Dogs are incredibly sensitive beings. Often, they surprise us with how receptive of their surroundings they can be. There are numerous stories about dogs detecting earthquakes and bad weather, and we all know they can sniff out weapons and drugs. Not only this, but recent research also seems to confirm dogs can sense cancer and even low blood sugar in humans. (Scientists believe they may even be able to sniff out COVID-19.)
Probably every pet parent in the world has also noticed that dogs can react differently to different humans. Sometimes a dog will adore a stranger, and sometimes just the appearance of a person can make them act scared or aggressive—and this is true when it comes to our romantic partners, too. But where does this judgement come from? And should we trust the judgement of our canine companions?
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Do Dogs Have a “Sixth Sense” About People?
When getting introduced to a new person, or just interacting with strangers, dogs can have all sorts of reactions. Some pet parents will say that’s because our furry babies can sense bad people, bad energy or evil. But is any of this true? And what can a dog’s reaction tell you about your partner? Well, here some scientific evidence that dogs can actually read human emotions and intentions.
Dogs Can Smell Emotions
The idea that dogs can smell fear, or other human emotions has been around for ages, but now we even have controlled studies that confirm this.
“A dog’s nose is sensitive at levels that we can’t even imagine - so much so that they can smell changes in our body chemistry which inevitably happen when we are experiencing emotions,” says Dr. Dench, vet advisor at Gentle Dog Trainers.
Whether it’s fear or happiness, your dog can actually smell it. Fear, aggression and suspicious behavior essentially come from the same primordial feeling (that of fear), and dogs will definitely sense this in a stranger. So, if your dog is avoiding a person, acting scared in general or showing aggressive tendencies, this might be one of the reasons.
Dogs Are Great at Reading Body Language
There are plenty of examples that show dogs can understand human gestures. After all, it is quite a well-known fact that you can train a dog to respond to hand signals. And it’s not only about hand signals - when you teach a dog to walk by your side, they learn to follow your body movement more than anything else.
Taking this into consideration, it shouldn’t surprise us that dogs can get a lot of information about a person just from their body language and facial expressions. This way, they can often tell if a person is suspicious or insincere.
Dogs Learn from Past Experience
If you are a pet parent, you probably know this already: dogs can make associations and use their past experiences to make decisions in the future. For example, if they know there was food in a certain container two times, they will expect to find it the third time too.
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Well, the same thing happens with humans. Researchers from Kyoto university conducted an experiment to check if dogs can detect when a person is dishonest or unreliable. In this experiment, researchers tested the dogs by pointing first to containers with food, and later to empty containers. The dogs quickly learned who to trust and who not to trust. The same principle applies in real life, but dogs can read much smaller signs of a person’s intentions.
Final Thoughts: Should We Trust the Judgement of Our Dogs?
Should we let our pets help us choose our partners? Well, to begin with, there is a lot to learn from watching a person interact with a dog. First of all, people who are friendly and gentle towards dogs tend to be more empathetic overall. So, a good partner will most likely get along with your dog too!
But then, there is also the other side of the story. What if a dog acts scared, unfriendly or downright aggressive towards your partner? Well, as we have shown above, there might be good reasons for this. The dog might be smelling negative emotions or even noticing small non-verbal signs of untrustworthiness. On the other hand, the dog might just be jealous and asking for your attention. In the end, while we probably shouldn’t completely base our decisions on a dog’s behavior, it’s definitely a good idea to pay attention. Our canine companions can give us some important clues about people!
Also important to consider: Animal abuse and domestic violence are intricately linked. Read more in “No Four-Legged Family Member Left Behind.”
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