4 min read


Can Dogs Sense Fear?



4 min read


Can Dogs Sense Fear?


Fear is something that affects us all from time to time. Of course, there are different things that we are afraid of, but often, the reactions are extremely similar. When we are frightened and fearful there are tell-tale signs that we may not even realize are present. This includes increased perspiration, faster heartbeat, and a change in our tone and behavior.

These are natural reactions to fear and they are also reactions that our pets can pick up on. Many dog owners wonder whether their pooch can sense fear when they are in this situation. The answer is that they can sense fear because of the various signs that present themselves when you are frightened.


Signs Your Pooch Senses Fear

When your dog senses fear, it will display a number of signs. By looking out for these signs, you will be able to tell when your pooch senses fear in someone. This could be fear that it senses in you because of something that has happened or is happening or it could be fear that it senses in someone else that is close by. It could even be that you are arguing with someone and the dog senses fear in the other person rather than you. Dogs are very intuitive in this way and fear is something that they can easily pick up on.

When your dog senses fear, it may react in one of two ways. If your dog is an inquisitive one, it may run up to you and sniff around you or it may try to snuggle up to you based on the way in which you are acting. More timid dogs may start to show signs of fear themselves and may tuck their tails, have dropped ears, and may even run and hide somewhere. Dogs may also be vocal when they sense fear and whine, snarl, or bark depending on the situation and on what your reactions are. 

The body language of dogs can vary when they sense fear. Again, this is based on the type of dog you have and whether it is a timid dog or a more aggressive or inquisitive one. Some may tuck their tail and run for the hills if they sense fear, while others will be far more proactive and want to know what is going on. This means they may follow you around, sniff or lick you, sit, and stare at you intently. The hair on the nape of the neck may also be on end if they start to feel fearful themselves as a result of picking up on your emotions. 

Body Language

Signs to watch for when your dog is sensing fear include:

  • Growling
  • Barking
  • Sniffing
  • Back Hair On Edge
  • Dropped Ears
  • Tail Tucking
  • Licking

Other Signs

More cues to watch for when your dog senses fear are:

  • Becoming Defensive
  • Going Into Attack Mode
  • Following You
  • More Attentive Toward You

The History of Dogs Sensing Fear


The many studies that have been carried out over the years when it comes to canine senses have enabled us to more easily understand how dogs pick up on emotions such as fear in humans. Of course, dogs understand fear themselves and will show clear signs of this if they feel threatened or are being abused. 

They also show signs of fear if they sense fear in the person they are with, which is why some dogs will become fearful if they sense this emotion in you. We have come to learn that dogs are extremely adept at not just smelling things, but also sensing them, and this is largely from what they pick up in the environment around them and in your tone and behavior at the time.

It is also important to remember that dogs can sense when a person is afraid of them rather than fearful about something else. This is because it produces the same increased sweating and body language changes as it would in any other situation that caused the person to be fearful. Dogs can smell the odor produced by the increased sweating, but even more so, they pick up on the changes in body language. 

This can sometimes make the dog feel defensive and its reactions may change accordingly. For instance, if a person that is afraid of dogs starts staring at the dog, this could be seen as being confrontational or aggressive. 

The Science of Dogs Sensing Fear


So, how do our fur-balls actually realize when a person is fearful? Well, whether the fear is targeted at the dog or whether it is because of something else, there are various ways in which a pooch can pick up on this. 

Changes in body language is one of the key ways, as dogs are very adept at reading body language and it forms one of their main links to communication with humans. Changes in your tone when you speak also make it easier for your dog to sense fear, as can the odor that stems from the increase in perspiration.

Seeing How Your Dog Reacts to Fear


It is always best to know how your dog reacts when it senses fear, as the reactions of dogs can vary based on their personality and the situation at hand. Monitoring its body language and other signs, such as those outlined above, will enable you to better determine how your dog reacts when it senses this emotion in humans. If your pet pooch senses that you are feeling fearful of something or someone, its main aim may be to comfort and protect you. Some dogs, however, can start to become fearful themselves as a direct result of the emotion it senses from you.

If your dog senses that someone is feeling fearful of them – after all, there are many people that are afraid of dogs – their reaction may be quite different. Again, this depends on how the person reacts. For instance, some people that are fearful of dogs will freeze and just stare at the dog. This, coupled with the odor from the increased sweating, can put your dog on guard and they may react more aggressively because they feel as though they are being confronted.

To stop your dog behaving aggressively when it senses fear, you need to have an understanding of both your own body language and tone when you feel this emotion and that of your dog. It is important to be able to diffuse the situation in the event your dog is likely to react aggressively whether this is with you or with someone else. This is also something you need to remember if you come across a person that is afraid of dogs while your pooch is present. The key is to avoid making eye contact directly, avoid running in the other direction, and to try and act as calmly as possible to stop the dog from becoming defensive. 

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By a Boston Terrier lover Reno Charlton

Published: 05/26/2018, edited: 04/06/2020

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