"A dog smells your fear, so always stay calm." Many parents give their children this advice for handling dogs. Because of your fears, the dog could be incited to aggression.
But is this statement correct?
And can a dog really smell that you are afraid of him?
In this article we look at this folk wisdom about dogs of all sides
Contents of this article
Fear of dogs
A dog can smell fear, which can lead to dangerous situations when dealing with frightened people. This warning is popularly used. This teaches people to be calm and confident about dogs in order to control the situation.
At least, that is the intention.
Fear of dogs, also called "cynophobia", is a common phobia in our Western society. Cynophobia is a morbid and excessive fear of dogs, often accompanied by a very strong fear of being bitten. Now this form of fear is often not real in the Netherlands, where almost every dog has a owner and strict rules apply.
But this is not the case everywhere.
In non-western countries this fear is even normal. Feral or street dogs here form dangerous troops or carry deadly diseases, such as rabies. If you are bitten or hunted, this entails serious risks.
Fortunately, these problems hardly occur in the Netherlands and Belgium. Still, there are many people who prefer to see a different route when seeing a dog. There could be several reasons for this, such as:
- Bad experience in the past
- Negative reporting about specific dog breeds
- The dog's behavior (barking a lot, pulling on the leash, growling)
- owner (do not leash dog, dog is not under roll call)
Many people also react anxiously to dogs when they have to protect something. Think of another animal (for example a small dog) or a child. Often people prefer to take an alternative route than to run the (possible) risk of someone being injured.
In addition, communication between humans and dogs does not always run smoothly. We do not understand each other well or do not respond adequately to each other's signals, which can lead to unpleasant situations.
So it can be advisable to keep your distance if you do not know how to handle our established four-legged friends. But why does communication go wrong so often?
Body language as a speech replacement
Dog and man have lived side by side for many thousands of years. In fact, we have worked together so much during this period that our species have adapted closely to each other during their development.
We call this “co-evolution.”
Yet a big difference has emerged along the way between the two species. . This is mainly reflected in communication.
We humans make ourselves mutually intelligible through sound, in which sight and speech have become the most important parts for the correct transmission and interpretation of signals. This works differently in dogs.
Besides sound, they mainly use smell and body language in communication. And because dogs cannot speak to us, they mainly use this way of making contact with humans.
In addition, the modern dog is very dependent on the people around him for his care and survival. So it goes without saying that a dog benefits from studying humans. This allows them to better assess their situation and send people to their own advantage.
This may sound mean, but it comes from pure necessity. Almost everything a domestic dog needs for its survival is made possible by humans.
In addition, many dogs have been bred for an executive task in our human society. Think of watch, lap (toy) or sheepdogs. It was important to be able to see whether people were satisfied with your functioning.
As a result, the dog has become a real connoisseur of human behavior. Not only minor changes in our posture are observed, even unconscious processes from the body can function as a signal for your dog.
Also with fear.
What does a dog see with fear?
When you become anxious, prepares the body for danger. The heart beats faster, breathing accelerates and the muscles tighten to be able to fight or flee quickly.
In addition, we often keep our eyes fixed on what frightens us. To be able to respond as quickly as possible.
Because of his keen eye for human behavior and the change that fear causes in your previous behavior, your dog will easily be able to pick up this tension.
But why shouldn't a dog know, that he scares you?
What does our fear of a dog mean?
Fear can lead to unpleasant situations when dealing with animals. Why does this carry extra risk?
An unknown dog is usually wary when unknown people are around. He does not know what to expect from them and will therefore be careful. This behavior is enhanced when a dog has had negative experiences in the past.
But in some cases, a dog has a negative attitude towards you because it has a specific task around your presence. Think of guard and defense dogs.
Get out of my yard, stranger
When you are anxious, your tense attitude can negatively affect the dog. He can also become anxious, or react more aggressively to your fast movements.
But does the dog really pick up this fear through his nose?
Can a dog really smell that you are afraid of him?
Dogs have an extremely well-developed sense of smell. In addition to the fact that they may smell more than we do, they can also process much more information about these scents.
Take, for example, sniffing a pee from another dog. The sniffer smells in this details such as the sex of the peeing dog, whether it is sexually mature and how old it is (approximately).
And all that, from its urine!
We humans also give off smells. Our body processes and reactions produce the production of chemical substances. This can be smelled in the stool, but also, for example, through our skin or our sweat.
When we are afraid, an important process is started.
Our body puts in a state of preparedness. We are given the choice: fight or flee. Here the body assumes that we have to make this choice in a short time.
If there is too much conflict between these two choices, then a third is involved: freezing.
To give our body sufficient reaction speed. the hormone adrenaline is produced from our adrenal glands. This narrows the blood vessels and allows you to think and react quickly.
The change in our condition, therefore, involves the production of chemical substances. These chemicals, such as hormones, can enter your skin through your pores. Anxiety is often accompanied by sweating, which can cause the moisture to settle on your skin.
However, science has not yet found evidence that a dog actually picks up these substances from a fearful person. Therefore, the likelihood that our four-legged friend (as a human behavioral expert) needs subtle body signals is enough to recognize our anxiety.
Tips for anxiety in dogs
Research from the University of Liverpool (2018), shows that people who do not react to dogs anxiously or leave dogs alone by themselves are less likely to be bitten.
Challenging or nervous behavior can therefore cause contact with a dog to escalate. Possibly, because the dog itself becomes anxious.
So are you afraid of dogs? Then the following tips can help you:
- At the first contact, let the dog sniff you gently before you touch it.
- Don't pet strange dogs. If you want to do this, first ask the owner for permission
- Do not touch a dog without notice or acquaintance and stay away from his face
- Do not challenge a dog
- Do not make direct eye contact, but look over the dog going
- Always stand upright. Do not bend over or squat down
- Do not run away when a dog approaches you, but stand still. Running away will only encourage the dog to chase you and even try to “catch”
- Do not yell at a dog, so he only wants to defend himself more
- Never leave children alone with a dog, an accident is in a small corner
Note: These tips do not apply when you are actively attacked by a dog!
Do you want information about aggressive behavior in dogs? Then read our article aggression in dogs.
Are you approached by a busy, enthusiastic or running dog? Then stand still and make no eye contact. If the dog jumps up at you, turn away from him and keep your hands crossed in front of your chest. Do not push it away, so they will see it as a game. Always indicate to the owner that you are afraid. They are obliged to help you and keep their dog under control.