4 min read


Can Dogs Sense Friendliness?



4 min read


Can Dogs Sense Friendliness?


Dogs that are raised in normal, friendly homes can feel comfortable around people and sense friendliness. Body language plays an enormous part in assessing this attribute. A friendly person will be relaxed and welcoming to the dog. A friendly dog will happily meet a person and not be uncomfortable in their company. 

Dogs can smell friendly pheromones and sense how a person feels about them before they get close to the person’s body space. Dogs can sense when a person is anxious or does not enjoy having a dog around. The sound of a friendly voice greeting the dog is an important factor, too.


Signs a Dog Senses Friendliness

Dogs will bound up to friendly people with their tail wagging and their body language showing they are in a relaxed state. Dogs have been around people for many years and have learned to read the sign of a friendly human. 

Body language is very important for dogs to ‘read’ the signs of friendliness and acceptance. One of the first things a dog will do upon meeting a person is have a good sniff and sense through this smelling process if the person is friendly. 

A person who is friendly will be welcoming towards the dog with a happy face and encouraging words. Some breeds are more friendly than others. The Labrador is probably one of the most friendly breeds. Labradors are the first choice for therapy dogs and service dogs because they are both friendly and intelligent. 

Poodles and Beagles also rank highly on the friendly scale. A friendly dog will look towards its owner for approval and want to keep close for human companionship. Dogs can sense emotions and will pick up on fear, anxiety, and other negative emotions, but will enjoy being around positive feelings of happiness or calm and gentle states of appreciation. 

Body Language

A friendly dog will likely show some of the following signs:

  • Head Tilting
  • Wag Tail
  • Ears Up
  • Play Bowing

Other Signs

More signs to look out for include:

  • Attention-Seeking Behavior
  • High Energy
  • Positive Body Language

The History of Dogs Sensing Friendliness


Long ago, wolves were drawn towards humankind and became part of a domesticated life. Wolves broke away from the wolf pack and started to become man’s best friend, his "dog". 

This process would not have taken place if dogs were not able to connect to friendliness. Dogs became very astute at reading a human's need for a companion. They sought the friendship of humans and entered our lifestyle, becoming part of the human pack. Humans used dogs for hunting and for protection and trust was built up between them. 

Dogs can sense a friendly face and will approach a friendly voice. A dog named Smokey is well known to hikers walking the trail to the Teneriffe Falls. Smokey befriends the hikers and follows them to the falls and back. He watches them along the way. He goes home and waits for the next group of hikers to befriend and follows the trail with them. Naturally, Smokey is a Labrador and loves to be with people. His sense of friendliness would guide him as to who he could walk with and who would rather not have a friendly dog tagging along. 

The Science Behind Dogs Sensing Friendliness


Scientists have looked at dogs and their ability to accept food from friendly people and be wary of accepting food from people who ignore them. The experiments included wolves, and even the wolves were less interested in accepting food rewards from unfriendly people.

During the course of the experiment, the dogs became better at accepting treats from less-friendly people, while the wolves were still hesitant  Friendly, "dog" people have kindly faces and a welcoming body language. Scientist Brian Hare found that dogs have 'social intelligence' and can learn from inferences. They can learn that a gesture will mean something and they respond to the gesture. 

Dogs can sense that patting and throwing doggie toys would infer a friendly nature and they can respond by returning the friendly gestures of fetching the toy with a wag and happy body language. 

Training a Dog to Sense Friendliness


Puppy socializing would be the starting point for encouraging a dog to sense friendliness. The puppy group would be full of other young dogs getting to know the world around them. Meeting other young dogs and their owners will imprint friendly behavior on the puppy. 

Training your dog in obedience will add to their ability to recognize and respond to friendliness. A well-disciplined dog, who is under control, will have the opportunity to meet people and assess their friendliness. While you are at the training sessions, you will also be giving out positive indications of how friendly people behave. 

Dogs have communication skills and can learn what it is that their owner is expecting from them. Unfriendly behavior like tugging on the lead and jumping up can be trained out of your dog early on and friendly behavior enlisted instead. 

Therapy dogs would be trained and then placed with the person they are being trained for. The breed of dog that just likes to please will respond to the friendly training, best of all. Dogs with a soft mouth like the Retrievers will be able to learn friendly throw and catch games with young children.  

It is always important that your dog knows you are in charge of the game, and that they will stop the game when you decide. This helps the dog to know when the game is over. Many dogs show by their body language that they recognize you are friendly and they will share a smile and a body wag that they are comfortable in your space.

Have questions or concerns about your pet?

Chat with a veterinary professional in the Wag! app 24/7.

Get Vet Chat

Safety Tips to Remember with Friendly Dogs:

  1. Teach young children to respect dogs - not all dogs are used to small children.
  2. Do not assume a dog is friendly just because of their breed.

Written by a Rhodesian Ridgeback lover Christina Wither

Veterinary reviewed by:

Published: 06/29/2018, edited: 04/06/2020

Wag! Specialist
Need to upgrade your pet's leash?

Learn more in the Wag! app

Five starsFive starsFive starsFive starsFive stars

43k+ reviews


© 2024 Wag Labs, Inc. All rights reserved.

© 2024 Wag Labs, Inc. All rights reserved.