Can Dogs Have Spiritual Experiences?

By Jennifer Viegas

Can Dogs Have Spiritual Experiences?

Research suggests spiritual experiences originate deep within primitive areas of the human brain -- areas shared by other animals with brain structures like our own. Many scientists, therefore, believe it’s possible that dogs have moments that we may interpret as being spiritual.

One such scientist is Kevin Nelson, a professor of neurology at the University of Kentucky. He thinks it is possible that dogs may go through near-death experiences, have mystical experiences, and feel the bliss that some people have associated with religious happenings. Says Nelson, author of the book The Spiritual Doorway in the Brain: “In general, what serves to distinguish humans from animals is less the type of experience and the brain from which it springs, and more the spiritual interpretation the experience is given by humans.”

Dogs and Near-death Experiences
People who come very close to death often report similar sensations, such as feeling detached from their bodies, moving through a tunnel and seeing a bright light. Nelson believes dogs and other animals are capable of experiencing these things as well.

  • Out-of-body sensation “In humans, we know that if we disrupt the region where our vision, sense of motion, orientation of the earth’s gravitational field and knowing the position of our body all come together, then out-of-body experiences can be caused literally by the flip of a switch,” says Nelson. Scientists can now even cause individuals to feel this sense of detachment in experiments, without the actual close-to-death moment. “There is absolutely no reason to believe it is any different for a dog, cat or primate’s brain,” says Nelson.

  • Moving through a tunnel “The tunnel sensation is caused by the eye’s susceptibility to the low blood flow that occurs with fainting or cardiac arrest,” explains Nelson. “As blood flow diminishes, vision fails peripherally first. There is no reason to believe that other animals are any different from us. What they make of the tunnel is another matter.”

  • Going towards a bright light “All mammals experience REM (rapid eye movement) consciousness, and certainly in the higher mammal (including dogs and cats), the visual system defines REM consciousness,” says Nelson. “So too, the light would seem to follow.”

Dogs and Mystical Experiences
Mystical experiences are moments that inspire a sense of mystery and wonderment. They arise within the limbic system, says Nelson. Prior research conducted by other scientists has found that when specific parts of this system are removed from animal brains, mind-altering drugs have no effect.

Since dogs again possess similar brain structures, it is possible they experience mystical moments and may even enjoy what we could interpret as spiritual oneness, according to Nelson. It is possible that certain sensations are even more pronounced in dogs, given their heightened sensitivity to sounds, smells and more. As Jean Houston, co-director of the Foundation for Mind Research, says, dogs and other animals “are closer to nature and thus seem to be on a continuum with the natural flow of things.” She believes “they serve as wonderful (spiritual) guides because of their simplicity and the naturalness of their being.”

Dogs and Bliss
Few of us would argue that dogs experience moments of true contentment. One look at a dog enjoying rolling in the sunshine or enjoying its owner’s loving attentions proves that point. Meditation, prayer, yoga and other practices can offer humans a similar feeling of bliss.

Marc Bekoff, a professor emeritus of ecology and evolutionary biology at the University of Colorado, Boulder, also believes non-human animals have spiritual experiences, which he defines as experiences that are nonmaterial, intangible, introspective and comparable to what humans have. Bekoff, Nelson and others hope future research will better illuminate the phenomena. “For now,” says Bekoff, “let’s keep the door open to the idea that animals can be spiritual beings, and let’s consider the evidence for such a claim.”

Jennifer Viegas is the managing editor of The Dog Daily. She is a journalist for Discovery News, the news service for the Discovery Channel, and has written more than 20 books on animals, health and other science-related topics.

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Posted on October 7, 2011

Julia says: I believe Dogs and Cats are spiritual. I feel that special connections to them, especially Dogs, but then Dogs are certainly more sociable and interactive. I once heard of a woman who had a near death experience and it was reported that she said during that experience she saw Dogs and Cats ascending and decending. I assume she was revering to their Souls. I keep an open mind that All Things Are Possible.

Posted on September 11, 2011

Your Dog says: is an atheist.

Posted on September 13, 2011

Louis Adams says: Since God is everywhere, and all are in God, dogs are spiritual animals. This is science discovering and theology explaining.

Posted on September 7, 2011

francine says: Our family dog of six years had cancer and recently became very sick He looked at me with pleading eyes saying let me go My daughter along with my granddaughterbrought him to the vets to put him to sleep During this time both mom and daughter cried and cried My daighter was holding him on her lap The dog lifted up his head and licked away the tears of bothNow how spiritual was that He was telling them its Ok don''t cry. Amen

Posted on August 19, 2011

jill perry says: In our heart of hearts, we know this to be true that our canine friends are very spiritual!

Posted on August 7, 2011

Gloria says: I remember reading about one of the great apes that had been taught to sign. When asked where a kitten (who had died) went, the ape responded "[to] God".

Posted on June 28, 2011

Springer Daddy says: My dogs' spiritual experiences usually revolve around peanut butter and/or bacon.

Posted on June 18, 2011

Tim says: What exactly does this article have to do with science? I didn't see anything resembling science... just a bunch of fuzzy logic animal explorative psychology.

Posted on June 18, 2011

mythhycca1 says: My fiance' passed away and was closer to one of my three dogs. She goes over and stares at his picture, I mean puts her face right up to it and whines. She really misses him and in fact I think she senses his spirit on some sixth sense level. It's truly endearing.

Posted on June 1, 2011

Cammy says: What kind of stupid article is this? It is just a scientist, if that, busting a dog's spiritual experience.

Posted on November 30, 2011

FUAll says: My dog went to Heaven, where many humans will never go.

Posted on February 13, 2012

bikerdog says: God spelled backwards is dog!

Posted on October 7, 2011

Julia says: After writing another comment I remembered something that happened many years ago. My Son cared for a group of Feral Dogs by having a feeding station by his house. We always thought of the dogs an family because some were completely comfortable with us while others stayed out of reach although they did stay around most of the time. During my visits to my Son I became very close to one that we called Pegasis and it would come up on the porch to visit and allow me to pet it. Over the course of a year or two the dog became sick and I took it to the vet. It turned out to be distemper and the Dog was uthenized. I stayed with the dog during this process. When I returned to my Son's home and I I walked from the car to the house I felt Pegasis run up beside me, bump against my leg and throw my hand up as he did so often. I realized immediately that a part of him had come home with me.

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