Since ancient times, people have believed that dogs can sense earthquakes before they happen. Early Greek records describe dogs howling before an earthquake rocked the city of Helice in 373 B.C.E. In Japan and China, dogs and other animals are a vital part of the early warning system.
Many modern skeptics discount the idea that dogs can tell when an earthquake is about to happen. Dogs don't have any extra-sensory perception or magical powers, they argue. Geophysicists at the U.S. Geological Survey have said that despite many anecdotes, they have not found a strong connection between specific dog or other animal behavior and earthquakes [source: Mott].
But Stanley Coren, the author of many books about dog intelligence and behavior, suggests that the explanation for dogs' ability to sense earthquakes has nothing to do with anything supernatural — and everything to do with dogs' keen hearing. Coren's studies suggest that dogs can hear the movements of rocks underground that happen just before earthquakes.
Dogs can hear sounds out of the range of human hearing, and they can hear sounds farther away than people can. Coren even found that dogs with floppy ears heard the seismic sounds before the earthquake less than did dogs with pricked ears [source: Coren].
It's possible the skeptics are looking for the wrong evidence. Not every dog will react the same way when it senses an earthquake. Some bark or howl; others may pace or stay close to their people. People who are close to specific dogs are likely to know more about what their behaviors mean.