Dear Dr. LaFarge, I read an article citing you on The Huffington Post about dogs picking up early warnings of earthquakes and thunderstorms: "A sixth sense is something we can't explain but we tend to trust. It's a matter of belief and faith."
Is it a sixth sense, a matter of faith, or a matter of science? We recently learned that much elephant communication is conducted at sonic levels that humans can't hear. (Recordings taken in the presence of elephants were slowed down to reveal low-frequency sounds.) We know dogs hear things we can't. Hearing is vibration, so to me, dogs who anticipate an earthquake or a storm are feeling vibrations we can't feel, but only because we lack the detection system.
I think this might be an important distinction from a "sixth sense," because that's ascribing it to something otherworldly. It makes it sound inexplicable when it's simply science—whether my vibration theory is correct or it's something else—much like science explains dogs’ superior sense of smell.
Jeff, thank you for your expert feedback! I agree completely with your suggestion that it is very important to distinguish between animal behaviors that we can account for scientifically and other behaviors that we can't. The article merges these all together, which was not my intention.
An animal's warning of earthquakes and severe weather are things we can understand. But we do not have a scientific explanation for animals appearing to know about events beyond their sensory abilities, such as the death of someone at a great distance. Since many pet parents are convinced these things actually happen, they are matters of belief or faith until we can understand them scientifically.
- Dr. LaFarge