Testing a Return-Anticipating Dog, Kane
Anthrozo÷s, 13(4), 2000
by Rupert Sheldrake and Pamela Smart
Many dog owners claim that their dogs know when they are coming
home, as shown by their waiting at doors, windows or gates
(Sheldrake 1994, 1999a). In random household surveys in Britain
(Sheldrake and Smart 1997; Sheldrake et al. 1998) and the United
States (Brown and Sheldrake 1998) an average of 48 percent of the
dog owners said their animal anticipated the return of a member of
the household. A fifth of these dogs were said to show their
anticipation more than ten minutes in advance. Many dog owners claim
that this behavior occurs even when the person returns at an unusual
time and when the people at home do not know when they are returning
(Sheldrake 1999a). Similar anticipations of people's returns have
also been reported in cats, horses, parrots, geese and several other
domesticated species (Sheldrake and Smart 1997; Brown and Sheldrake
1998; Sheldrake et al. 1998; Sheldrake 1999a).
Nothing is known about the function or the evolutionary origins
of this behavior.
Although such claims are common, they are generally dismissed as
anecdotal, or treated as the products of selective memory or wishful
thinking on the part of pet owners. But almost no research has been
carried out on this subject. What if some companion animals really
do show anticipatory behavior before their owners return? Could this
be explained as a response to routine, or to clues from people at
home, or to the sound of familiar footsteps or vehicles, or because
of a tendency to go to the window for reasons unconnected with the
owner's imminent return?
In more than 200 trials with a dog called Jaytee, it was found
that on 80 percent of the occasions when his owner went out, the dog
anticipated her return by going to wait for her at a window
(Sheldrake and Smart 1998; 2000). Jaytee usually began to wait just
before the time she set off, to come home. Her journeys lasted more
than ten minutes and were from places more than nine km away. He
still anticipated her returns when no one at home knew when she
would be coming, and when she travelled in unfamiliar vehicles such
as taxis (Sheldrake and Smart 1998). He also anticipated her returns
when he was left on his own (Sheldrake and Smart 2000).
In a series of 12 videotaped trials in which his owner returned
at randomly-selected times, communicated to her by means of a
telephone pager, Jaytee was at the window, on average, four percent
of the time during the main period of his owner's absence and for 55
percent of the time when she was on her way home (Sheldrake and
Smart 2000). This effect was highly significant statistically
The same dog was tested independently in four separate trials by
skeptics, who claimed that the dog had failed to signal his owner's
return (Wiseman et al. 1998). But their claim depended on an
arbitrary criterion based on two minutes of the dog's behavior,
rather than taking into account all the data. When their published
data were plotted on graphs , they showed the same pattern as has
been reported previously (Sheldrake 1999b). In their trials, during
the first ten minutes of his owner's return journey Jaytee was at
the window for an average of 78 percent of the time, compared with
four percent of the time during the main period of her absence, and
this difference was statistically significant (p=0.02) (Sheldrake
and Smart 2000). For further discussion of these results, see
Sheldrake (2000) and Wiseman et al. (2000).
The data collected on Jaytee showed that his anticipations could
not be explained in terms of routine, because he still anticipated
his owner's return when she came at non-routine, randomly-selected
times. In addition, his responses could not be explained in terms of
picking up cues from people at home, because they did not know when
his owner would be returning. Jaytee also reacted when he was alone.
Nor could his anticipations be explained in terms of smell or
hearing, because he began to wait by the window when his owner was
more than nine km away, and did so even when she was travelling in
unfamiliar vehicles (Sheldrake and Smart 2000).
In view of the wide-ranging implications of these studies with
Jaytee, it seemed important to find out if the same kind of behavior
could be observed in other dogs. Could these results be replicated
with a different dog and a different owner? The purpose of this
study was to determine just that.
Dog, Owner and Environment
A suitable dog for study was located by publishing an appeal in a
local newspaper expressing an interest in carrying out experiments
with dogs that seemed to know when their owners were coming home.
