BOOKS: Dogs That Know When Their Owners Are Coming Home

Dogs That Know When Their Owners Are Coming Home and other unexplained powers of animals

by Rupert Sheldrake

Crown Publishers (201 East 50th St., New York, NY 10022), 1999.

350 pages, $25.00, hardcover


Spend enough time around animals, of any species, and after a while an observant person will discover that they frequently know some things well before humans. Some of this has a simple explanation: most mammals and birds have keener hearing than humans, most mammals also have a sharper sense of smell, and cats and many other mammals have built-in night vision. Rats even see in the ultraviolet spectrum.

But some other phenomena are harder to explain. One is how come many dogs and some cats seem to know when a favorite person is coming home, and occupy a characteristic greeting location not used at other times, even when the person may still be aloft in an airplane or just getting ready to leave work. Even harder to explain is how come such animals are often able to anticipate unusual changes in the person’s schedule.

Whether it can be explained or not, though, it can be observed. For more than a year now, for instance, I have observed our Taiwanese street dog Simon accurately guessing when our son Wolf will be coming home from school or from other expeditions with Kim, and running to the door, tail wagging, about 10 to 20 minutes before his actual arrival. If Kim drops Wolf off somewhere and comes back, Simon is no more anticipatory than any of our other animals, but if Wolf is coming he tries to be right there.

Rupert Sheldrake sought out people who claimed their pets had this ability, and then used a variety of techniques including videography to monitor it.

Documenting that a relatively high percentage of animals have anticipatory abilities proved to be much easier, however, than finding any convincing and testable explanation for it. Sheldrake ends up propounding a theory about a thus far undetected energy pattern he calls a “morphic field,” which he thinks might exist among people and animals who have very strong emotional bonds.

The inherent problem here is that while science raises questions, book-readers and publishers demand answers. Sheldrake, as a scientist, has confirmed the validity of a perplexing question, for which as yet there are no scientifically credible answers.

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