In the late 1980s and early 1990s I explored a variety of experimental approaches for the investigation of unexplained phenomena that might help to enlarge our scientific view of the world, summarised in my book Seven Experiments That Could Change the World: A Do-It-Yourself Guide to Revolutionary Science (1994).
One of the seven experiments concerned unexplained abilities of animals, and I published a series of papers on the unexplained powers of animals, (see papers below). I summarised much of this research in my book Dogs That Know When Their Owners Are Coming Home, And Other Unexplained Powers of Animals. A fully revised and updated edition of this book was published in the US in 2011 (Three Rivers Press, New York). You can see a video of an experiment with Jaytee, a dog who knew when his owner was coming home.
My research with Aimée Morgana into the telepathic powers of her African Grey Parrot, Nkisi, led to the celebrated debate at the London RSA with Prof Lewis Wolpert, which is featured on this website: The Telepathy Debate. More information is available on Nkisi, including a tape of one of his conversations with Aimée in The Nkisi project .
Scientific Papers on Animal Powers
Many animals escaped the great Asian tsunami on Boxing Day, 2004. Elephants in Sri Lanka and Sumatra moved to high ground before the giant waves struck; they did they same in Thailand, trumpeting before they did so. How did they know? The usual speculation is that the animals picked up tremors caused by the under-sea earthquake. This explanation seems to me unconvincing.
Aimée Morgana noticed that her language-using African Grey parrot, N'kisi, often seemed to respond to her thoughts and intentions in a seemingly telepathic manner. We set up a series of trials to test whether this apparent telepathic ability would be expressed in formal tests in which Aimée and the parrot were in different rooms, on different floors, under conditions in which the parrot could receive no sensory information from Aimée or from anyone else.
During these trials Aimée and the parrot were both videotaped continuously. At the beginning of each trial, Aimée opened a numbered sealed envelope containing a photograph, and then looked at it for two minutes. These photographs corresponded to a prespecified list of key words in N'kisi's vocabulary, and were selected and randomized in advance by a third party. We conducted a total of 149 two-minute trials. The recordings of N'kisi during these trials were transcribed blind by three independent transcribers. Their transcripts were generally in good agreement. Using a majority scoring method, in which at least two of the three transcribers were in agreement, N'kisi said one or more of the key words in 71 trials. He scored 23 hits: the key words he said corresponded to the target pictures.
In a Randomized Permutation Analysis (RPA), there were as many or more hits than N'kisi actually scored in only 5 out of 20,000 random permutations, giving a p value of 5/20,000 or 0.00025. In a Bootstrap Resampling Analysis (BRA), only 4 out of 20,000 permutations equalled or exceeded N'kisi's actual score (p = 0.0002). Both by the RPA and BRA the mean number of hits expected by chance was 12, with a standard deviation of 3. N'kisi repeated key words more when they were hits than when they were misses. These findings are consistent with the hypothesis that N'kisi was reacting telepathically to Aimée's mental activity.
Many dog owners claim that their animals know when a member of the household is about to come home, showing their anticipation by waiting at a door or window. We have investigated such a dog, called Jaytee, in more than 100 videotaped experiments. His owner, Pam Smart (PS) traveled at least 7 km away from home while the place where the dog usually waited for her was filmed continuously. The time-coded videotapes were scored "blind". In experiments in which PS returned at randomly-selected times, Jaytee was at the window 4 per cent of the time during the main period of her absence and 55 percent of the time when she was returning (p<0.0001). Jaytee showed a similar pattern of behavior in experiments conducted independently by Wiseman, Smith & Milton (1998). When PS returned at non-routine times of her own choosing, Jaytee also spent very significantly more time at the window when she was on her way home. His anticipatory behaviour usually began shortly before she set off. Jaytee also anticipated PS's return when he was left at PS's sister's house or alone in PS's flat. In control experiments, when PS was not returning, Jaytee did not wait at the window more and more as time went on. Possible explanations for Jaytee's behavior are discussed. We conclude that the dog's anticipation may have depended on a telepathic influence from his owner.