The owner of a male Rhodesian ridgeback (Kane, 18-months-old),
responded. Kane's owner, Sarah Hamlett (SH), a student, lived in
Middleton, a town in Greater Manchester, England with her partner,
Jason Hopwood (JH). Several months prior to the study, JH noticed
that Kane seemed to know when SH was coming home. The dog would look
out of a window when SH was on her way home, standing on his hind
legs with his front paws resting on a table in front of the window.
The window that Kane looked out of overlooked the road on which SH
approached their ground-floor flat, but the road was partially
obscured by a hedge, and approaching cars were visible only when
they were less than 100 m away.
Most of the time that SH was out, her partner JH was in the flat,
but on some occasions (noted below) he too went out.
In addition to Kane, there was also a female Rhodesian ridgeback
puppy called Kirah living in the flat, unrelated to Kane. This puppy
was 14-weeks-old at the time our trials began in July 1998, and had
little or no influence on Kane's visits to the window.
A series of ten pre-planned trials was conducted from
July-October, 1998. For these trials SH travelled at least eight km
by car, and while she was away from home the area by the window was
filmed continuously on time-coded videotape by a camera mounted on a
tripod. Using a long-play tape and with the camera in the long-play
mode, up to four hours of continuous recording were possible without
anyone needing to attend to the camera. The camera was set up and
switched on by one of us (PS), sometimes just before SH set off, and
sometimes after she had left the house. Having set up the camera and
switched it on, PS left the house and did not return until the
experiment was over. The owner herself noted down the time at which
she set off on her homeward journey. She travelled in her own car,
and switched off the camera soon after her return.
In the trials, SH came home at non-routine times from a variety
of places more than eight km from her home. As a student, she had to
attend college at different times of day, and also went to visit her
horse, work in her father's shop and do voluntary work in a several
veterinary clinics. SH did not tell either PS or JH when she would
be returning; indeed she herself did not usually know in advance.
In three of the trials SH set off at times randomly selected by
PS after the experiment had begun and communicated to her by means
of a telephone pager. PS was 14 km away from SH's house when she
selected the return times. These times were within a prearranged
period (60 minutes long), which was divided into six equal
intervals; one of these was selected at random by throwing a die,
and a bleep on the pager was given by PS to SH at the beginning of
The details of the individual trials were as follows:
Returns at non-routine times
1. July 21. SH left home at noon and drove 9.5 km. PS set up the
camera and started recording at 14:49 hours. (JH went out at 15:15
hours and returned at 16:08 hours.) SH set off to go home at 17:10
hours and arrived at 17:29 hours.
2. July 29. SH left home at 12:29 hours, when the camera was
already switched on. Drove 11 km. Set off to go home at 14:50 hours
and arrived at 15:13 hours.
3. August 12. SH left home at 11:01 hours when the camera was
already switched. Drove 8 km. Set off to go home at 13:31 hours and
arrived at 13:50 hours.
4. August 26. SH left home before noon and drove 9.5 km.. PS set
up the camera at 14:01 hours. (JH went out at 15:25 hours and
returned at 16:20 hours.) SH set off to go home at 16:49 hours and
arrived at 17:12 hours.
5. September 3. SH left home at 10:45 hours and drove 9.5 km. JH
set up the camera at 11:14 hours. She set off to go home at 13:29
hours and arrived at 13:43 hours.
6. September 22. SH left home at 09:50 hours and drove 11 km. PS
set up the camera at 10:10 hours. Set off to go home at 13:15 hours
and arrived at 13:27 hours.
7. October 7. SH left home before 11:25 hours and drove 27 km. PS
set up the camera at 11:48 hours. She set off to go home at 14:10
hours and arrived at 14:53 hours.
Returns at randomly-selected times
1. September 10. SH set off at 10:16 hours when the camera was
already switched on and drove 8 km. She was carrying a telephone
pager and was told that PS would bleep her at a randomly-selected
time between 12:00 and 13:00 hours. PS paged her at 12:20 hours and
she set off at 12:23 hours, arriving at 12:34 hours.
