Can Dogs Sense Bad People – Understanding Someone’s Intentions

can dogs sense bad people

Many people have heard stories about how dogs can sense something bad happening before it happens. Of course, it’s not unusual to be walking your dog at night and suddenly have them huffing about something in the distance. normally this is just a friendly neighbor or many cases a reflective traffic cone, but what if someone had bad intentions, would your dog be able to sense bad people if they walked by?

Dogs can sense bad people through a combination of learned behaviors and their sense of smell. Adrenaline and sweat give off a powerful odor making it one of the best ways for a dog to smell if someone has bad intentions. Dogs can also assess a person’s body language which combined with their ability to smell make them great at assessing if someone is bad or not. 


How Do Dogs Sense Bad People

Many people look at a dog’s ability to sense danger or a bad person as a sixth sense. This is a general term for something that in fact stems from one of their other senses combined with their intuitive mid. Below we will discuss the various aspects that make up a dog’s ability to sense bad people.

Communication – Body Language

This may seem like a broad subject but in fact, when referring to how dogs sense bad people it can be one of the most important aspects.

Because dogs do not communicate with structured language, the way in which people present themselves becomes one of the main ways in which dogs communicate. By having a limited vocal range your dog’s brain has adapted to communication through, body language as well as smell, which we will cover later.

It is well known that if someone is blind or deaf their functional sense may become more acute. This can be related to the way dogs live amongst humans. Because dogs have so many interactions with humans they become familiar with body language and our actions towards certain situations. Let’s face it we all get angry, stressed, and sad, so our dogs can pick up on this deminer and apply it to people they do not know.

Aside from aggressive body language a dog’s ability to distinguish an angry facial expression can help them determine someone’s intentions. This was proven through an experiment where dogs had to choose a happy face over an angry face in order to get a treat, the video below from the BBC outlines this experiment.

Studies like this show how aware dogs are of their surroundings, especially when it comes to the emotions humans express with their bodies. Dogs may react to a fast-approaching person negatively or even if someone is bigger than their owner, they may become defensive due to the possibility of that person causing harm.

As we have established, body language is a great way for dogs to communicate and assess a person’s emotions whether it is a stranger or their owners. However, communication through body language is only one part of a larger array of senses that can determine whether someone is bad or not.

Sense of Smell

A dog’s sense of smell is an incredible ability that dogs use for almost every aspect of their life. When it comes to smelling a bad person on approach, some other factors have to be at play. The one major factor is the odor that the bad person emits. If their intentions are bad then there is a likelihood that they will be sweating which gives off a pungent odor. On top of this smell will most likely be a unique smell of the hormone adrenaline, which if someone is plucking up the courage to harm, this will almost certainly be present.

Even though these smells could be unique to bad people, it doesn’t mean that your dog can naturally make this connection. This is a learned trait and something that is not just acquired from human interactions. Of course, if a dog has an experience with a human who emits these smells and also harms them or their owner then this association will become stronger. The more likely scenario is they associate the smell of adrenaline with anxiousness, aggression, and strength, something they will come across when meeting other dogs.

As discussed previously, communication through body language is a way in which dogs learn what to expect from a human. The only problem with learning body language is that in order to relate this to a person’s intentions they have to learn it from humans and not so much from other dogs. Heightened levels of aggression can lead to stronger smells of adrenaline and sweat, whether this is in a human or a dog and so the association is easier.

A dog’s ability to understand the world around them is much more powerful when it comes to using their nose. This is because their brains are much more dedicated to processing smells as well as remembering them. I go into more detail in one of our other articles “How Long Can A Dog Follow A Scent – Understanding Your Dogs Nose”. Another post that may interest you is “Why Does My Dog Smell Everything On A Walk”.

can dogs sense bad people

Lack Of Understanding

Although dogs can understand a lot about an environment, sometimes on a much higher level than ourselves, they may not always understand something for what it actually is. Dogs are instinctive and unlike cats, curiosity does not control them and their desires (at least as much as cats). This being said, dogs will feel emotions such as fear which can manifest into defensive actions.

You may notice your dog’s demeanor change more during the night, this is because it is harder to identify things around them compared to during the daylight. For example, I have had experiences walking my dog during the night where my dog has acted defensively, huffing and puffing. One time was when a group of lads emerged from a country lane with their hoods all up, this was not unusual to me as there was a cold wind. Now I wear hoodies all the time and when I want to I will put my hood up, my dog knows this and sees me with it up on walks all the time, so why did my dog act so differently to these lads?

The reason lies in the fact that he couldn’t see their faces and that there were 5 or more of them. His instincts took over and uncharacteristically he huffed and let out a small growl. I believe fear played a large part in his reaction and I’ve seen him act the same with lights in the distance or even a reflective traffic cone. If you’re looking to walk your dog at night then check out my article on “Walking Your Dog at Night” for some great tips and advice.

Not being able to understand the world around them can be worrying and this will soon produce an instinctive reaction to protect themselves and those around them.

Letting Your Dog Protect You

This is a difficult issue to talk about as a protective dog can easily become an aggressive dog in the wrong situations. There are of course certain situations when you can allow your dog to be protective, but first, you must realize that training your dog to attack is not a good answer. This type of training can present serious consequences and you should never encourage aggressive behavior unless you are being threatened.

Instead, the best way for the average owner to gain some protection from their dog is to train them to be a guard dog. Guard dogs do not attack but alert you or others by barking loudly, this barking could also prevent an attacker from getting close to you, as they don’t know what your dog is capable of.

To get a better idea of how to train a guard dog check out this article on WikiHow which gives a breakdown description of how to effectively train your dog to protect you and your family.

can dogs sense bad people


From assessing all the relevant information and getting a better understanding of what helps a dog understand the world around them, we can say that dogs can sense bad people. This sense is not so much a superpower or natural ability but a learned process that is developed using a dog’s acute ability to smell and identify body language. It is also important to note that when your dog does not understand something or cannot fully identify it they will become defensive or fearful.

Dean Lissaman

As a child I grew up around dogs and have loved them ever since. I now have a beloved Golden Retriever who enjoys exploring the outside world. Being an outdoor enthusiast has inspired me to create the ultimate resource on relating both dogs and the outdoors. For more information on me check out my about page.

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