Can Dogs Feel Alarm?

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Introduction

We've all wondered what our dog is thinking, especially when they have a certain look in their eye (you know the one) and are acting a little strange. In some cases, they may be sensing something we are not: their hearing is four times better than ours, and the part of their brain that controls smell is 40 times larger. So next time all the hair on your dog's back stands up straight and they start barking out of nowhere, think again. 

When it comes to looking at the emotions dogs can experience, a good place to start is by understanding their emotional capacity mimics that of a two-and-a-half-year-old human. This means they have the capacity to feel basic emotions like love, joy, anger, and fear. Fear and alarm are often synonymous with one another.

Signs a Dog Can Feel Alarm

If you are wondering whether or not your dog feels alarm or even fear, one of the first places you should look is the fur on their back. When a dog hears or smells something that may be a threat, their ears will become alert and the hair on their back ridge will stand up. Like us, dogs rely on their visual, hearing, olfactory, taste, and touch senses. 

However, the way in which these sensory organs work differ from ours. Dogs, for one, interpret the world mainly by smell, whereas humans rely on sight. 

Puppies do not develop their hearing muscles until they are 21 weeks old, and by the time their hearing has fully developed they will be able to detect sounds up to 45,000 Hz, compared to just 23,000 Hz for humans. This means a dog can hear a person or animal approaching long before you will, which is why they can become so alarmed or alert out of nowhere. 

Every dog is different and many breeds are better at recognizing a threat than others, but most dogs will display the following signs when they are alarmed:

  • Hair raised 
  • Sudden interest in their surroundings
  • Intent listening 
  • Focused eyes and ears 
  • Ears twitching to hear from different angles 

Body Language

Here are some signs your dog is feeling alarm:
  • Barking
  • Listening
  • Raise ears
  • Body freezing
  • Back hair on edge
  • Whimpering
  • Ears up

Other Signs

These are other signs your dog can feel alarm:
  • Focused interest on what's going on around them
  • Shaking or whining

History of Dogs Feeling Alarm

When it comes to dogs feeling alarm, we must look at their social structure. In the wild, dogs go above and beyond to establish and reinforce their role in a social group. This allows them to create clear rules as to who is the leader and who is subordinate. When looking at domesticated dogs, they have a clear sense of who their family is. Once they've bonded with their human, they defend them at all costs. 

Canines won't hesitate to protect their loved ones, no matter what. While this is inherently a good thing, sometimes our furry friends go a little over the top when protecting us. Furthermore, some breeds have a stronger guarding instinct than others. In some cases, this can translate to unnecessary aggression, which is why it's so important to socialize and train your pup to adapt to different situations. 

Science Behind Dogs Feeling Alarm

Alarm is one of the emotions dogs feel the strongest. In fact, some dogs are bred specifically to notify or alarm their owner of a threat. Dogs instinctively notice when there is a predator or when something just doesn't feel quite right, immediately acting as a guard. 

There have long been studies conducted surrounding how dogs feel emotions and what causes this ability. Some researchers have even teamed up with scientists and doctors to look at the inner-workings of a dog's brain through an MRI. 

What they found was groundbreaking, to the say least. Dogs actually have the same brain structure as humans do in the area that interprets emotions. They also produce similar hormones (such as oxytocin, which is what allows us to feel love). This is what allows them to understand some of the same emotions we do, like fear and joy. 

Claims of dogs recognizing a person of poor character are not tales of lore, in fact, science supports reports of dogs barking and refusing to warm up to "bad" people. 

Training Your Dog to Deal with Alarm

We, of course, want our dog to warn us of something that may be dangerous or pose a threat, but sometimes they can be a little over the top with this. With proper training and socialization, most people should be able to teach their dogs the difference between a friend and a foe.

Certain breeds - like Bernese Mountain dogs and Newfoundlands - are friendly and have good protective instincts towards their humans, making them excellent guard dogs.

How to React When Your Dog Becomes Alarmed:

  • Pay attention.
  • Give them basic obedience commands.
  • Hold onto their leash to keep them from bolting.
  • Try to figure out what they are seeing.

Safety Tips for When Your Dog is Alarmed:

  • Never force them to do anything.
  • Watch their behaviors and try to decipher their emotions.
  • Stay calm.