2. September 17. SH set off at 10:28 hours when the camera was
already switched on and drove 8 km. She was carrying a telephone
pager and told that PS would page her at a randomly-selected time
between 12:00 and 13:00 hours. PS paged her at 12:50 hours and she
set off at 12:51 hours, arriving at 13:04 hours.
3. September 30. SH left home at 1029 hours when the camera was
already switched on and drove 10 km. She was carrying a telephone
pager and told that PS would bleep her at a randomly-selected time
between 12:00 and 13:00 hours. PS paged her at 12:30 hours and she
set off at 12:31 hours, arriving at 12:45 hours.
The analysis of the videotapes was carried out "blind" by an
independent rater, Dr Amanda Jacks (AJ), who did not know when SH
set off to come home or other details of the trials. The videotapes
were viewed in the fast-forward mode for the long intervals in which
Kane was not at the window. When he was seen going to the window,
the tapes were rewound so that his movements could be studied in
detail. His movements were recorded by writing down the exact times
(to the nearest second) when he was standing with his front paws on
the table by the window, and the exact times at which he left the
window at the end of each visit. This pattern of behavior was
distinctive and unambiguous (Fig. 1). At other times he did not stay
near the window; he was usually either out of the field of view of
the camera, or lying on a sofa (Fig. 1). The videotapes were also
analyzed independently by PS; her scores agreed very well with those
of AJ, showing occasional differences of only a second or two. The
overall difference between the scores from the two scorers was only
0.6 percent. However, only AJ's scores were used in the compilation
of the results shown below.
Two pre-planned methods of analyzing the data, as in our previous
study (Sheldrake and Smart 2000), were used. First, for each trial,
the percentage of the time that Kane spent by the window was
calculated for three periods:
1. The first ten minutes after SH was paged, when she was on her
way home (the "return period"). All homeward journeys lasted at
least 11 minutes, counting from the time that SH set off by car.
Thus, Kane's reactions in the last one or more minutes of SH's
journey were omitted from the analysis in case he could have been
responding to the sounds of her car approaching. In two cases where
the journey time lasted for more than 23 minutes but less than 33
minutes, the percentage of time for the combined first and second
tenminute periods of the return journey was also calculated, and
similarly in the case where the journey time was over 43 minutes,
the percentage of time for the combined four ten-minute return
periods was calculated. In separate analyses, the results were also
analyzed by including only the first or the last of the ten-minute
periods during her homeward journey.
Figure 1. Pictures from the videotape of the trial
conducted on July 29. Above: Kane lying on the sofa five minutes
before SH set off to come home. Below: Kane at the window five
minutes after SH set off homewards, 18 minutes before she arrived.
2.The ten-minute period prior to SH's return (the "pre-return
3.The time when SH was absent prior to the pre-return period (the
"main period"). Because the trials varied in length, the length of
the main period recorded on videotape ranged between 120 and 180
minutes. (In some cases, as noted above, recording began after SH
had left home, and the behavior of Kane before the recording began
is of necessity omitted from this analysis.)
The percentages of the time that Kane spent by the window in
these three periods, the main period, the pre-return and the return
period, were analyzed statistically by a repeated-measures analysis
of variance (ANOVA), and comparisons of pairs of periods were made
using the paired-sample t test.
Figure 2. Mean percentage of time spent at the window by
Kane during the main period of SH's absence, during the ten minutes
prior to her setting off to come home ("pre-return") and during her
homeward journey ("return"). Standard errors are indicated by bars.
The second method of analyzing the data also involved ten-minute
return periods, but the main period was also divided up into
ten-minute intervals, defined in relation to the time at which SH
set off to come home. The total number of seconds that Kane spent by
the window in each of these ten-minute periods was then plotted on
graphs, so that the pattern of his behavior could be examined in
detail. In five trials, SH departed before the camera was switched
on, and hence the first part of her absence was not recorded. The
periods were numbered from the time she left home, but the points on
the graphs (see Results) begin only when the recording began, namely
at period 3 on Sept 22 and Oct 7, at period 4 on Sept 3 and Sept 10
and at period 18 on July 21.
