If you ever found yourself in a situation where you are near a growling dog, you’ve probably told yourself to stay calm, don’t panic and show no fear. Why do we do this? Because we believe that dogs can smell fear and that staying calm, showing no fear will help us.
Can dogs smell fear? Is this a myth or is it true? The simple answer to this question is – dogs can probably sense fear but that’s not what they are interested in.
If dogs can smell fear this leads us to believe that our body produces a particular smell of fear and since dogs have a strong sense of smell they probably can smell the fear. If dogs can recognize that you are scared are they more likely to attack?
The first thing to remember is that your body does produce chemicals such as sweat, stress hormone cortisol, adrenaline which all as a combination can be related to fear. Dogs can detect all sorts of biological cues even telltale signs and smells of cancer. It’s possible that dogs can detect fear as well. Dogs are mind-bogglingly intuitive and they are way better at interpreting the behavior of humans than chimps. Your dog knows when you are lying and they can detect different human emotions. Studies also suggest that dogs can read our facial expression to know if we are sad, angry or happy. It’ s not only smell that they can pick up, but they can also detect tensed muscles, and wide eyes if someone is afraid.
However, once you find yourself next to a growling dog, it doesn’t matter if a dog can or cannot detect fear. They are not interested in our fears and they are not more or less likely to attack if they sense fear. A study from the journal Injury Prevention found that dogs are more likely to attack when they perceive us as a threat to their territory, belongings or their food. When researchers examined the situations in which dogs had bitten children, they found that half of the dogs had some type of painful medical condition. A dog in pain is more likely to be protective, anxious and more likely to bite an innocent bystander.
What to do if you think you might get attacked by a dog? It helps to stay calm and most definitely, it helps if you don’t run.
A professor at Cornell University College of Veterinary medicine, Dr. Katherine Albro Houpt said for the New York Times:
“We do know that dogs are likely to attack rapidly departing people. They are responding with predatory aggression, not recognition of fear in the victim.”
Sensing fear is not important to a dog, they are more interested in perceiving you as dangerous to them. And sometimes, even though you do not present the danger to a dog, they still might bite you. It might seem that dogs are not really good at detecting if someone is dangerous or not. Here, you can find yourself in a situation where you have a growling dog in front of yourself who is in pain as well. When dealing with this type of dogs, one wrong move and he might bite you.
It’s also important to remember that we shouldn’t be too confident as well. A growling dog can interpret eye contact as a sign of aggression and danger, and that can make them attack you. The best thing to do when you are around an angry dog is to stay still while looking near the dog, but not at the dog. Once you feel comfortable, slowly move away from the dog.