Sense Like a Dog

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Sense Like a Dog

The loyalty, agility and developed sense of smell that dogs have been known and used for years. Now there is talk of the dog’s sixth sense, its ability to detect human brain waves. Dogs that give prior notice of their owner’s oncoming epileptic fit are already in circulation and the next goal is dogs that can identify terrorists about to blow themselves up from a distance. Rin-Tin-Tin, model 2000.

Adi Katz

05.05.04

Any dog owner will tell you his dog can read him. It is able to sense whether its human is sad or happy, without unnecessary words or detailed explanations. How do they do it? They smell something, decipher body language and tone of speech, or is it intuition, sixth sense or perhaps telepathy?

The wonderful capability of animals, mainly dogs, to identify things that are out of sight has already been put to use extensively by man. From following the scent of missing persons, through drug detection and location of explosives. In recent years, people are beginning to talk about additional capabilities in dogs, not all of them explained, such as detecting diseases and physical crisis among humans and even predicting earthquakes.

Dogs have found a place in armies around the world and lately in the anti-terror warfare system, based on their developed sense of smell. Dog trainer Uri Bakeman believes there is something else there. He and other experts believe dogs are able to read human brain waves. Bakeman is planning to harness this talent in order to identify terrorists before they blow themselves up among groups of innocent people.

Bakeman claims dogs are able to read brain waves they were taught to identify. The way they learned when in nature to attune to the frequency of the pack leader, part of the survival mechanism, so it can learn to identify the brain waves of its “significant other”, its human owner.

Bakeman, an expert in animal behavior with many years of experience in training guide dogs for the blind, deaf and disabled, developed his extraordinary theory in the course of his work with epilepsy and diabetes dogs. For the past eight years Bakeman has been training dogs to identify oncoming epileptic attacks among epileptics. A year earlier dogs were first trained to do this in the United States, after it was discovered dogs have a natural ability to identify epileptic fits in advance. Two years ago Bakeman, who claims to have been the first person in the world to do so, applied the same principle to hypoglycemic attacks (fall in blood sugar) among diabetics.

The number of dogs trained for these purposes in Israel till now is small. Bakeman’s workshop has produced only six epilepsy dogs and two diabetes dogs till now, all Golden Retrievers, mainly due to their expensive price, since the cost of training such a dog may total $7,000.

However, it is hard to argue with results. The trained dogs warn several hours before an oncoming attack, using signals they were trained to give, including barking, whining and even pressing an emergency button, thus enabling the patient to prepare for the attack and avoid hazardous situations.

Training a dog to identify changes in the human body is not simple. “You select an appropriate dog,” says Bakeman, “and at six weeks place it with the patient. The dog learns to accept the patient as its leader and begins to be concerned over anything that happens to its leader. When it experiences the patient’s first attacks, the dog is stressed and begins to respond. It gradually develops motivation to predict the attacks as early as possible, notify its leader, calm him down and so calm itself down.”

Lexi can predict

The idea that a dog is able to read a specific person’s brain waves, i.e. identify their “brain print” (similar to a fingerprint), as Bakeman calls it, arose when it turned out dogs are able to warn of oncoming attacks even when they were at a distance from the patient.

Two years ago, G., 36, who has diabetes type A, received Lexi, a Golden Retriever bitch trained by Bakeman to identify situations of sharp decline in blood sugar levels. Although at first she was averse to the idea of taking a dog, G. realized she had done the right thing. The bitch proved her ability to give warning of the hazardous situation time after time, long before G herself sensed it.

Shortly after she got the dog, G had to travel to her relatives for several days and placed Lexi, quite young at the time, with Bakeman. Two days later, the dog trainer suddenly phoned the patient and notified her that Lexi was warning of a hypoglycemic attack. “I said it was impossible,” recalls G. “Several minutes earlier I had tested my sugar and it was fine. Uri insisted so I tested again and discovered the sugar had indeed declined. I immediately took something to eat, to raise the sugar level. After eating, I called him, he said Lexi just stopped warning.”

Kessem, a three year old Golden Retriever bitch that belongs to R, a 23 year old epileptic, also displays similar capabilities. “Kessem warns when an attack is oncoming,” says Margalit, R’s mother, who keeps precise records of the dog’s warnings. “She sometimes warns several hours before it occurs, sometimes an entire day in advance. She whines and barks and blocks his way so we know we should be prepared to prevent him from falling and hurting himself.”

