I had a dog named Alex, a chocolate lab I’d had since he was a chubby bear-cub puppy, who would on occasion freak me out with odd behavior. [He died a year and a half ago and I still miss him!!!] He would stand up on the bed, growling at the door or wall in the middle of the night. One time, he started barking furiously. I woke up disoriented and turned the bedside lamp on. My heart was pounding like crazy. Of course, I saw nothing as he continued growling. It was hard to scold him; after all, that was kind of his job wasn’t it? Alert me if he saw or heard something. He’d also growl at people he didn’t like. It didn’t happen very often, but when it did, it always made me think twice and watch my back.
So, is it possible that dogs can sense or see spirits?
I found a reference to this very topic somewhere I’d never really thought to look: Greek mythology. Homer’s Odyssey to be exact. I was re-reading the part where Odysseus finally makes it back to Ithaka and sees his son, Telemachus, for the first time in twenty years. He doesn’t tell Telemachus who he is until Athena gives him the sign. “From the air she walked, taking the form of a tall woman, handsome and clever at her craft, and stood beyond the gate in plain sight of Odysseus, unseen, though, by Telemachus, unguessed, for not to everyone will the gods appear. Odysseus noticed her; so did the dogs, who cowered, whimpering away from her” (Odyssey16.161-170).
First of all, let’s look at Athena. Homer says she basically appeared out of thin air and took on the guise of a tall woman. And she was clearly visible to Odysseus and the dogs, but not to Telemachus. That sounds a lot like the way we’d describe a spirit or ghost manifesting, right? Athena chooses who can see her; just the kind of thing we might say about ghosts, appearing to some and not others. What I find interesting is that in her invisible form the dogs see her and react. They cower and whimper in her presence. So, in this instance, the ancient Greeks found it plausible that their domesticated canines could see things that mortal eyes could not.
I guess I wonder why Homer found it so important to add this part to the story? What is it about dogs? Was this just pure invention on Homer’s part, or is this part of our human understanding that dogs somehow know things we don’t? I guess we’ll never know for sure, but the ancient Greeks thought it could be true. Personally, I think they do.