No, dogs are no more attractive to sharks than any other land mammal in the ocean. There is no conclusive scientific evidence that swimming with your dog or letting your dog swim in the ocean will attract sharks.
Shark attacks are a rarity across the world but in countries like Australia, it’s understandable for dog owners to be concerned when letting their canines enter the surf.
While there have been a few rare cases of dogs being attacked by sharks, the majority of dogs and their owners will never come into contact with a shark of any kind.
So what leads people to ask, do dogs attract sharks?
Why aren’t sharks attracted to dogs?
Tests on sharks have identified that the blood of mammals has no effect on them. A Mako shark was used in this particular test, the shark was anesthetized and equipment attached to monitor brain and synapse function.
During this unconscious state, the shark was exposed to different kinds of blood diluted into the tank’s water. Scientists then measured the brain’s response to these different stimuli (types of blood).
The blood of marine animals fired off the synapses in the shark’s brain related to hunting. When the same test was performed with both humans and land-dwelling animals, those same synapses failed to fire.
Essentially this means that even if a dog has an open wound while swimming in the ocean, a shark would not investigate any further as dogs are not seen as a viable food source for sharks.
The guys over at Mythbusters decide to put the shark vs dog theory to the test. They took it a step further and even introduced dog urine and feces to see if it would attract any sharks.
It’s worth noting that sharks are able to register the electromagnetic field generated by animals in the water which would not have been present in the robotic dog used in this test.
The results can be seen below:
Cases of mistaken identity
Leaving blood to one side there are some reasons a dog or any other animal in the ocean could potentially attract a shark to their location.
Sharks are equipped with very keen senses that can pick up movement and sound from vast distances away. Any anima causing a lot of noise including dogs is at risk of being at least investigated by any sharks swimming nearby.
Excessive motion in the water will also alert sharks of another living thing close by which may lead to further investigation.
Most sharks will simply investigate if the commotion is a viable food source and leave when they discover it is not.
Problems arise when water is particularly cloudy, reducing sharks’ vision. In cases like these sharks are much more likely to investigate any potential prey with a quick bite which for dogs and humans can be deadly.
This often happens when large surf is disturbing the sand on the ocean’s floor and combining with the water to reduce visibility to nearly zero.
Heavy rains can also reduce water clarity leading to a higher chance of a shark attacking you in a case of mistaken identity.
Due to their Seal heavy diet, sharks are experts at identifying, large blubbery specimens that will provide plenty of calories in one meal. While most dogs are very distinguishable from seals, particularly overweight hounds may provide a more seal-like outline to sharks observing the surface from below.
Which sharks are dangerous to dogs
Bull sharks are without a doubt the most aggressive shark species swimming in our world’s water. Attributed to at least two fatal dog attacks and potentially more unreported attacks, Bull sharks pose the greatest risk to your dog while swimming in the ocean or near river mouths.
Bull sharks have the highest recorded level of testosterone in the animal kingdom leading them to be aggressive and territorial at all times. Unfortunately, this can lead to attacks on swimmers and pets in some areas of the world.
Much like Bull sharks, Tiger sharks are aggressive predators that can populate riverways, harbors, and jetties putting them in close proximity to dogs.
Unlike Great Whites, Tiger sharks will not take a tester bite and leave and will generally maul any creature they decide to attack leading to 34 human deaths since records began.
The largest on this list but perhaps the least threatening. Due to their gigantic size, Great Whites must preserve energy at all times, and attacking unconfirmed prey is often a waste of that energy.
While this probably brings no comfort, Great Whites will actually spit out any unsuspecting prey that does not match the characteristics of one of their main food sources. However, in many cases, the initial bite will be devastating enough to be fatal to humans and dogs alike.
Where did the sharks are attracted to dogs rumour start?
Most recently in Australia, a dog was attacked and eaten by a bull shark at Bonna Point near Botany Bay. This attack was widely publicized by Australian Media outlets and local authorities recommended not to let your dog enter the water.
Sharks maintain a rather scary reputation despite relatively low deaths and attacks on humans or domestic pets. Often their appearance is enough to strike fear into most people and Galeophobia (fear of sharks) is present amongst large swathes of the population.
This unwarranted fear and fascination lead people to discuss and in turn worry about sharks more than they should. This same fear can lead to ridiculous rumors of sharks being attracted to dogs and hunting them down like a rare delicacy.
Check out our deep dive into sharks and surfing for more about our misunderstood friends.