Dogs can smell your emotions

If you are a dog owner I’m sure you’ve wondered about your pet’s ability to understand your emotional states.

You may sense that your canine companion intuitively picks up on your mood but debate rages in the scientific world about the sentience of animals, particularly the emotional intelligence of man’s best friend. However, new ground-breaking research suggests that dogs can in fact interpret what humans are feeling and surprisingly it’s through their sense of smell.

What science has uncovered about dog’s sense of smell

Scientific studies have already provided evidence to suggest that dogs can use sight and sound to interpret what humans are feeling but little research has been done on the role of the olfactory system in reading emotions. This new study[1] conducted by the University of Naples in Italy exposed domesticated dogs to human body odour samples that were collected from research participants who were shown videos designed to elicit either fearful or happy emotional states. The researchers monitored the behaviour and heart rates of their canine research subjects and found signs of stress and higher heart rates in dogs exposed to ‘fear smells’. The research also concluded that dogs are so sensitive to human emotions that they adopt emotions they smell as their own. In the study, the dogs exposed to fear smells showed wariness towards strangers and sought comfort and reassurance from their owners.

According to the researchers, the role of dog’s heightened sense of smell to interpret the social world has, until now been unexplored as we primarily associate the detection of emotions with visual cues. “The role of the olfactory system has been largely underestimated, maybe because our own species is more focused on the visual system,” says Biagio D’Aniello, a key researcher on the study.

Why are pet dogs so attuned to human emotions?

This is perhaps the next big question for researchers in light of the growing body of evidence to suggest that dogs are particularly astute when it comes to interpreting human emotions. One theory is that dog’s emotional intelligence has evolved as a result of thousands of years of domestication. Whatever the reason, canine owners will be happy to know that their interspecies friendship extends beyond the superficial. Your dog feels what you feel!

[1] D’Aniello, Biago et al., ‘Interspecies transmission of emotional information via chemosignals: from humans to dogs’, Animal Cognition, Jan 2018, vol. 21, issue 1, pp. 67-78.

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