Many dog owners claim that their animals know when a member of the household is coming home, typically showing their anticipation by waiting at a door or window. In previous trials with a dog called Jaytee, recorded on videotape, it was found that he anticipated his owner's arrival more than ten minutes in advance, even when she was returning in unfamiliar vehicles such as taxis, when the people at home did not know when to expect her, and when she set off at randomly-selected times. This paper describes the results of a pre-planned series of ten videotaped trials with a dog called Kane, a Rhodesian ridgeback, who was said to wait by a window while his owner was on the way home. The window-area was filmed continuously while the dog's owner went to places more than 8 km away and came home at a variety of non-routine times, some of which were selected at random and communicated to her by a telephone pager. The time-coded videotapes were scored blind by a third party. In nine out of ten trials Kane spent most time at the window when his owner was on the way home. On average he was at the window 26 percent of the time while she was returning, and only one percent of the time throughout the rest of her absence. This difference was highly significant statistically. Possible explanations for this behavior are discussed.
This is part of an exchange between Sheldrake and Wiseman. For the complete picture see: Richard Wiseman's claim to have debunked "the psychic pet phenomenon"
In the January issue of the Journal Richard Wiseman, Matthew Smith & Julie Milton published a reply to my note (Sheldrake, 1999a) about their claim to have refuted the "psychic pet" phenomenon. This claim was made in the British Journal of Psychology (Wiseman, Smith & Milton, 1998) and widely publicized in the media. It was repeated as recently as February 2 this year in a presentation given by the first author at the Royal Institution entitled "Investigating the Paranormal".
At my invitation, Wiseman and Smith carried out 4 videotaped experiments with a dog called Jaytee, with whom I have carried out more than 100 videotaped experiments (Sheldrake, 1999b). My experiments showed that Jaytee usually waited by the window for a far higher proportion of the time when his owner was coming home than when she was not. This occurred even when his owner, Pam Smart, came at non-routine, randomly-selected times and travelled by unfamiliar vehicles such as taxis. This pattern was already clearly apparent months before Wiseman et al. carried out their tests.
In the 3 experiments that Wiseman and Smith carried out at Pam's parents' flat, the pattern of results was very similar to my own. Their data show a large and statistically significant effect: Jaytee spent a far higher proportion of time at the window when Pam was on the way home than when she was not (Sheldrake, 1999a).
This is part of an exchange between Sheldrake and Wiseman. For the complete picture see: Richard Wiseman's claim to have debunked "the psychic pet phenomenon"
In August 1998 the British Journal of Psychology published a paper entitled 'Can animals detect when their owners are returning home? An experimental test of the "psychic pet" phenomenon' by Richard Wiseman, Matthew Smith and Julie Milton. This paper was widely publicized thanks to a media release issued by the Press Office of the British Psychological Society. The sceptical tone of this announcement, entitled 'Mystic dog fails to give scientists a lead', was reflected in the ensuing newspaper reports: 'Pets have no sixth sense, say scientists' (The Independent , Aug 21); '"Psychic" dog is no more than a chancer' (The Times , Aug 21); 'Psychic pets are exposed as a myth' (The Daily Telegraph , Aug 22). The wire services reported the story world-wide.
Together with Pamela Smart, I have carried out over 200 experiments with the dog in question, called Jaytee. The four experiments that form the basis of the paper by Wiseman and his colleagues were carried out at my invitation (and with the loan of my video equipment). I would like to take this opportunity of putting into context their paper and the publicity it excited.
In 1991, Pamela Smart's (PS) parents first noticed that her dog, Jaytee, seemed to anticipate her return, apparently waiting for her at the window, beginning around the time she was setting off to come home. In May 1994, PS and her parents began to keep notes on her journeys and Jaytee's reactions. In this paper we describe the results of 96 such sets of observations made between May 1994 and February 1995, on which she went up to 51 kms away from home. Jaytee reacted 10 minutes or more in advance of PS's return on 82 occasions, and showed no anticipatory reaction on 14. There was a highly significant correlation between the time at which the dog reacted and the time at which PS set off homewards. Jaytee's reactions did not seem to be attenuated by PS's distance. In some additional experiments, his reactions occurred on 4 out of 5 occasions when PS travelled by unfamiliar means, for example in taxis. He also reacted on 4 out of 4 occasions when she set off home at randomly selected times. In one of these experiments, both Jaytee's reactions and PS's movements were recorded on videotape, and showed that the dog reacted 11 seconds after PS was told to go home at a randomly selected time previously unknown to her. The evidence suggests that Jaytee's reactions depended on an influence from his owner detected by the dog in a manner currently unknown to science.
