Veterinarian-written / veterinarian-approved articles for your dog.

Can Dogs Smell Fear?

Have you heard that dogs can smell fear?

It's a common saying, "Act confident; dogs can smell fear!" It's been passed down for ages, but is it true?

Dogs Can Identify Fear in Humans, but Can They Smell It?

Dogs probably can't exactly smell the human emotion of fear. However, they can definitely identify and interpret humans' emotions and words. They probably do so by combining several sources of information.

  • Humans who are scared have a surge of adrenaline. They usually sweat more and dogs can smell those hormones we are releasing. With time and experience, and perhaps as part of their evolution alongside humans, dogs can come to identify that scent.
  • Because they can't speak to us, dogs have become masters at watching and interpreting humans' body language. If you are scared, there are probably a myriad of facial and other body language changes that a dog can immediately notice.
  • Dogs' brains process speech in a similar way to humans' brains. One half of the brain evaluates the words a person says while the other half analyzes the tone. You can read more here: "Use Your Voice and Body Language to Make Your Dog Happy."

Can You Hide Your Fear from Dogs?

Given the probability that dogs use scent, sight, and hearing cues to determine that we are afraid of them, it might be difficult to hide our feelings from these canine detectives. Still, it's important to do what you can to act calmly around a dog to decrease the likelihood of him challenging you.

  • Don't stare directly into an unknown dog's eyes. This is a common thing because a person who is afraid of a dog may wish to watch the dog's eyes carefully for clues that he is about to be aggressive. However, staring into the eyes of a dominant canine could cause the dog to feel challenged or threatened, actually provoking a bite.
  • Take deep breaths, and do your best to remain calm. This can help relax your facial and body muscles, so you're not radiating as much fear to the dog.
  • Move slowly and deliberately. Don't move quickly, jerkily, or in a manner that indicates you may run from the dog. This could provoke him to give chase. Don't tower over the dog or reach over his head, which he may take as a sign of dominance that he wishes to challenge.
  • Don't make fearful noises. This is especially important to teach children. Making squeaky noises or screaming might alarm a dog or trigger his predator instinct, triggering him to snap at or chase the person.

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