According to the poll conducted by GfK Roper Public Affairs and Corporate Communication, 47 percent of dog owners said they’ve been alerted by their dogs for the bad news. In fact, most dog owners believe their dogs have a sixth sense – an uncanny ability to sense danger, but how true is it? Can dogs really sense bad people [1]?

Due to their highly refined sense of smell and hearing, trained dogs can detect things like drugs, blood, alcohol, sweat and even explosives when humans can’t. While an untrained dog may not necessarily judge these items as dangerous, they may be alerted that something is different. But when it comes to humans, can a dog’s instinct be trusted [2].

Can a dog’s instincts be trusted?
In a study published in the journal Animal Cognition, a team led by Akiko Takaoka of Kyoto University in Japan wanted to know if a dog would trust a person who was unreliable. This research was divided into three rounds.

In the first round, the experimenter pointed to a container with food and the dog ran towards it. In the second round, the experimenter again pointed at another container, this time an empty one. In the third round, the experimenter pointed to the same container with food, but now the dogs did not respond. All 34 dogs used in the experiment had the same reaction.

A new experimenter replicated the first round and once again, the dogs showed interest.

More Evidence?
In another study, reported by Neuroscience and Biobehavioral reviews, it was observed that dogs could read the communication between their owners and strangers.

In the experiment, volunteers were asked to act out different scenarios while their dogs watched. The dog owners pretended to struggle at opening a container before asking the two researchers for help. In the first scenario, one researcher offered to help while the other stood there passively. In the second scenario, one researcher actively refused to help while the other researcher remained passive.

At the end of both scenarios, the dogs refused treats from one of the researchers who had been deliberately meaning to their owners.

Could this be the reason?

When a person is acting aggressively, their brain chemistry experiences changes in a way that dogs can smell, causing them to react to a potential threat before their owners have perceived the threat [3].

Temperament

While some dogs may react aggressively when they perceive a potential human threat, others may take on a mellow disposition. It is left to the dog – owners to decipher if the dog’s temperament is unusual or not.

References:

  1. Dogs can tell if you’re untrustworthy“, BBC Earth. February, 2015.
  2. Most owners see pet’s 6th sense“, NBC News. November, 2011.
  3. Studies Show That Dogs Can Sense ‘Bad’ People“, Mystical Raven. April, 2018.
  4. Do dogs follow behavioral cues from an unreliable human?“, Springer Link. October, 2014.
  5. Third-party social evaluations of humans by monkeys and dogs“, Science Direct. November, 2017.
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