Can Wolves Smell Fear?

Wolves cannot smell fear physically, but they can use other senses and techniques to recognize if an animal is scared of it – primarily body language.

They’re very good at recognizing fear, though, and they do that by analyzing the body language of an animal or another wolf, which tells them that the animal they’re looking at is scared of them. Head bowing down, downward posture, tail between legs, and defensive stance are all signs of fear that wolves don’t miss.

Can They Smell Fear Physically?

When talking about “smelling fear”, we have to take a closer look at the meaning of the word itself.

Smelling fear is a phrase that’s commonly used for an animal or a person that’s able to recognize signals of fear in another creature. That’s why it’s sometimes misused and used in situations that are not relevant and impossible.

However, wolves are sometimes able to recognize fear through scent, because other animals release fluids and odors that signal fear in that particular animal.

For instance, mice, rats, and smaller rodents will emit fluids such as urine when they’re afraid, which might be easy for the wolf to smell them and consequently, smell the fear of an animal quite literally.

But it’s also been established that dogs and wolves are very good at recognizing emotions with humans, so there’s no reason why they wouldn’t repeat that in nature, too.

Dogs are capable of deciphering a human’s emotions simply by looking at their eyes or by recognizing other signals of stress like high heart rate, sweating, faster breathing, and more. As a consequence, it’s highly likely that wolves have the same capacity as dogs to recognize these signals of fear.

How Do Wolves Recognize Fear?

Wolves will recognize fear through body language and various odors that might come from the other animal, as well as the facial feature, especially if they’re facing human beings.

Some of the most common features that say another animal or wolf is afraid are:

  • Tail between legs
  • Head bowing down
  • Defensive posture
  • Backing down from a confrontation or even shaking
  • Odors such as urine

Another interesting sign of fear in animals is with sheep, who will freeze because of fear and they will become stiff and unable to move. This paralysis is a clear signal if a wolf decides to attack a sheep herd.

As for smelling fear, it’s not yet been discovered whether dogs and wolves can smell our sweat, but many scientists argue that dogs can smell our sweat. And sweat is one of the most common indicators of fear, which is why wolves and dogs are able to recognize this fear through sweat.

However, the notion that wolves can somehow “telepathically recognize our fear” is wrong. They don’t have such a capacity and we know that wolves will rely heavily on their senses to make sense of their environment.

They’ll use all the senses they can to try and recognize the emotions of another creature, including fear. Eyesight and smell are two of the most common senses they use to recognize fear.

Read More: Do Wolves Cry?

What Do Wolves Do If They Recognize Fear?

When wolves recognize that another animal is afraid of them, they will not waste their time to attack it or to take advantage of this fear in one way or another.

If they recognize fear in another wolf, they will take advantage of this fear in order to make gains for themselves. Most often, that will be to take the territory of the animal that’s afraid or to take advantage of the pack of the other animal.

Wolves that are afraid often end up becoming omega wolves, which are the wolves that are the lowest part of the wolf hierarchy.

As a consequence, other wolves will start taking advantage of the omega wolf and even attack it. At first, it might appear this is coming from a playful nature, but this behavior has a more profound effect. It acts as a confidence booster for the members of the pack that attack the omega male.

If wolves sense fear in another animal, they won’t hesitate to attack it. And because this fear gets too strong with some animals, they’re unable to run or strike back, which leads to their death.

As for humans, it’s unlikely that wolves would attack a human being, even if they would be able to recognize fear in the human. Most wolves would back down if they ever saw a human come close to it, or if they were able to recognize the human before he enters their territory.

Are Wolves Ever Afraid?

Wolves are rarely afraid but they will run away from humans if they get intimidated by them, and they are also afraid of fires.

There was a good reason as to why humans have always built fires to protect themselves against beasts like wolves.

Most wild animals are very scared of a fire and will never come close to it if they can see it. They’re also afraid of smoke so if they sense smoke, wolves will back down and move in the opposite direction of the fire or from where the smoke is coming.

As already mentioned, it’s highly unlikely that wolves will get scared of other animals. It’s also hard to gauge that, since we don’t exactly know what wolves are feeling when they fight with each other, or when they confront a bear.

It’s highly unlikely that what they’re feeling is fear though. They’re probably feeling adrenaline that will keep them going in chases or when they sense an opportunity to strike down another animal.

Read More: What do Wolves Smell Like?


There’s an interesting common misconception that wolves can somehow sense or smell fear on its own as an emotion. However, several pieces of evidence from scientists will tell you that it’s simply not true.

Instead, wolves are very good at deciphering body language cues and other signs of fear they can find in their environment in order to learn about the emotional state of another animal.

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