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Why Someone Might See the Ghost of a Pet

"I knew he was finally all right, whole again, without pain."

Key points

  • Descriptions of encounters with deceased family members are found across cultures and over historical time.
  • A recent study described subjective paranormal experiences with dead pets among 544 bereaved dog owners.
  • These ghostly encounters took many forms and were almost always viewed as positive experiences.
  • These paranormal experiences may help pet lovers deal with disenfranchised grief.
This post is in response to
Why Some People See Ghosts But Others Never Do
Photo by Susan Flores
Source: Photo by Susan Flores

Descriptions of encounters with the dead are found across human cultures and over historical time. According to a YouGov survey, 41 percent of Americans believe ghosts are real—and 19 percent say they have personally seen a ghost. Often, these experiences involve deceased family members. But what about encounters with deceased pets? After all, most American pet owners consider their dogs and cats members of their family.

Jen Golbeck, a Psychology Today contributor and computer science professor in the College of Information Studies at the University of Maryland, recently conducted the first systematic study of the paranormal experiences of bereaved pet lovers. The surprising results of her study were published in the journal Anthrozoos. (Read the full text of the paper here.)

Using social media, Golbeck solicited descriptions of supernatural experiences of owners of deceased dogs. While I am skeptical about the ontological reality of ghosts, the subjective experiences of encountering the ghosts of pets are real. Indeed, they may help dog lovers cope with the grief following the death of a pet.

A Study of Canine Apparitions

Golbeck was interested in the range of perceived encounters with deceased canine companions and their significance and meaning to dog owners. She posted a prompt on Twitter (now named X) and Instagram: “If you have lost a dog, have you had an experience like seeing their ghost, receiving a sign, did they communicate with you?” She then developed a coding system to categorize the 544 responses.

Intrigued by her study, I posted a similar message on Facebook. Within a couple of days, several dozen of my Facebook friends wrote to me about their experiences with lost pets.

Types of Human-Canine Supernatural Encounters

Golbeck found that these paranormal experiences fell into two categories—physical Interactions and Interpreted Interactions.

  • Physical Interactions: In 315 cases, Golbeck’s respondents experienced sensory encounters with canine apparitions. They heard ghostly sounds, they felt their dog’s touch, and in rare cases, they saw their dead pet. The most common sensory experience (37 percent of cases) involved hearing the dog—a bark, the jingle or clunk of a collar, or the clicking of the dog’s paws on the floor. Nearly half of the physical/sensory interactions occurred at night, and in 45 cases, the person felt the dog lying in bed next to them. One of my Facebook friends reported that in a dream, she felt her deceased dog lick her on the chin. This caused her to wake up. And then she said, “My chin was wet.”
  • Interpreted Interactions: In 264 cases, bereaved owners interpreted paranormal events as related to the spirit of the dog rather than direct visitations. These included dreams in which the dog appeared, ghostly activities such as a smoke detector going off for no apparent reason, and signs in nature interpreted as signals from the deceased dog (e.g., a rainbow, a butterfly). Marge, for example, wrote, “After I lost my dear therapy dog, Maria, I woke one night feeling her presence, and there was a depression on the bed, and the spot was super warm. I know in my heart that she came to visit.” Cathy said her lost pets will sometimes “show me their name on a license plate…or come to me via this song I often hear.” Nan had a dream in which her dog, Manny, crawled out of her grave and spent the day with her. At the end of the day, she crawled back into her grave. Nan wrote, “I woke up and had a strong feeling she was actually with me.”

In some cases, interpreted interactions with a deceased dog involved a new pet the owner had acquired. One of my correspondents was having trouble bonding with the puppy Bingo she adopted after her beloved dog Molly died. Then, one night, Molly came to her in a dream, jumped in her bed, and told her it was okay to love Bingo. It worked. “Thereafter,” Molly told me, “I bonded with Bingo.”

What Do Encounters With Deceased Pets Mean to Their Owners?

Graph by Hal Herzog
Source: Graph by Hal Herzog

One hundred thirty-four of Golbeck’s respondents wrote about the personal meaning of their encounters with lost pets. In a few cases (9 percent), these experiences fell into the category of mixed to sad—they were spooky, bittersweet, and even heartbreaking. (“I’ve been dreaming about her…It felt like I had my heart had broken every morning.”)

The good news is that the vast majority of ghostly visitations (75 percent) fell into the positive category—they provided grieving owners comfort and reassurance. The visits were viewed as a form of protection or a gift.

Take the experience of Amelia, who wrote to me, “My Bull Mastiff mix, Alpha, only had three legs (he had lost a leg to bone cancer). He came back to me the morning after he passed, and he had all four legs again. When I woke that morning… he (like always) was face-to-face with me on my pillow. I reached up and stroked his cheek—and, yes, I felt him! I blinked, and then he was gone. So, I knew he was finally all right, whole again, without pain."

Sixteen percent of supernatural encounters were interpreted by dog owners as messages. Pilley Blanchi, the daughter of John Pilley, whose famous border collie, Chaser, learned over a thousand English words, contacted me about an experience she had. Chaser died in 2019, and Pilley was devastated. After notifying the press of Chaser’s death, a white moth appeared at her window. She wrote, “I knew it was Chaser saying goodbye, and she had arrived safely for her next journey.”

The Healing Powers of the Ghosts of Lost Dogs?

In our culture, ghosts generally get a bad rap—they are scary, a sign of guilt, a sign of psychopathology. Golbeck, in contrast, argues that encountering the apparitions of dead pets can be psychologically healthy—that they are manifestations of continuing bonds and are almost always positive experiences. She wrote, “A seemingly magical visit by the ghost of a beloved lost dog offers a feeling of the mystical, the special, and a signifier of the importance of the relationship.”

I agree. And I expect that paranormal experiences with beloved deceased pets, while rarely talked about or studied, may be surprisingly common.

Facebook/LinkedIn image: Piotr Piatrouski/Shutterstock


Golbeck, J. (2024). “I Saw Her With My Heart”: Supernatural Experiences and Continuing Bonds After the Death of a Dog. Anthrozoös, 1-11

Craffert, P. F. (2019). Embodied experiences and the neurobiological, cognitive and psychological production of ghosts. In The Supernatural After the Neuro-turn (pp. 107-126). Routledge.

Waskul, D., & Waskul, M. (2016). Ghostly encounters: The hauntings of everyday life. Temple University Press.

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