Can Dogs Smell Fear?

 GUEST BLOG from PetBucket. Pet owners have long known that dogs can pick up on their emotions, but new research is showing that, thanks to their powerful noses, our pets can literally sniff out how we feel. Here, PetBucket, the pet treatment specialist, explains more:

Dog owners have long suspected what science has more recently proven: our canine companions are experts at picking up on how we feel. Thanks to animal behaviour research, we’re learning how, exactly, our pets are able to sense our emotions and in some cases, it turns out Fido can literally smell how you’re feeling.

Just how exactly do dogs know how we’re feeling?

Dogs and humans share a lot in common. We’re both highly social species and both use a series of complex facial expressions, body language and vocalizations to communicate with our peers. It’s no surprise that when early dogs came into contact with people, they began learning to read human emotions, which increased their chances to access the food, shelter and affection we provide.

Animal behavior experts and psychologists have proven that dogs can sense human emotions, but only recently did they prove that dogs use their powerful sense of smell in the process. A team of researchers set out to answer whether dogs use body odors—also known as chemosignals—produced under certain states of emotion to determine how we feel. To do this, they recruited eight human volunteers, who watched videos designed either to provoke either fear or happiness. The researcher team collected their subjects’ sweat throughout the video, and then, put each canine subject into a room with his owner and a stranger. The samples were then diffused while scientists watched the dogs’ reactions. By monitoring their heart rates, posture and movements, they found the animals reacted differently to the two samples. Dogs exposed to “happy sweat” had fewer, shorter interactions with their owners and more interactions with the strangers in the room, indicating confidence and a more relaxed state. The dogs smelling the “fear sweat” sample, however, exhibited stress-related behaviors such as elevated heart rates and seeking out their owners.

Give your dog plenty of opportunities to sniff around!

This study offers some insight into just how important Fido’s sense of smell is when it comes to his daily life. Dogs have 50 times more scent receptors than humans, so smell is critical to your pet’s ability to gather information about his surroundings. Giving Fido plenty of opportunities to sniff during walks is important, then, to keeping him mentally stimulated and happy overall.

While both you and your companion reap the health benefits of a brisk daily walk, keep in mind that it’s equally important to stop and sniff the roses when it comes to your pet. Letting him linger longer allows your dog to engage his brain and act on his natural instincts. If you’re interested in carrying this positive effect even further, you may want to consider enrolling your pet in a scent work class to boost his confidence and strengthen the bond you share.

About the author

PetBucket is an online retailer, stocking pet vitamins and supplements, as well as tick and flea treatment such as Nexgard for dogs and Bravecto chews.