Kane's visits to the window were unmistakable and unambiguous. He
stood with his forelegs resting on the table so that he could see
out (Fig. 1) and he was clearly alert and attentive. When he was not
at the window, he was either out of the field of view of the camera,
or resting or sleeping on the sofa. The detailed records of Kane's
visits to the window are shown in Appendix 1.
Kane spent a significantly higher proportion of the time at the
window when SH was on her way home than when she was not
F(2,18)=14.51, p=0.0002). By the paired-sample t test, comparing the
main period and return period, the difference was also strikingly
significant (t(9)=3.85, p=0.004). During the main period of SH's
absence, Kane was at the window an average of only 1% of the time.
By contrast, he was there for 26% of the time during the return
period (Fig. 2). He did not go to the window at all during the
ten-minute pre-return period.
In addition, we analyzed the data in two alternative ways. In two
trials, the return period consisted of two ten-minute periods, and
in one trial there were four ten-minute periods. When there was more
than one tenminute period while SH was returning, instead of
calculating the average over all tenminute periods during her return
journey, as in the analysis above, we took into account only the
first or the last ten-minute return period. (For seven of the trials
there was only a single ten-minute return period, and so this period
counted as both first and last, and was included in both alternative
Taking into account only the last tenminute return period, Kane
was at the window an average of 29 percent of the time, compared
with 26 percent of the time when all ten-minute return periods were
included, and the significance was greater (repeatedmeasures ANOVA
F(2,18)=17.63; p<0.0001; paired-sample t test, t(9)=4.22,
p=0.002). With only the first ten-minute return period, Kane was at
the window an average of 22 percent of the time (F(2,18)=12.66;
p=0.0004; paired-sample t test, t(9)=3.60, p=0.006).
The detailed time courses of the individual trials are shown in
Fig. 3. The general pattern is clear. In nine out of ten trials,
Kane was at the window most while SH was on her way home. The
exception was a trial (on September 17) in which he did not go to
the window at all.
In three trials, on July 21, August 26 and September 10, Kane
went to the window for 100 seconds or more when SH was not coming
home. Were these false alarms, or was there some other explanation?
On July 21, during period 22, SH's partner JH went out, and Kane
appeared to be watching him leave. In period 25, JH returned, and
Kane went to the window when he was approaching the house. On August
26, Kane's visits to the window again took place when JH went out
and was coming back. On September 10, there were unusual loud noises
outdoors when Kane went to the window, as if to see what was
happening. Therefore none of these visits appear to have been false
alarms, and all had obvious alternative explanations. By contrast,
there were no such local explanations for Kane's visits to the
window when SH was on her homeward journeys.
In three trials, on September 10, 17 and 30, SH was paged to come
home at randomly-selected times not known to her in advance, and of
which her partner was unaware. In one of these trials, Kane did not
go to the window at all, but in the other two he went there while
she was returning, just as he did in the other trials when she
returned at nonroutine times of her own choosing (Fig. 3).
Another way of looking at the data is to compare the number of
10-minute periods in which Kane paid a visit to the window when SH
was not returning with those in which she was. Taking all ten trials
together, there were 133 ten-minute periods before SH set off to
come home, and 15 while she was returning. Kane visited the window
in 13 out of 133 periods when she was not returning (9.7%), and 11
out of 15 when she was (73.3%). This again shows that his visits to
the window did not take place at random, but occurred with a far
higher frequency when SH was on her way home than when she was not.
The contrast between Kane's behavior when his owner was and was
not coming home was even more striking when the number of distinct
visits to the window was taken into account. Before SH set off to
come home, there were 16 visits in 133 periods; when she was
returning there were 24 visits in 15 periods, giving averages of
0.13 and 1.60 visits per period, respectively.
