Is it true that dogs can sense fear?



I am sure we all have been walking home from school and began to hear that famous growl that seems to grow in intensity the further down the street you get. Sweat begins to run down your cheek as you try to figure out the direction of the growl eventually you locate the direction of the growl turn around and come to find out a neighbor's  dog is chasing you. You have two options, either run as fast as you can or stand your ground, but wait if you stand your ground will the dog sense your fear and call your bluff?

Believe it or not but contrary to what many believe a dog's nose is connected to its brain more than we think. It not only dominates its facial structure but also its brain. A dog's key sense is smell because it is its most reliable way of interpreting the world, similar to the way we as humans use our sight to locate obstacles and give us sense of direction. Therefore the myth about dogs and their smelling remains to be true in that if you are afraid a dog can smell it.


But how do we know this to be true? Well according to Nancy Diehl, an equine scientist at Penn State "Instead of detecting airborne molecules, the accessory olfactory system is designed to "read" the messages of non-volatile pheromones, communicative chemicals emitted by all animals. Research suggests that pheromone molecules transmit information concerning territory, aggression, and most prominently, reproduction."

But could a dog be picking up our pheromones? This is indeed true based on the dog's accessory olfactory system. They can detect the role in socially useful chemical communication to suggest that fear might be communicated by smell. But more over the idea that dogs can sense fear is contributed to the fact that in reality the dogs actually recognize behavioral clues in people that it has seen and learned and they cannot actually sense fear they just have picked on certain behavioral patterns. Likewise says Nancy Diehl "horses are also able to identify fearful riders from their erratic behavior. Awkward riders tend to kick too frequently and pull the reins when they should not and a horse will learn to stop responding to these signals when they're delivered without rhyme or reason."

You may ask well Yannick is there any experimental evidence of this? Well, I did some research and found the most recent and relevant study performed on the topic was done in 2002 by the University of Vienna. The study measured the amount of sweat and the intensity of the smell of the sweat which was released in women based on how scary a movie they watched was. The researchers found that females could tell the difference in the smells and amounts of sweat they released based on the type of film they watch. The females described the "sweat from the horror film was described as stronger, more unpleasant, and more aggressive than the neutral film sweat." Although the study did not involve canines based on the fact that dogs have considerably good smell as we see with the use of drug dogs, it is likely that dogs can detect the difference in odors in the sweat that is produced when a person is fearful.

Furthermore it is possible that humans do not actually have a fear scent and just release regular sweat in different amounts based on the level of fear we are experiencing. As studies have shown when humans are afraid we tend to sweat more. Lastly it may have nothing to do with smell and more to do with our actions those dogs can easily pick up base on their interaction history with humans, such that if we back up when we are scared or run the dog recognizes this from previous interactions with people and then remembers the movement as fear.

Works Cited:

. "Can dogs smell fear?." Wendy Zukerman. N.p.. Web. 7 Dec 2012. <>.

Koopman, Julian. "Can Dogs Really Smell Fear?." Den Solutions. N.p.. Web. 7 Dec 2012. <>.


This is a really cool topic. I've always wondered this myself but never really thouht much about about. I have heard of animals being able to sense fear in others, whether it be humans or other animals. In particualr, I remember hearing about piranhas. They sense blood, motion, fear, and other things just like many other animals. check this out...

i think dogs are able to feel fear, growing up i always had pets specially dogs, and i was always thought that dogs know who is bad and who is not. apperantly they can sense evil in a person. i think is pretty cool that an animal can do that.

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