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Do Dogs Smell Fear?

A pet lover passionate about educating readers about animal health and care. Love reading studies and recent research.
Published on
Sunday 17 July 2022
Last updated on
Tuesday 9 May 2023
Do Dogs Smell Fear?
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The topic of whether dogs can smell fear and differentiate emotions has been debated by many people for a long time. And if you want to find out what side is right, this article explains everything you need to know about.

Is It True That Dogs Smell Fear?

The study by D’Aniello et al. (2017) proved that dogs can smell fear through a person’s sweat and body odor. The moisture from a person when they’re afraid contains unique chemicals. It serves as a signal for dogs to identify human emotions such as fear.

Dog’s superior sense of smell also greatly contributes to their ability to pick up human emotions through odor. Their sense of smell is 10,000 to 100,000 times sharper than humans’. 

Now, how can dogs detect fear through secreted sweat? 

Chemosignals From Humans to Dogs 

Dogs can detect fear and other human emotions through chemosignals. Chemosignals refer to chemical signals the human body releases that contain information like one’s emotional state (fear, happiness, anxiety, distress, and more). Sweat induces chemosignals.  

Given that dogs possess an incredible sense of smell, these chemosignals help them detect specific human emotions. The study by D’Aniello et al. (2017) proved that dogs can detect human emotions via chemosignals.  

Dog Breeds That Can Smell Human Emotions

According to the study by Svartberg (2006), Golden Retrievers and Labrador Retrievers have high rankings in behavioral traits related to socialization, curiosity, and fearlessness. Thus, they are often used as dog samples. 

Here’s how both dog breeds are good at smelling human emotions:  

Golden Retrievers

Golden Retrievers highly offer unconditional love for human companionship – and this is one of the reasons that make them easily identify different human emotions. When Golden Retrievers sense fear, they start to provide additional comfort and playfulness to reduce the negative emotions. 

Additionally, Golden Retrievers are also very easy to train, and they are quick to catch up on tricks and specific commands which makes them one of the best service dogs to have.

Labrador Retrievers 

Labrador Retrievers are one of the best therapy dogs because of their calm, obedient, and friendly personalities. Because of their nature, Labrador Retrievers are good when it comes to sensing human emotions, and they tend to reflect the emotions they sensed.

Like Golden Retrievers, this dog breed also provides comfort and seeks reassurance from their owners when they sense fear and sadness. 

Can Dogs Sense the Difference Between Happiness and Fear?

Dogs can detect emotions via body odor, facial expressions, and body gestures. Aside from this, dogs can also sense the difference between human emotions like fear and happiness

In the study by Siniscalchi et al. (2018), they state that dogs can differentiate emotionally positive sounds and negative sounds. The researchers also noted that dogs turning their heads to the left means they are using the right side of their brain, and turning to the left means they are using the right side of their brain.

Here are the highlights of their findings:

  • Dogs can identify positive and negative sounds using their ears. 
  • It is harder for dogs to interpret emotions like disgust and surprise. 
  • Dogs turn their heads to the left side for negative sounds (sadness and fear), and to the right for positive sounds (happiness).  

The latter finding is important as previous studies confirmed that dogs process emotionally negative sounds using their right brain, and positive sounds with their left brains.

On the other hand,  D’Aniello et al. (2017) also proved that dogs can differentiate emotions. The researchers conducted their study by collecting sweat samples from human volunteers after watching videos that were made to evoke fear and happiness. 

Here are the highlights of their findings: 

  • Significant behavioral changes among dogs were noticed after being exposed to sweat samples. 
  • Dogs exposed to “fear odors” portrayed more stress signals compared to dogs who were given “neutral or happy odors.” They also had higher heart rates. 
  • Dogs exposed to “neutral or happy odors” became more active and interactive with strangers. 

Do Dogs Smell Fear: FAQs

Here are the answers to some of the most frequently asked questions:

What do dogs do when they smell fear?

When dogs smell fear, they lessen interactions with strangers, seek more reassurance, and comfort their owners. Dogs also tend to feel scared and anxious too; thus, mimicking the sensed emotion. 

What other emotions can dogs sense?

Aside from fear, dogs can also sense emotions like happiness, sadness, and anger. Meanwhile, the study by Siniscalchi et al. (2018) shows that dogs have difficulties interpreting emotions like disgust and surprise.

Can dogs smell anxiety?

During anxiety attacks, the human body produces a hormone called cortisol (stress hormone). Since dogs can smell cortisol, dogs can also sense whether someone is feeling anxious. When dogs detect a high level of cortisol, they begin to act in a more comforting manner.

Can puppies smell fear?

Like adult dogs, puppies can also smell fear. Even though puppies are still small and young, their sense of smell is still incredible. Thus, they can also detect fear and other emotions through chemosignals.  

Can dogs sense depression?

Dogs can also sense depression. When a person is depressed, their serotonin (the happy hormone) level drastically decreases, and since dogs can smell serotonin, they can detect if it’s rising or falling. 

Based on various scientific studies, it is true that dogs can smell fear and other human emotions through chemosignals. Thus, it makes perfect sense when pet owners always claim that their pets know when they are feeling sad.

Aside from that, dogs can also sense and differentiate fear and happiness using their senses of smell, sight, and hearing.  

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