A survey was carried out by telephone in London to find out how any pet owners had observed seemingly telepathic abilities in their pets. 52% of dog owners claimed that their animals knew in advance when a member of the household was on the way home, compared with 24% of cat owners. Of the animals that reacted, 21% of dogs and 19% of cats were said to do so more than 10 minutes before the person's return. 73% of dog owners and 52% of cat owners said their pets knew when the owners were going out before they showed any signs of doing so. 43% of dog owners and 41% of cat owners said their pets responded to their thoughts or silent commands; and 57% of dog owners and 37% of cat owners said their pets were sometimes telepathic with them. 46% of people with pets now and 37% of people without pets now said that they had known pets in the past that were telepathic. 39% of those with pets now and 38% of those currently without pets said they themselves had had psychic experiences. But significantly fewer of those who had never kept pets had had psychic experiences themselves. The results of this survey are compared with two similar surveys in North-West England and in California. The general pattern was remarkably similar in these three very different locations, and shows that seemingly telepathic abilities in pets are common. In all locations dogs were more responsive than cats to their owners' thoughts and intentions. The potential for experimental investigations of these abilities is discussed.
A telephone survey of 200 households was carried out in North-West California to find out how many pet owners claim to have observed seemingly psychic abilities in their animals. 132 of the households surveyed had pets. 45% of dog owners claimed their animal knew in advance when a member of the household was on the way home, compared with 31% of cat owners, and around 20% of these animals were said to react more than 10 minutes in advance. 65% of dog owners and 37% of cat owners said their pets knew that they were going out before they showed any physical signs of doing so. 46% of dog owners and 41% of cat owners said that their pet responded to their thoughts or silent commands, and 42% of dog owners and 34% of cat owners said that their pet was sometimes telepathic with them. 49% of pet owners and 31% of non-pet owners said that some of the animals that they had known in the past were telepathic. Significantly more pet owners claimed to have had psychic experiences themselves than non-pet owners, and a significantly higher proportion of 'psychic' pet owners claimed that their pets exhibited psychic powers than 'non-psychic' owners. These findings are in general agreement with a previous survey in England. Some implications of these results are discussed.
ISAZ The Newsletter No.15, l99E 1998
by Rupert Sheldrake
Pet owners often comment on the perceptivenesso f their animals.F or example, some cat owners say that their animals seem to know when they intend to take them to the vet, and disappear, even when the person has tried to give the cat no clue. And some dogs are said to know when their owners are about to return, sometimes half an hour or more in advance, even when the person comes at an unusual time or in an unfamiliar vehicle (Sheldrake,, t994). Many pet owners ascribe such kinds of perceptivenesst o telepathyo r a mysterious 'sixth sense'.
Such phenomena have, so far, been neglected by biologists and psychologists. One reason for this neglect may be the taboo, widespread among scientists, against taking seemingly 'paranormal' phenomena seriously. Another may be the taboo against taLing pets seriously (Serpell, 1986).
I and my colleagues have recently carried out three surveys to find out what proportion of pet owners have experienced a perceptiveness in their pets that might go beyond the known senses. We asked a series of questions, listed below, in telephone interviews with people in randomly sampled households. The same questionnaire was used in three separate surveys in widely different locations: Ramsbottom, a small town near Manchester, England (Sheldrake and Smart, 1997); Santa Cruz, a university and beach town in California, USA (Brown and Sheldrake, 1998); and London, England (SheldrakeL, awlor and Turney, 1998).
Of course, what people believe about their pets' abilities may not be true. But it may not be false either. Only empirical investigations can shed further light on these phenomena
A telephone survey was carried out in Greater Manchester to find out how many pet owners had observed seemingly psychic abilities in their pets. 46% of dog owners claimed their animals knew in advance when a member of the household was on their way home, compared with 14% of cat owners. Most of these animals reacted 5 minutes or less in advance, but a substantial proportion reacted 10 minutes or more in advance of the person's return. 69% of dog owners and 48% of cat owners thought there pets knew when they were going out before they showed any physical signs of doing so. 53% of dog owners and 33% of cat owners thought their pet responded to their thoughts or silent commands; and similar percentages thought their pet was sometimes telepathic with them. Just over half of those who had kept pets in the past thought that some of these animals were telepathic. More dog than cat owners claimed to have had psychic experiences themselves, and a higher proportion of "psychic" pet owners claimed that their pets exhibited psychic powers than "non-psychic" owners. The potential for experimental investigations of the seemingly psychic powers of pets is discussed.
For school students aged from 10 to 18 in the UK: research pets that know when their owners are coming home.