Ghostly Encounters With Canine Spirits May Help Grieving Pet Owners

Jennifer Golbeck conducts research into how supernatural experiences with dogs might support pet owners in mourning.
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Paranormal encounters with deceased pets may help some animal owners cope with their grief, according to a new study.

Jennifer Golbeck, an affiliate professor of computer science at the University of Maryland, recently conducted the first systematic study of the supernatural experiences of bereaved animal owners. The goal was to examine the range of perceived encounters with deceased canine companions and their meaning and significance to the pet owners.

Golbeck conducted the study using social media, posting a prompt on both X (formerly known as Twitter) and Instagram that asked, “If you have lost a dog, have you had an experience like seeing their ghost, receiving a sign, did they communicate with you?”

She received 544 candid responses and organized them according to two major themes with six subthemes: "Physical experiences (hearing, seeing and touching the ghost of a dog) and interpreted experiences (seeing signs in nature, receiving visits from the deceased dog in dreams, and attributing feelings and phenomena to the spirit of the dog)."

The most common sensory experience (37% of responses) involved hearing the dog, such as a bark or the sound of claws clicking on the floor. Nearly half (44.4%) of the physical experiences occurred at night, with people reporting in 45 of the cases that they've felt their dog lying in bed next to them.

The most commonly cited interpreted experiences included visitations in dreams (15%) and ghostly activity (also 15%) such as objects moving or a living pet acting a certain way in the spirit of a deceased pet.

Golbeck looked at how respondents described their feelings associated with their supernatural experiences, and found that the majority of people (74.6%) reported feelings that were positive, bringing a sense of comfort, reassurance and protection or even a gift. The finding was noteworthy, she wrote in the study, because "psychology largely characterizes externalized continuing bonds — particularly seeing ghosts — as negative and even maladaptive."

Overwhelmingly, respondents considered their supernatural experiences as comforting rather than distressing.

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