window when he sees something invisible), sometimes the best thing to do is just shut the blinds.

If you think your dog’s just barking because he’s trying to get attention, Dr. Spano says you should actually ignore him to avoid encouraging bad habits.

“This is tough because it can take at least a few weeks and it is very tempting to not be consistent about this,” she said. “Even just responding one out of 100 times can ruin your efforts of ignoring.”

That being said, if you’re worried your dog’s paranormal senses are actually something unusual — like being scared all the time, or being too skittish to eat — it’s best to take him to a vet to rule out any health or psychological issues.