For as long as pups have been around as our best friends, there have always been stories of their capabilities. Many of these can be written off as myths or stories, explaining something about our pups that we weren't able to conclude with science until now.
What you may be surprised to learn, however, is that a dog really can smell fear, whether it be in their owner, a stranger, or another pooch! While their understanding of another's fear isn't totally attributed to their nose, as they use visual cues on your behavior, actions, and emotions, your dog will still actually know when you're afraid, and may even react to it!
So, whether you're dealing with your own dog or a stranger's, it always important to keep your cool so the pup in question can remain happy, calm, and excited to see you!
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Signs Your Dog Can Smell Your Fear
Dogs can pick up on all of these visual and behavioral clues to figure out when we're afraid. When we're freaked out, our sweat glands will be more active and open, producing a body odor our puppers can smell. Dogs that are "on the hunt" for a specific smell will have their noses up in the air or close to the ground, either to get a better hint of what they're trying to smell or where exactly is coming from.
Most importantly, though, most dogs who realize that their owner is afraid will react differently to them. If your pup recognizes your fear, oftentimes, they will try to cuddle up with you, or even protect you from whatever is making you afraid. They may also act uncomfortable, putting their tail between their legs and whining, crying, or even barking. Dogs take many of their behavior cues from us, so if they sense our fear and how we're reacting to something, they may believe that they have to react the same way!
As for strangers, many people that are afraid of our pups (even though we know our dogs would never do anything!) often tense up, stop moving, and stare at the "offending" dog in question. Their sweat glands will open up and be more reactive, producing sweat that smells pretty darn good to our pup!
This type of reaction - staring, freezing, and tensing up - may look like aggressive behavior to our pup. They may react similarly to a person acting this way, either by showing aggression in return, such as growling, leaning forward with their ears straight and showing their teeth; or acting fearful, by rolling over on their bellies, averting their eyes, and putting their tail between their legs.
It's important that whatever the reason for the fear you're experiencing, you keep your cool around a pup that's going to recognize it. By doing so, we can also keep our doggos calm and happy, too!
- Ears back
- Lips pushed forward
- Back hair on edge
- Stiff tail
- Exposed teeth
- Showing fear in return
- Being aggressive
- Slobbery kisses
- Nose up in the air
- Acting uncomfortable
The History Behind Dogs Smelling Fear
Because they've been around us for so long, they've evolved to be able to sense our emotions and associate certain smells (like sweatiness) with emotions like fear. As a result, many dogs, depending on their relationship with the person feeling fear, will try to comfort them (if they're an owner or a friend) or react similarly.
Dogs look to us for cues on how to react to things, so if the big, bad, all-powerful human is afraid of something, dogs oftentimes will think that they should be too!
The Science Behind Dogs Smelling Fear
As a result, dogs are better able to pick up on smells than we are. When we become afraid, our fight or flight reaction kicks in, meaning our body produces more adrenaline and sweat. One study showed that dogs actually do pick up on these smells, and react accordingly to what they understand is human fear.
"First, human volunteers watched videos designed to cause fear or happiness, or a neutral response, and the team collected samples of their sweat." When the odors were presented to domesticated dogs, the ones that were exposed to fear smells "showed more signs of stress than those exposed to happy or neutral smells. They also had higher heart rates, and sought more reassurance from their owners and made less social contact with strangers."
While this study shows that dogs can indeed smell our emotions using their noses alone, dogs also take visual cues from us as well. When we're afraid, our body will react. Dogs pick up on those things and will react similiarly.
Training Your Dog to Smell Fear
In regards to others, it's hard for your dog to come across a stranger that may be afraid of them. While you know that there's nothing to worry about, a person who sees a big pupper coming at them may think that they're trying to attack! While it's probable that your dog just wants to cover that person in big slobbery kisses, it's important to train our pooches to respect personal space, so that when they come across someone who is afraid of them, they don't do anything to increase that fear.
Encourage positive behaviors, such as sticking close to you when you're walking by random people on the street, and gently discourage negative behaviors such as jumping up or sniffing at a passersby.
How to React If You Think Your Dog Can Smell Fear:
Try to remain calm! Your dog will react as you do, so if you remain calm, they will try as well!
Avoid situations and people that make your dog uncomfortable. The happier and safer your dog feels, the happier and safer the people around them will be!
Keep your dog away from those who fear them. This is not only for the happiness of these people but also for your pup! A person that is afraid of your dog may act in a way that they deem aggressive, and your doggo may respond in turn. That will only make that person's fear worse!