4 min read


Can Dogs Sense Fire?



4 min read


Can Dogs Sense Fire?


Just to get right to it, dogs do have the ability to sense fire. Their ancestors, wolves, have a fear of fire. Canines can sense fire threatening their den. A strong sense of smell and excellent hearing enable dogs to smell smoke and hear flames as a fire advances towards their home.

Some dogs are so acutely aware of fire that they have become man’s best crime scene fire detectors and can learn how to detect signs of arson. Your domestic dog can sense that a fire is threatening his home. Stories of dogs rescuing families from fires prove their ability to sense fire. 


The Signs of Dogs Sensing Fire

The first sign you will notice if your dog has sensed a fire is near, is the way they will start sniffing and smelling the air. Dogs can paint a picture of their environment through their noses. A canine’s nose is stereoscopic, and each nostril can pick up separate smells. At the end of their nose is the olfactory epithelium, full of receptor cells, and these cells receive the smell and send a message to the dog’s brain to decipher the smell. 

Dogs can smell what happened in the past, the night visitors, and scents from the day before. They can sense what is going to happen through aroma in the air, a storm coming or the strong smell of smoke. The bigger the fire the more obvious the danger. There is the sound of the fire as well as the fear generated by oncoming flames. 

Your dog may growl to warn you of the danger or their hackles may stand on end. Lip licking signifies nervousness and your dog may want to find a place to hide. However, in terms of rescue behavior, dogs can be amazingly brave and save families from the fire. Dogs have run in search of help and pulled young children from the depths of a burning house. It is certain that dogs sense fire and show signs of reacting to its dangers.

Body Language

Some signs that your dog senses fire include:

  • Growling
  • Whining
  • Sniffing
  • Lip Licking
  • Back Hair On Edge

Other Signs

More clues that your pooch knows a fire is nearby are:

  • Hiding
  • Running Away
  • Pawing At You

The History of Dogs Sensing Fire


It comes as no surprise that a dog is the fire department’s mascot. The Dalmatian has been a symbol of ‘grace under fire’, as this breed joined the fire department in the early days of fire safety. Dalmatians were used to escort horse-drawn carriages. When the first fire trucks were drawn by horses, naturally, a Dalmatian was part of the crew. 

They were chosen for their strength, vitality, and their size, which made them the perfect addition to keep the horses calm during the fire. When the fire trucks were motorized, the Dalmatian carried on being the mascot, and had a calming presence during a firefighting episode. Dalmatians serve as companions for the firemen and as guards for the trucks and the firehouse. 

These handsome dogs have joined firemen in educating children about fire safety as they visit schools and bring about awareness to the danger of fire. Sparkles, the modern day ‘fire-pup’ character, has told wonderful stories for children through her books about fire safety. This is another addition to the way dogs are sensing fires and letting young and old people know how to keep safe in the event of a fire.

The Science of Dogs Sensing Fires


Scientifically dogs are perfectly designed to detect fire. They have a special detector organ in the roof of their mouths - one that is not present in humans - that can ‘taste’ smells. This organ strengthens a dog’s ability to detect smells and sense more intensely, what they are about. 

Dogs have the sensory ability to distinguish between different odors and, with training, can detect signs of arson. It is a well-known fact that dogs have a superior sense of smell and that sense, coupled with their ability to feel fear and danger, is the scientific evidence of their ability to sense fire.

Training Dogs to Sense Fire


Firefighters and crime scene detectors are now using dogs to assist with detecting the cause of fires. The dogs are put to work to find clues about the chemicals that were used in starting the fire. Their work as ADC dogs (Accelerant Detector Canines) is invaluable. The training behind the dog’s performance is very focused and not all dogs are suited to become ADC dogs. 

Labradors fall among the top breeds for this kind of training. The dogs must learn how to detect other scents through the smell of the fire. They are trained to detect all sorts of chemicals that an arsonist would use to start a fire. Added to that, the dogs are trained to mingle with the spectators to see if there is someone watching the fire who may have been involved in lighting the fire. 

When the dogs find the accelerant, they are trained to sit and either place a paw on the area they have detected, or they will point their noses at the area. They do not disturb the ground so that samples can be taken and tested for the chemicals used to start the fire. The training is very specific and based on food rewards. The dogs do not get fed unless they have successfully completed their training exercises or been out in the field and done their trained job of detecting smells in fire situations. 

The dogs must stay 24/7 with their handlers, who control the food reward system. These dogs are chosen for their energy and enthusiasm. Eager to please, they can move in difficult places quicker than their handlers can. They are also known as ‘Arson dogs’ and help fight crime that is fire-related. These dogs, through their training, are an asset to investigators of fire-related crimes.

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Safety Tips for Dogs Around Fires:

  1. Make sure to keep your dog leashed or secured the first time they are around fire. The may react in fear and try to run away.
  2. Do not ignore your dog if they won't leave you alone. If they have sensed a fire, it could save your life.

Written by a Rhodesian Ridgeback lover Christina Wither

Veterinary reviewed by:

Published: 06/18/2018, edited: 04/06/2020

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