Head of the Class Dog Training LLC 

Winchester, VA

Winchester's Premium Professional Pet Training

How Do Dogs Know When You Are Afraid of Them?

Dogs don’t technically SMELL fear, but they can pick up on it. It sounds a little silly to say, since fear doesn’t have an odor to us, but here’s what dogs are actually sensing — changes. When we humans are afraid of something, no matter how still and stone-faced we are outwardly, we’re giving off other kinds of signals. When you feel afraid, it often feels like your heart is going to jump out of your chest. But did you know that your breathing also changes? Dogs can pick up on subtle changes in your respirations. And along with this, you may perspire. It’s all part of your fight or flight reaction.

In addition to the sweat, your body gives off pheromones when alarmed. These chemicals are part of the fear response, and, yes, dogs can sense the change. While they pick up on your shifts, this doesn’t mean that a canine will be waiting to attack when they sense your fear. There doesn’t actually seem to be any correlation between your fear and the likelihood of a dog attacking, so there is some comfort for you!

What Might Cause a Dog to Be Aggressive?

While your fear alone isn’t going to call a dog to bite you, the actions you choose to take could increase or decrease the likelihood of a dog being aggressive. Your body language and physical actions are the most important factors in avoiding an aggressive encounter with a dog. If you come across a dog, and you’re terrified, here are the best steps for you to take:

  • Do not seek out eye contact. Dogs may see this as a challenge, and it could put them more on guard.
  • Do not take off running. Many dogs will think you are playing and will naturally chase you to join in the game! Be calm and still.
  • Keep a neutral facial expression and posture.
  • Do not yell, kick or flail your arms at the dog.
  • Turn yourself slightly sideways, so the dog knows for sure you are not challenging his space.
  • Wait for the dog to leave, or back away slowly from the dog.

Can Dogs Smell Fear?

I bet you’ve heard one of these phrases before: “Dogs can smell fear.” or “Dogs know when you are afraid of them.” If you are indeed afraid of dogs, neither of these sayings likely brings you much comfort. But the question is, are they actually true? The fact is dogs are brilliant creatures capable of reading signs and signals we aren’t even aware we are giving, but let’s decipher these statements a little more.

Most dogs you encounter are not likely to threaten you, but I understand that for many, the fear of dogs is real. We work with dogs and their owners every day to improve canine (and human-to-dog) behavior, helping owners understand their dogs’ behaviors.

If you have an aggressive dog, or one who is just a bit overzealous and in need of training, give Head of the Class Dog Training a call. We’re here to help you build a positive, safe and understanding relationship with your dog.

Lisa Marino, CPDT-KA, KPA-CTP, PMCT, has taken her varied teaching experiences and applied them to helping owners understand and train their beloved four-legged family members. She has more than four years’ experience leading group dog training classes at Best Paw Forward in Hartland, WI, and opened Head of the Class Dog Training LLC in Winchester, VA in 2012, where she conducts group classes and private lessons, as well as helps owners to modify their dogs' problem behaviors. Lisa earned her CPDT-KA in 2012, is a 2015 graduate of the prestigious Karen Pryor Academy and is a Pat Miller Certified Trainer.