You are convinced your dog understands you better than anyone else. Maybe you’re right. A newly published study by Biagio D’Aniello of the University of Naples “Federico II” found that dogs respond in predictable ways to chemosignals from people in different emotional states. In this study, sweat was collected from men who watched videos that evoked fear or happiness. Dogs were exposed to sweat dispensers randomly loaded with sweat from fearful or happy men, or no sweat (control). The dogs’ owner and a stranger were also present. Scientists recorded the dogs behavior, noting activities like approaching, interacting, and gazing. They also noted whether the behaviors were directed at the owner, the stranger, or the sweat dispenser. Dogs interacted less with owners and more with strangers when exposed to the “happy” sweat. They interacted more with their owners and exhibited fear behavior when in the presence of the “fearful” sweat. Heart rate data also indicated that dogs exposed to sweat from fearful people were more stressed than those exposed to sweat from happy people.
These results indicate that not only does your dog understand you, but he also senses the emotions of strangers. This may be important when you and your dog are in a public place and exposed to people who may be afraid of dogs or who may be having a bad day. (Anger was not tested in this study, but it’s a safe bet that dogs modify their behavior in the presence of angry people). Dog trainers know that one of the keys to successfully controlling your dog is to control your own emotions. This study provides further evidence that the best thing you can do for your dog in a stressful situation is to remain calm and positive. Not only will your dog read your facial expressions, she will also read your scent.