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Can dogs sniff out fear? How well can dogs really smell?

Our dog’s sense of smell is comparable to a high-performance computer. With their over 220 million olfactory cells (cf. humans have about 5 million), dogs smell 10,000 to 100,000 times better than we humans, depending on the breed. No wonder, then, that amazing abilities and areas of application are attributed to the dog’s nose.

“My dog reads the newspaper”

… this is a statement we often hear from dog owners when their beloved pelt-nose is busy sniffing and marking. And indeed, it’s true! Your dog’s sense of smell and social interaction are strongly linked. When dogs smell each other’s private parts, for example, they are exchanging a similar amount of information as to when we look at our friends’ Instagram profiles – the difference, the information dogs share via chemical messengers (pheromones) is unfiltered and real.

What information is communicated through smell?

  • Age
  • Gender
  • Health status
  • Reproductive status (Is my opposite ready to mate?).
  • Social status
  • Temperament
  • Degree of relationship
  • Genetic differences
  • Origin (Where was my counterpart just?)
  • and much more.

Dogs mainly communicate information about territorial and sexual behavior as well as about mother-child bonding.

So can dogs also smell fear?

The fact that we can transfer moods to our dog is already no scientific novelty. But does our smell play a major role in the transmission of moods, in addition to facial expressions, gestures, and our altered cardiovascular system?

Using sweat samples (from happy people, anxious people, and neutral people), we investigated whether dogs can smell fear. The results showed that dogs did indeed show altered behavior in the sweat samples from anxious people compared to the happy and neutral people. An increased heart rate, more uncertainty, and more frequent eye contact with the owner indicated that fear may very well be perceived by our dogs through the sense of smell. Presumably, this ability serves to the fact that dogs can estimate the feelings of their humans so better.

Thus we learn once again that we do not need to pretend anything to our dog, he has already seen through us or smelled the roast, before we know what we feel.

If you want to put your dog’s nose to the test, download our app and teach your dog “The Money Search”! You’ll be amazed at how accurate your dog’s sense of smell is and get to know your dog even better.

By Sarah Mertes

Certified dog trainer

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