Kessem also gives warning when R is not beside her. During their three years together, she gave remote warning of attacks for times. “R was out, but Kessem suddenly sat at the door to his room and began to whine,” says his mother. “Several hours later he did suffer an attack. It’s amazing, it’s hard to believe until you witness it.”

In the course of his work with dogs for the disabled and sick, Bakeman was witness to other cases. The Golden Retriever bitch belonging to Gila, a girl with CP, began to behave in a peculiar form 12 hours before the girl died of a heart attack. The Maltese that belonged to a girl with cancer developed a stress wound during the days in which she was hospitalized until her death. A dog belonging to a student in Bakeman’s dog training course who died of cancer recently also stood by her bed at home and whined when she died, far away in hospital.

“Eight years ago, following several such cases, I gathered it was impossible dogs were acting according to their sense of smell or by reading body language, there must be something else here, but I didn’t know how to call it yet. My conviction grew due to phenomena displayed by dogs in my boarding kennel. The day their owners were coming to pick them up, their behavior changed. Sometimes I was unaware that the owner was about to come that day, but the dog already knew.”

Like quantum

A study held in the summer of 2001 in Bakeman’s boarding kennel that included observations and recording of dogs’ behavior before their owners came, showed over 50 percent of the dogs displayed clear signs of behavior modification before the meeting.

“The brain wave phenomenon is beginning to raise interest among scientists around the world,” he claims. “The BBC, for instance, documented a dog working by ‘brain print’. They placed it in a room with a camera and its owner left the house and retuned using a different way each time, in order to break the dog’s conditioning and see whether it would sense her approaching in any case. She came home on foot, in her car, by bus, and they noticed that whenever she approached the dog would get up, before she could be heard or seen outside.”

However, for Bakeman the case that signified the epitome of this was Lexi, two years ago. “I understood there had to be another way in which the dog communicates with its owner, beyond the senses of hearing, sight or smell. It must be some sixth sense, telepathy or reception of brain waves. It is a known fact that wild dogs, wolves and jackals hunt in packs. They work in an orderly fashion, with clear division of work, without making a sound and sometimes out of eyesight. So how do they communicate?”

He recently put together a team of scientists who tried to develop his idea of training dogs to identify people with malicious intentions even if they do not carry weapons or explosives that can be identified by scent. “A dog that reads brain waves can help in a large number of cases,” he notes. “For example, to point out people in hospital about to undergo a heart attack, someone with a cancerous tumor, identify someone who is mentally ill and my lose control and of course someone going to carry out a terrorist act. A well trained dog can provide a sophisticated radar able to point out terrorists in airports, for example, even if they are not carrying weapons and intend to overcome a pilot using karate blows or force him to fly into a building as they did on 9/11.”

One of Bakeman’s partners in the project is Dr. Morris Lester, a surgeon, CEO of a drug development company and husband of G the diabetic. “The capability exhibited by dogs in identifying epileptic attacks before they occur has been known and documented in medical literature,” says Dr. Lester. “My wife suffers hypoglycemic attacks that bring about dizziness and dysfunction. Following an incident in which she had an attack when I was overseas and couldn’t help her, I decided to apply to Uri Bakeman for a dog that would identify these attacks, the way it is done in epilepsy.

“Uri studied our needs, selected an appropriate bitch and began to work with her. Two weeks after she arrived at our home she began to give warning. At first it was expressed in frequent urination and now she goes to my wife and licks her palms. If my wife doesn’t respond, she turns to me.”

Dr. Lester also finds it hard to explain what exactly enables a dog to sense the change about to happen in its owner’s body. “Perhaps when systems collapse, blood pressure or blood sugar falls, the brain activity changes before the body responds physiologically. Or perhaps that is the change the dog senses. It cannot be a change in smell, because then remote warnings could not be explained.”

So is it a question of telepathy?

“I prefer not to speak about things of the mystic type, but treat it as a phenomenon that has yet to be explained scientifically.”

