Picture this — you're sitting at home with the lights turned off, watching the latest horror flick on TV, and your heart is racing. You cuddle in closer to your hot date and you could swear they are just as scared as you are. Their ears are down, their tail is between their legs and their nose is warm — could your dog really be getting scared? In short, yes. But it's complicated.
Your dog may suffer from a noise phobia.
If your pup is huddled up against you, is shaking, or has plain left the room, then they're likely showing signs of noise phobia from your slasher flicks' intense soundtrack. Noise phobia is "an excessive fear of a sound that results in the dog attempting to avoid or escape from the sound." Common culprits are sounds like thunder, breaking glass, and fireworks, but can also include more everyday sounds like traffic noise and TV.
If your dog falls into this category, then you likely already know about it since a study by the University of Bristols School of Veterinary Sciences found that "fear responses to less important noises (TV, traffic) probably reflect fearful personality characteristics while those to very significant noises (gunshots, thunder, fireworks), may reflect specific exposures and experiences."
They also found that if your dog is one that's scared of the TV, they're probably also afraid of loud noises, so a horror movie is the worst of both worlds for your anxiety-ridden pup.
Dogs can sense your fear
When the suspense of the movie begins to build as the half-dressed girl walks towards the dark basement and you find yourself feeling scared, your dog can feel it too. While they may not be directly reacting to what's playing out on the TV, they are picking up on things like your body language, facial expression, and even the way you smell.
When a person sweats from fear, happiness, or a neutral state a dog will have a different reaction to each odor. This is thanks to your dog's super sensitive sniffer and his 200-300 million receptor sites (versus our measly 6 million).
Your dog is your best friend, you two know each other better than anyone else and have a unique unspoken bond. It's no wonder a study by the University Lincoln and Sao Paulo concluded, "that dogs truly recognize emotions in humans." They did this by showing dogs pictures of various facial expressions and playing sounds of voices in different tones and they found that the dogs matched them correctly the majority of the time.
When you combine your dog's noise phobia and the sense of fear they're picking up from you, it's only natural for them to have a tell-me-when-it's-over reaction.
The next time you're gearing up for a long night of Netflixing with your doggie date, take them into consideration when picking a title. Dogs that are afraid of loud noises can suffer from a noise phobia. They can also sense your fear by picking up on a human's body language, facial expression, and body odor. You may have to skip out on the horror movie. But, at least you won't have to worry about your date talking or checking their Instagram in the middle of the movie.