You’ve certainly been told before that you should never show your fear in front of a dog, otherwise he could smell it and react aggressively. Well, no one can deny that our canine friends possess an extraordinary sense of smell. So, to what extent is the fear smelling true? Let’s check it out!

Is it true that dogs smell fear?

For starters, remember that fear is an emotion, and dogs don’t have mystical or paranormal powers to smell emotions. However, dogs can sense fear, which is quite different from literally perceiving an actual emotion. 

So, a dog may not be able to read your mind, but he can sense how you feel based on what happens in your body.

Did you know…?

An average man has about 6 million olfactory receptors in his nose, compared to 300 million receptors in a dog’s nose, with 40 times more neurons involved in the olfaction process in dogs.

The odor receptors are located in your dog’s olfactory mucosa (sensory surface in the dog’s muzzle). The surface of this mucosa is about 150 cm2 in dogs with only 3 cm2 in humans.

According to experts,

Your dog can sense fear based on smell. In fact, recent studies indicate that the sweat a human produces out of anxiety smells different than the one produced after normal physical exercise. This difference in smell is due to the chemosignals, our bodies release, called pheromones.

The pheromones are chemical compounds produced inside the body and released outside, mainly through sweat, in order to trigger a social response among members of the same species.

But a recent study conducted by D’Aniello Biagio et Al, in 2018, on a group of Labradors and Golden retrievers, showed that dogs can perfectly detect the pheromones produced by humans and react accordingly.

Is a dog likely to attack you if he senses fear?

You might think that dogs are more likely to attack scared people around them, as it makes them insecure and nervous. However, this isn’t always the case, as dogs with calm temperaments tend to withdraw when they sense that a person is afraid. 

This explains why some breeds are great with children, as they can calm down and retreat when they sense that kids are afraid of them. But many dogs tend to become aggressive around afraid people, and this can be the consequence of the dog’s temperament and personality as well as, the actions of the person manifesting fear, including the following:

  • When a person leaves in a hurry 
  • When a person stares a dog in the eyes
  • When a person is too noisy 

What to do if you are scared around dogs?

If you’re cynophobic (persistent and irrational fear of dogs), it is a good idea to know what to do in order to avoid canine aggression. Here are 4 tips that can help you: 

  1. Don’t face the dog or turn your back on him, instead, stand sideways to the dog. 
  2. Don’t run away as this could trigger the dog’s predatory instincts, just stay still and wait for the dog to go away. 
  3. Most dogs get nervous in noisy environments, making it a bad idea to talk or yell at a dog that has picked signals of fear from you.
  4. Avoid eye contact and don’t stare at the dog, as it can make him uncomfortable. 


Dog’s olfactory system is considered among the most performing and accurate in the animal reign, that’s why it’s been exploited by humans in many fields for centuries, from drug enforcement to cancer detection and even COVID-19 detection recently. Yet, we are far from understanding the actual extent of its potential.


  • Siniscalchi, M., d’Ingeo, S., Quaranta, A. (2016). The dog nose “KNOWS” fear: asymmetric nostrils use during sniffing at canine and human emotional stimuli, Behavioural Brain Research, 304, 34-41. 
  • D’Aniello, B., Semin, G.R., Alterisio, A. et al. (2018). Interspecies transmission of emotional information via chemosignals: from humans to dogs (Canis lupus familiaris) Animal Cognition, 21, 67. 

Photo Credits:

  1. Featured image: Super nose by montillon licensed under CC BY 2.0
  2. 2nd image: Josy’s nose by bergamaskerin licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0
  3. 3rd image: Vicious looking dog that could bite by State Farm licensed under CC BY 2.0


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