On the day of my job interview for Outdoor Dog Adventures, I was asked to elaborate on some items on my resume. I explained that my experience as an educator; visitor services and volunteer coordinator; event planner; and, of course, animal husbandry experience from working on a historic farm would all serve me well as a professional dog walker. Then Mary mentioned one obscure reference in my list of achievements. For many years, I have been a NOAA certified weather spotter. It’s always exciting to me to be able to report weather observances to the local office and toss around trivial knowledge about weather phenomena. But could this offbeat aspect of my background translate into utility in this new job? The answer is a resounding yes!
Although I am an animal lover, I have never studied canine behavior on an academic level. I have recently done quite a bit of exploration and found that some of the best predictors of the weather may be our own pups. While many attribute changes in behavior to a “sixth sense,” there are actually scientific explanations for these reactions.
Most owners are are aware of their dogs’ keen sense of smell, which some experts say is more sensitive than a mass spectrometer.
Much like people often remark that it “smells like rain,” dogs may actually be able to detect chemical odors, such as lighting ionizing the air with the formation of ozone, due to an impending storm. Canine hearing is about twenty times more sensitive than ours. Not only can dogs hear sounds and feel vibrations long before you do, but also more acutely. Thus, dogs often whimper, shake, urinate, hide, or are destructive when thunder is in close proximity. This is also true of loud noises, such as fireworks or explosives. Even the most festive celebration can be torture for dogs and many often run away on the Fourth of July and other holidays.
Dogs may also be able to instinctively recognize a storm brewing, similar to how humans “feel it in their bones.”
Dogs are sensitive to changes in barometric pressure and the static electric field, signaling conditions ripe for a storm. This is especially true for hurricanes and the quickly changing climate before a tornado. Historians have also noted that, since ancient times, records show humans observed dogs showing signs of distress before major earthquakes. Seismologists believe they may be able to sense the electrical signal produced by the movement of rocks beneath the earth. Though a dog’s vision is also limited compared to humans, they may also be able to recognize the darkening of clouds, indicating a storm is imminent.
By knowing that a dog’s senses are more sensitive than ours, we can more easily interpret their behavior as indicating changes in the weather. Once we can ascertain which weather phenomena dogs are predicting, we can better understand their reactions and how we can best prepare them for future weather events. Whether you live in Hurricane Alley, are prone to tornadoes, or often feel the earth move under your feet, you could benefit from paying close attention to your dog’s behavior. They could be warning you that danger is on the horizon.