When asked to give some sort of explanation for the brain print phenomenon, Lester recruits the quantum theory. “To explain it in simple terms, it involves extremely small particles that perform the same action simultaneously even though they are in different locations. On the same principal, the dog’s brain is connected to its owner’s brain. The way it is formed is unknown, but that is what allows information to be transferred over a distance, in real time.”

The cat is depressed

Pascal Berkowitz also accompanies the project. She used to be a reporter and is now an author and director of documentaries who created a book and a TV movie about the special connection between the female dolphin Olin from Nueba (Sinai) and a deaf Bedouin boy, and a book entitled “The Animal’s Message” that also deals with the relations between animals and humans. She also plans to publish a book about the “brain print” project. “When I worked on my previous book I collected amazing stories from scientists and vets from around the world who study these phenomena. Many people came to the conclusion that the ‘brain print’ phenomenon does exist.”

Her book, “The Animals’ Message”, contains story that demonstrate the phenomenon, not only with dogs. “A French author named Jean Perrier published a book about the sixth sense in animals back in 1986. Among other things he tells of a French soldier captured by the Nazis in WWII. On the day he was captured, his cat stopped eating and became depressed and apathetic. Several hours before the soldier was released home, before his relatives knew he was coming back, the cat began to eat and clean himself in order to greet its owner.

“Another case occurred in Massachusetts in 1989. A bitch named Gee Vazie saved her owner’s daughter who suffered from severe asthma while sleeping with an oxygen mask on her face. The bitch sensed something was wrong with the girl and it turned out the mask had fallen off and the child was about to suffocate. After the book was published I received a large number of letters and e-mails with similar stories about animals.”

Do you really believe animals have a sixth sense?

“Definitely. People used to believe dogs’ sixth sense was their sense of smell, now they know there is something more profound because smell cannot be detected from a distance. I am no scientist, I am interested in the fate of people. The group of people working on this project is extremely special, each in their own way. Uri is a person with vision and he is taking it as far as possible.”

Bakeman registered a patent on his idea in the USA, under the name Brain Print Ltd. and plans to start working soon with several dozens of carefully selected dogs. “The dogs suitable for this are young and childish, i.e. not aggressive. A dog that quickly gets under pressure, but not too fast. Pinschers, for example, are nervous, skittish dogs that would have excess warnings. We will try to work with several dog breeds, Golden Retrievers, Poodles, Papillon, Bouvier de Flandres. They are able to start warning at the age of two months.”

The cost of training a single dog, by the way, may reach $30,000 and Bakeman is negotiating with two businessmen in order to obtain financing for the project. He believes that when the money arrives the dogs should be ready for action within six months.

But even if dogs are able to read their owner’s brain waves, how can they be trained to identify strangers’ bran waves?

“I found a way of causing a dog to be concerned for every person that passes through a particular passageway, for example, but it really was a problem to find true material to train on. I found a trick that could jeopardize the entire project if it is revealed. The method must be secret as the Coca-Cola recipe. What I am able to say is that we will train dogs to focus on the brain waves of people with psychological profile similar to that of suicide bombers and are in a particular mental state. The staff includes a psychiatrist who advises us on the personality of suicide bombers.”

And perhaps the common denominator among suicide bombers is their religious-ideological motives not necessarily their personality?

“Their motives don’t concern me, only the way their brain waves operate when they are in the field. A person who goes to execute such a mission has brain waves that work in a certain manner, it’s out of his control. Since the brains of these people broadcast a similar message, of fear, extreme excitement etc., the dogs can be trained to connect to this profile, chemical or electric more than it is psychological, and identify it.”

And what makes you sure it will work before you have tried it out?

“The way I knew diabetes dogs would work, it will be the same here too.”

Come on, really

Zoologist Prof. Joseph Turkel from Tel Aviv University is skeptical in his approach to the brain print idea. “There were cases of dogs that identified epileptic attacks in advance, but nobody knows how it works. From time to time such stories are published but there is no scientific proof behind them. Even people sometimes feel something is happening to someone far from them, we call it gut feeling, but it is completely coincidental.” Don’t you think animal somehow sense what happens to their owners? “True, dogs and horses even more than dogs, sense things that happen to humans. When I am about to travel abroad, my dogs sense they are going to remain without me, but it could be due to the fact they see the suitcase. Diabetes and epilepsy dogs probably sense change in their owners’ conduct, but I don’t believe they can sense it from a distance. There is no evidence of that in literature and has never been proven in a controlled experiment.”

