Dogs Mirror Our Emotions By How We Smell

New research shows that dogs can really smell our fear, and it makes them scared too.
Jessica Miley

You may have heard before that dogs can smell your fear, and scientists seem to be confirming that. A study led by Italian scientist Biagio D’Aniello shows that dogs do, in fact, perceive and react to our emotional states. But more than that, it seems that they adopt our emotions as their own.

The research was published in Animal Cognition and shows a strong indication that humans can transmit emotions to dogs via chemosignals.

To achieve their findings, the research team led by D’Aniello asked a group of volunteers to watch videos designed to ignite emotions of fear, happiness, or neutrality.

The volunteer's sweat was then collected. These odor samples were then presented to domestic dogs who had their behaviors and heart rates monitored during the encounter.

Dogs smell fear and get scared

The dogs were randomly assigned to a sweat sample accompanied by their owner. A stranger was also present in the room during the encounter. The dogs that were exposed to fear had a statistically significant higher heart rate than the dogs in the happiness and control groups.

The dogs interacting with the fear smell were also observed to seek more reassurance from their owners and made less social contact with strangers. Scientists had already known that dogs can interpret emotions from humans, but before this study, no research was done specifically on the dog's use of smell. Dogs have a superior olfactory system to humans, so it makes sense they use the method to gather information about the world around them.

Dogs respond to human eye contact

D’Aniello‘s research shows us that dogs behaviors are significantly changed by their owners. But dogs are also influencing us. The Study led by Juliane Kaminski of the University of Portsmouth, UK, has found that dogs faces are the most expressive when humans are looking at them. The research team introduced dogs to a human volunteer who was either looking at them or looking away and either offering food or presenting nothing. The dogs' faces were analyzed during each encounter.

They discovered that the dogs presented the most varied expressions when the person was looking at them. They said that there was no new facial expression from the dogs when the food was given, dispelling the myth that dogs try and look super cute when trying to get fed. Exactly how humans then respond to these changes in expression isn’t precisely known.

Dogs are family

Other research last year went some way to try and explore why some humans have such close relationships with dogs. Scientists at Princeton University think they finally have the proof that dogs are more like family than furry friends. A new study describes how people and dogs actually have a similar genetic makeup.

It turns out we share a similar chromosome with fur babies that dictates our social behavior and interaction. The researchers at Princeton University were interested in understanding how domesticated dogs possessed the ability to communicate and socialize with humans when wild wolves appeared not to.

The interdisciplinary research team used a combination of behavioral research and genetic analysis to determine their results. The study compared 18 domesticated dogs and 10 captured and socialized wolves. By comparing the DNA of the animals, it was discovered the dogs had a part of a chromosome that the wolves were missing.

This section of the chromosome contains unusual genetic materials that are related to a dog’s desire for human company and contact. Co-Author of the study, Bridgett VonHoldt explains, ”We haven’t found a social gene, but rather an important [genetic] component that shapes animal personality and assisted the process of domesticating a wild wolf into a tame dog.” So next time you hear someone describe their pet as a family member you had better believe them.

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