It turns out that dogs can smell fear… kind of.
A new study published in the BMJ found that anxious and neurotic people were more likely to be bitten by a dog. The study went on to discover that anxious people were also more likely to be bitten by a dog that they didn’t know. In short, a dog can’t smell fear on a human, but they can sense fear in a person.
The University of Liverpool conducted the study via a mail-in survey to 1,200 households. Recipients were asked if they’d ever been bitten by a dog, if they received medical treatment after the bite, and if they knew the dog in question. The survey also contained questions for a personality assessment.
So, what were the results? Over 600 people replied and the results were eye-opening. A little less than a quarter of those folks responded that they had been bitten by a dog, and a third of those people said they needed to seek medical treatment afterward. Men were more likely to be bitten by dogs than women.
With these results, a pattern emerged: people who were more nervous or anxious were more likely to be bitten than their even-keeled peers. The researchers stated: “It is also plausible that people with different personality types behave differently around dogs. Dogs may find certain human behaviors threatening and stressful and respond with aggression.” While there may be other risks at play between a nervous person and a dog (environment, noise, health, behavior around unknown animals or humans), the study isn’t sure on the direct connection between dog bites and anxious people.
It’s normal for dogs and humans alike to be a little nervous when meeting strangers. So if you find yourself crossing paths with a new dog for the first time (say, hiking on the trail), the best advice is to be calm, display warm body language, and speak softly. And if you can’t do those things, at the very least keep your hands to yourself.