One conceivable explanation for Kane being at the window when SH
was coming home would be that he simply went to the window more and
more the longer SH was out. If his behavior followed this pattern,
then he would automatically be at the window most in the final
periods, when she was coming home. An inspection of the graphs in
Figure 3 shows that there was indeed a tendency for Kane to spend a
higher proportion of the time at the window when SH was on her way
home after longer absences than after shorter ones.
With the exception of the trial on July 29, in the shorter trials
Kane tended to spend less time at the window during her returns,
while in the longer trials he spent more time at the window during
her returns. Why should this be so? One obvious explanation is that
animals are often more excited and show more eager signs of
anticipation the longer their owners have been away. With very short
absences, they may hardly react at all.
Nevertheless, a skeptic might argue that Kane's tendency to spend
more time at the window the longer that SH was absent supported a
"going-to-the-window-more-and-more" hypothesis. However, an
inspection of the graphs in Fig. 3 does not support this idea.
Although he tended to spend longer at the window when SH was on
her way home after a long rather than a short absence, Kane did not
show an increasing tendency to go to the window more and more prior
to her return the longer SH was out. In the "prereturn" ten-minute
period he did not visit the window in any of the trials (Fig. 2) and
indeed he did not visit the window in any of the trials in the three
ten-minute periods prior to SH's return (Fig. 3). If he went to the
window more and more the longer she was out, he should be there for
an increasing proportion of the time in the periods just before she
set off to come home. This is not what happened.
Figure 3. The time courses of all ten trials. The ordinate
shows the total number of seconds that Kane spent at the window in
each ten-minute period; the abscissa shows the series of ten-minute
periods, defined in relation to the time at which SH set off to come
home. In three trials, on 10,17 and 30 September, SH was paged to
come home at randomly selected times. The "window" in which she
could have been paged is indicated by a line with two arrowheads.
The points for the ten-minute periods during which SH was returning
are indicated by filled circles (- Ľ- ).
Figure 4. Combined data from all ten trials showing the
mean time per ten-minute period that Kane spent at the window during
the two hours before SH set off to go home (Groups 1 to 4) and
during her return period (Group 5). Group 1 consists of the periods
from 120 to 90 minutes before SH set off homewards; Group 2, 90 to
60 minutes; Group 3, 60 to 30 minutes; Group 4, 30 to 0 minutes.
In order to test this possibility more rigorously, for each trial
we took the 12 periods prior to SH setting off and divided them into
4 groups of three periods each. A fifth group consisted of the
return periods. Fig. 4 shows the average number of seconds Kane
spent at the window in these five groups. There was no tendency for
him to visit the window more and more as time went on.
Another possible explanation for Kane being at the window most
when SH was on the way home would be that he habitually went there
at a particular time of day, and that SH's returns happened to
coincide with this time. To test this theory, in Fig. 5 we have
plotted the total time that Kane spent at the window at different
times of day, summed over all ten trials. There was no regular
time-of-day pattern. A comparison of Fig. 5 with Fig. 3 confirms
that Kane's visits to the window were not a matter of routine, but
were primarily related to his owner's homeward journeys.
Figure 5. The total amount of time Kane spent at the
window at different times of day, summed over all ten trials.
Kane's anticipatory behavior was clear. In nine trials out of ten
he went to look out of the window when his owner was on her way
home. On most of the occasions on which he went to look out of the
window when she was not coming home, there seemed to be a clear
external reason, namely the going out and returning of SH's partner,
or loud noises outdoors. But even including these visits to the
window that clearly had nothing to do with his anticipation of SH's
return, he spent a far higher proportion of the time at the window
when she was on the way home than when she was not, and this effect
was highly significant statistically.
