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Can Dogs Sense Tsunamis Before They Happen? Facts & FAQ

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By Nicole Cosgrove

brown dog scared

In both real life or fictional stories, we constantly hear about what amazing companions dogs are to humans. From protecting little children to rescuing people during disasters, there are countless stories about dogs’ selflessness toward humans.

But what about detecting natural disasters like tsunamis? Can dogs detect tsunamis before they even happen? The answer: in a way, yes, dogs can sense a tsunami before it happens! Although it hasn’t been scientifically proven, there are anecdotal reports of dogs exhibiting changes in behavior moments before a tsunami. Scientifically, dogs also have heightened senses, which allow them to perceive minute changes in the environment that occur before a tsunami.

In this article, we answer frequently asked questions regarding dogs’ heightened senses and how they can potentially detect tsunamis before they even happen.

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What Are Tsunamis? What Causes Them?

Before discussing how dogs can potentially detect tsunamis, it is important to know what tsunamis are. Tsunamis are a type of natural disaster that can occur in coastal areas. They are giant waves that can reach heights of over 100 feet and travel at speeds of up to 500 miles per hour.

Tsunamis are a result of large undersea earthquakes or volcanic eruptions, but they can also be caused by landslides, meteor impacts, and other natural events. When an earthquake occurs underwater, it can cause the entire column of water above it to move, creating a series of waves that can spread out across the ocean.

Tsunamis are particularly dangerous because they can travel across entire ocean basins, giving people very little time to prepare for their arrival. In many cases, there may be no warning at all, and people may only become aware of the danger when they see the water receding rapidly from the shoreline, which makes it difficult to perform early disaster response and evacuation procedures.

Image Credit: Schäferle, Pixabay

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How Do Dogs Detect Tsunamis?

There is no scientific evidence or actual published research that suggests dogs have a sixth sense in detecting natural disasters such as tsunamis. What is definitely confirmed, however, is their heightened senses in comparison to humans. These increased awareness allows dogs to detect even the smallest changes in their environment that even humans cannot perceive.

If you’re living in the coast line, it is highly probable that your dog is used to the various scents and air pressure typical of the environment that is close to the ocean. With their heightened sense of smell, they may be able to detect the scent of seawater, debris, sediment, and other materials from the ocean as the waves of the tsunami form. They also have a heightened sense of hearing, so pairing that along with the sense of smell can allow them to detect changes along the coast line.

Dogs may also be able to detect changes in the air pressure that occurs during the formation of a tsunami. With all these factors, your dog may exhibit drastic changes in behavior.

Chihuahua dog scared
Image Credit: Mylene2401, Pixabay

What Are the Signs to Look Out For That Your Dog Senses a Tsunami?

Based on the anecdotal reports of how dogs behave prior to a tsunami, here are a few things to look out for:

  • Increased alertness and guarding
  • Excessive herding and protecting of their owners
  • Barking and howling
  • Restlessness and excessive pacing
  • Unusual sniffing or licking
  • Increased physical contact
  • visible signs of stress and anxiety, such as shaking and panting

It should be important to remember that you should not rely on your dog’s behavior as their primary means of detecting tsunamis. People living along coastlines should still be aware of the other signs and have a plan for evacuation in the event of an emergency.

german shepherd dog howling in a field of flowers
Image Credit: Samantha Gould, Shutterstock

Is There Proof or Events in the Past That Dogs Detected Tsunamis?

While there is no published research that reports dogs are able to feel tsunamis in particular, a Japanese research in 2011 reported that dogs are able to feel earthquakes before they happen. They were reported to exhibit unusual behaviors and are suspected to sense the changes in atmosphere, vibrations, and scents from the ground, among others.

Since most tsunamis are also caused by earthquakes underwater, there is the assumption that dogs can also detect tsunamis with the same principle.

During the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami, there were many anecdotal reports of dogs behaving strangely in the hours leading up to the disaster. Some dogs were reported to have refused to go outside, while others were seen barking or howling incessantly. There were also reports of dogs leading their owners to higher ground or behaving in other unusual ways.

It is unclear whether these behaviors were actually related to the impending tsunami, as many researchers suspect that these behaviors were of mere coincidence. Regardless, they are a reminder of the strong bond between humans and their canine companions and the important role that animals can play in times of crisis.

dog hugging owner
Image Credit: Bogdan Sonjachnyj, Shutterstock

Can You Train Your Dog to Detect Tsunamis?

Relying on dogs as a primary means of detecting tsunamis is not recommended due to the limited research and evidence to support the claim. As dog parents, the best we can do is to familiarize ourselves with our dogs’ normal behavior to be able to keep track of what’s unusual. Providing your dog with basic obedience training and proper socialization is always a good idea, as it helps keep your dog focused and calm during times of emergency.

When it comes to detecting tsunamis, it is still best to stick to established warning systems and evacuation protocols provided by your area.

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Can Dogs Also Detect Earthquakes?

For areas that are nowhere near the ocean, you will probably be more worried about earthquakes rather than tsunamis. Referring back to the Japanese study in 2011, dogs may be able to feel an earthquake coming and signs include weird, unusual behaviors, such as barking, restlessness, increased protectiveness, and uneasiness.

Like tsunamis, it is still best to stick to established warning systems, emergency, and evacuation protocols provided by your area rather than relying on your dog’s behavior when watching out for earthquakes.

australian shepherd dog howling on the grass field
Image Credit: Tracy Lobstein, Shutterstock

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Final Thoughts

Dogs do not have an established sixth sense that allows them to detect natural disasters, such as tsunamis, but they do have much more heightened senses that allow them to perceive sensations generally unnoticed by humans. With this, they may be able to detect tsunamis before they even happen.

Understanding the science behind dogs’ senses, along with their behaviors, can help humans anticipate natural disasters. However, as this is still unproven, it is best to stick to established emergency and safety procedures!

Featured Image Credit: Patrick H, Shutterstock

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