A Psychic Dog?

Terriers

[Photo by K iwi]

Back in 1994 a television company claimed a dog called ‘Jaytee’ could psychically sense when its owner returned home. And they had some evidence to back up their claim.

One TV crew was sent out with Jaytee’s owner while she walked around her home town and the other stayed at home with Jaytee. The cameras showed that just as the dog’s owner turned to go home, Jaytee got up and went to the porch and remained there until she returned.

Perhaps this dog really was psychic.

Professor Richard Wiseman, our resident king of weird psychology studies, though, thought there were a number of alternative explanations (Wiseman, Smith & Milton, 1998). Could it be that Jaytee was responding to:

  • Routine – has the dog learnt its owner’s routine?
  • Can the dog smell its owner at a distance?
  • Is the dog picking up cues from those it is with?
  • Does the dog just keep guessing, hoping it will get it right once, just like someone performing a ‘cold reading‘?

There’s only one way to be sure:

Proper experiments

In four experiments carried out in 1995, Wiseman and colleagues set about testing Jaytee’s abilities using the strictest controls:

  • Jaytee’s owner’s return was randomly controlled by the random number generator on a Casio calculator.
  • No one in the home was aware at what time Jaytee’s owner would return.
  • Jaytee’s behaviour was videotaped.
  • Jaytee’s owner was not permitted to travel in her own car to avoid the possibility the dog could identify the engine approaching.
  • The indication of psychic ability – a trip to the porch – was only considered successful if made within 10 minutes of Jaytee’s owner’s return.
  • An independent judge viewed the tape of Jaytee’s behaviour to decide if Jaytee was visiting the porch for some other reason – such as to stare at a passing cat.

Unfortunately for Jaytee with the experimental safeguards in place all four trials were a bust for the briefly famous dog. It seemed Jaytee didn’t have a clue when his owner was coming home.

Attempts to reanalyse the results of the TV company’s experiment were also unsuccessful as the tapes of Jaytee’s behaviour had been lost.

It seems the investigation of canine psychic abilities follows exactly the same story arc as similar investigations into humans. Initial excitement and media interest is soon dampened by those plodding killjoys: scientists. Determined, as they are to wring all mystery out of the universe.

And thank goodness for that!

Reference

Wiseman, R., Smith, M., & Milton, J. (1998). Can animals detect when their owners are returning home? An experimental test of the’psychic pet’phenomenon. Br J Psychol, 89(Pt 3), 453-62.

About the author


Dr Jeremy Dean is a psychologist and the author of PsyBlog. His latest book is "Making Habits, Breaking Habits: How to Make Changes That Stick". You can follow PsyBlog by email, by RSS feed, on Twitter and Google+.

Published: 16 November 2007

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