Kane's visits to the window when his owner was on the way home
cannot be explained in terms of his going to the window more and
more as time went on; he did not do this. In all ten trials, he did
not make a single visit to the window in the 30 minutes prior to SH
setting off to go home. Nor can his behavior be explained in terms
of a habitual tendency to go to the window at a particular time of
day. These results establish that Kane really did anticipate his
Kane's pattern of behavior differed from that observed in the
study of another returnanticipating dog, Jaycee, in that his waiting
by the window began only when his owner was actually on her homeward
journey, whereas Jaytee's reactions usually began while his owner
was planning to do so, i.e. shortly before his owner set off
(Sheldrake and Smart 2000). A review of more than 500 case histories
of return-anticipating dogs has revealed that there are several
different patterns of response: some dogs begin waiting shortly
before their owner sets off, like Jaytee; others start waiting only
after the owner has set off, like Kane; and others respond only a
few minutes before the owner arrives home (Sheldrake 1999a).
Granted that Kane was able to anticipate his owner's returns at
non-routine and randomly-selected times, how might this be
explained? Could he have heard or smelled her coming? This is highly
implausible since his looking out of the window began when his owner
was more than 7 km away. To detect the sound of a particular car at
this distance in the busy conurbation of Greater Manchester, or to
detect its smell, irrespective of the wind direction, would far
exceed the known sensory capacities of dogs (Sheldrake 1999a).
Although experiments in which SH travelled by taxi were not carried
out, it was established in the study of Jaytee that anticipations
still occurred when the owner was travelling in unfamiliar vehicles
(Sheldrake and Smart 1998, 2000).
Although SH did not return at routine times, did she return after
a predictable time had elapsed, and could Kane have responded to
such a pattern? This is implausible because SH's absences ranged
from 130 to 330 minutes and did not follow a predictable pattern.
Nor was Kane habitually waiting at the window at a particular time
Could Kane have picked up clues from SH's partner? Very unlikely.
JH did not know when she was coming home, and he could not have
guessed when she was being paged at randomly-selected times. Or
perhaps JH somehow knew unconsciously by telepathy when SH was
coming home, and then unconsciously communicated his anticipation to
Kane. This is an unattractively convoluted explanation. Many other
people, like JH, claim that the dog alerts them to an impending
return of an absent member of the household even at unexpected times
(Sheldrake 1999a). If they were picking up this information
telepathically and somehow transferring it to the dog by subtle
cues, then we would have to assume that somehow dogs brought to
consciousness human telepathic abilities which were otherwise
unconscious and detectable only in the presence of dogs or other
domestic animals. There is no evidence for this hypothesis, and it
goes against many owners' own interpretation of what is going on,
namely that the dog is alerting them to an impending return, rather
than vice versa.
If the possibility of telepathy is admitted, then the simplest
and most straightforward explanation is that the dogs themselves are
responding to their owners directly. In the present case, the
hypothesis that best fits the facts is that Kane himself responded
telepathically to his owner's thoughts and intentions when she was
on the way home. The problem with this suggestion is that some
people reject the very possibility of telepathy on theoretical
grounds (e.g. Humphrey 1995). And even among those who regard the
existence of telepathy as a question to be answered empirically
rather than theoretically, no one knows how it might work.
Nevertheless, there is already much empirical evidence for
person-to-person telepathy (for a review and meta-analysis of
experimental research, see Radin 1997) and also for person-to-animal
telepathy (reviewed by Sheldrake 1999a).
Anticipations of the arrival of a member of the household occur
in a variety of other domesticated species (Sheldrake and Smart
1997; Brown and Sheldrake 1998; Sheldrake et al. 1998; Sheldrake
1999a). But so far there has been ractically no experimental
research on this behavior except in dogs. Nor does anything seem to
be known about return-anticipation in the wild. Much remains to be
We are grateful to Sarah Hamlett and Jason Hopwood for their
invaluable help in this research, and to Dr Amanda Jacks for
analyzing the videotapes. This work was supported by the Institute
of Noetic Sciences, Sausalito, California, the Lifebridge
Foundation, New York and the Bial Foundation, Portugal.
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