Can Your Dog Sniff Out a Bad guy?
Numerous accounts exist of pet owners claiming that their dog saved their life by warning them of a strangers’ ill intent. Can dogs really determine whether a person is bad or good? Maybe you have a story to share.
The dog is a highly social animal specially adapted to living with people. Dogs are always working to minimize conflict and working to get along. The dog wants to increase good things that happen to him and decrease the chance of bad things from happening to him. The ability to recognize and respond to human emotion is a social behavior dogs are capable of. Dog trainers know if you are fearful of something your dog is likely to copy you.
A dog’s sense of smell is far greater than ours, so it is plausible that they can smell an aggressive person before we can tell if they plan to harm us. As a person’s aggression increases, testosterone levels increase. Another source of detecting a human’s inner emotional state could be attributed to biological events such as body language & facial expressions, heart rate, perspiration, respiration rate. When a person is thinking, or preparing, for an aggressive act their testosterone levels increase, their heart rate rises, facial muscles tense, and perspiration increases as their body prepares to “fight”.
Does a dog sniff person for raised testosterone levels? Do they listen for as increased heart or respiration rate? Do they look to the face for tiny muscle movements telltale of aggressive thoughts? Do they observe for dominate body postures? Do they conserve energy by letting their human do all this processing for them?
Dogs have emotions and experience them in response to odor, they have a superb sense of smell, the ability to detect biological changes associated with seizures, the ability to read facial expressions. They also tend to synchronize with their humans, feeling how they feel by simply copying them.
Currently, however, we cannot validate that a dog can smell a ‘good’ or ‘bad’ person. We do know the odor associated with a ‘bad’ person is increased testosterone, but this hormone, like insulin, cannot be isolated from the human body for testing because we also have blood, water, sugar, and other fluids inside of us. This has halted the testing of dogs’ ability to detect changes in hormone levels occurring in humans.
This does not mean that dogs cannot detect and decipher emotion in humans. It means we cannot scientifically validate that they can smell ‘good’ and ‘bad’ people.
We do know that dogs can decipher emotion in humans. They recognize and recall memories and emotions associated with odor, they actively read facial expressions and body language of humans, can notice subtle biological changes so minute they are invisible to humans, such as in seizure alerting.
This remarkable ability gives dogs a glimpse into the emotional lives of humans. Although it cannot be tested scientifically, I believe dogs can and are determining whether a stranger might be good or bad. Next time your normally happy, care-free dog feels unsure about a stranger it just might be best to listen to him and get out of there!
How about you? Has your dog ever told you that a person is bad guy? Did this save your life? Share your dog’s story!
Katie Weibel, Master Dog Trainer. Providing training for companion, service and working dogs, sharing knowledge and expertise.