Irit Gazit, a zoology PhD student working with Turkel who began to study the subject of epilepsy dogs for her thesis and gave up, also does not believe the brain print is founded. “I began to examine the issue of epilepsy dogs as an option for research in an attempt to discover what these dogs find when warning of an epileptic attack. I spoke to patients and neurologists but very little is known about the subject. Eventually I gave up because I could not gather a large enough research sample and chose to study the issue of dogs that detect explosives.”

According to Gazit, nobody has discovered the changes that occur in the body prior to and epileptic attack and what the dog detects from all the changes in the body is unknown. “There is no doubt the phenomenon exists, but the assumption is that the dog senses the oncoming attack through its sense of smell. Training epilepsy dogs is quite problematic. You don’t know what to train it for, because what it is supposed to detect is unclear. That is the reason for the small number of epilepsy dogs today.”

Do you think a dog can be trained to identify a suicide bomber without smelling the explosives on his body?

“I cannot tell. The epilepsy issue is complex but the brain wave issue is even more complex. The American Office of Defense issued an appeal to all scientists in the world to develop a method for identifying terrorists. We too, in Prof. Turkel’s scientific team in Tel Aviv University, received the message but decided it was impossible to realize.”

Gazit further claims training a dog to detect a response of fear or excitement among humans in public places may be problematic. “Such responses arise in each of us on an everyday basis. In an airport, for example, someone could be excited or fearful before a flight. If the dog begins to give false warnings, it would undermine its credibility. It is impractical. I am not ruling out the subject of brain waves because I haven’t studied it, but in general it seems like science fiction to me.”

Dr. Amichai Moreshet, the former vet for the IDF K9 unit Oketz and animal behavior consultant in present, also declines to get excited over the new theory. “Uri Bakeman is a true professional who has done many beautiful things with dogs, but I cannot accept the story of reading brain waves and identifying attacks from another city. A dog can easily identify changes in its owner’s body language and odors he emits, attesting to an oncoming epileptic attack. It can identify external expressions of metabolic changes in the blood attesting to decline in blood sugar, but not brain waves.

“As for the claim dogs in a boarding kennel are able to predict their owner’s arrival, I can say based on my extensive experience working with boarding kennels, the dogs are unaware of their owner’s arrival until the moment they smell them from up close or hear the familiar vehicle from a distance of several hundreds of meters. Sometimes a dog doesn’t notice its owner’s arrival even though he is a few meters away.

“As for identifying terrorists based on external expression of scents coming from fear, this is interesting as a strange episode. If Bakeman is able to prove a dog can identify the difference between an Arab who is simply afraid of dogs and a suicide bomber, afraid due to understandable reasons, it would be a discovery. Even then, it is unclear how these dogs can be trained without having a similar stimulus of a suicide bomber during practice.

“There are various projects that deal with training dogs to identify explosives that use methods of identifying terrorists that carry explosives. These are expensive methods, but still much cheaper than Bakeman’s proposal. To my dismay, the extent to which dogs are used for these purposes in Israel is small, mainly due to budgetary problems.”

Berkowitz dismisses the criticism. “These things exist, they cannot be denied. Dogs systematically give remote warning. It is not incidental. Of course, one can say there is a distance between identification of diseases to detection of malicious intentions, but every innovative thing requires consensus to be broken, as well as guts and vision. There are many things in the world that we don’t understand. People who are control freaks hold back scientific development. Those who take a brave stand have to struggle.”

“This skeptical response is not surprising,” adds Dr. Lester. “It is true that science is all about proof but one also has to take risks. In any case, in order to provide proof one has to start working on it.”

Uri Bakeman believes he is on the verge of a breakthrough. “It may sound like science fiction, but I believe that in several years we will even be able to develop a machine that mimics dogs’ capabilities allowing us to know what is going on in other people’s minds. After all, these are feelings we all undergo, but tend to depress because they are irrational. Science is only able to examine the innovations discovered by people in the field. When these dogs begin to work, all the scientists will stand in line to study it.”

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