Many people assume that dogs who are afraid of men must have endured some negative experience, such as being abused by a man, but it’s not necessarily so. Dogs may be afraid of men for several other reasons that some dog owners may find surprising. In order to understand fear of men, we must put ourselves into a dog’s mindset and see the world from a dog’s perspective. Dogs who are fearful of men are often reactive towards a combination of features such as their voice, their movements, their general appearance and their gait. Following is a collection of reasons why dogs may be fearful of men.
One of the primary reasons why dogs are afraid of men is lack of socialization. During puppy hood, generally between the ages of 3 to 12 weeks of age, puppies should be exposed to many different people, dogs and animals during what is called the “critical period of socialization.”
An inadequate level of exposure to a wide variety of men during this time may negatively affect the puppy’s social upbringing leading to a lack of social attachment towards men. This lack of pleasant experiences with men during puppy hood, could, as a consequence, trigger fearful responses.
In some cases, dogs are indeed introduced to men during their critical period, but they are introduced too quickly or in an inappropriate way, leading to an overwhelming situation. This means that the puppy wasn’t ever given the opportunity to habituate and form those positive associations leading to fear memories that were never given an opportunity to resolve.
“Being afraid of men is very common for dogs living with single women, since the dogs have had little opportunity to interact with men on a daily basis. “~Ian Dunbar Modern Dog Magazine.
As mentioned, people often assume that dogs who were fearful of men must have been abused, but it’s often not the case. All it takes is a negative experience to make a dog fearful, and the negative experience doesn’t have to involve pain or purposeful intimidation.
To a fear-predisposed dog either by genetics or under-socialization, all it may take is something as small as a man wearing a hat hovering over them to pet them, a large man coughing nearby or a man dropping something or carrying something scary for a negative experience to occur.
Men often wear hats and uniforms, drive loud trucks, carry ladders, use loud electrical equipment and enter people’s properties to do yard work, construction work or deliver packages. These simple things are enough to create a negative experience and for the dog to form negative associations with men.
“Your dog needn’t have had a traumatic experience with something to become frightened of it. Just because your dog is afraid of certain people, don’t jump to the conclusion that he was abused before you got him. Poor socialization is more likely the cause.” ~Animal Behavior Associates Inc.
Among many species, male and female specimens may exhibit clear distinctions between each other, beyond the obvious difference of their reproductive organs. This is called sexual dimorphism and may occur in different animals.
In humans, the differences are quite distinct, so much that a man can be easily distinguished from a woman even from a distance. These differences, that encompass anything other than the reproductive organs, are called secondary sexual traits. Dogs, as the keen observers they are, are readily able to take note of these differences courtesy of their sophisticated sense. Following are secondary traits that may cause fearful responses in dogs.
A study published in the September issue of Current Biology revealed that, when women walk, their swaying hips and protruding elbows made them appear as if they were moving away, while the masculine gait was perceived as coming nearer.
The researchers suggested that at some point there must have been some evolutionary benefit in assuming that a male is walking since men were more often considered a threat. This way, the observer had the option to get ready to fight or flee.
There are possible chances that dogs, being the observant animals they are, are sensitive to this difference in gait and perceive it as more direct and intimidating.
“If the critical points of men are seen as coming closer at higher rates or stronger intensity than women, no wonder dogs are more afraid of males than females. Fearful dogs are ALWAYS more afraid of something coming at them than they are at approaching something themselves.” ~Patricia McConnell
Unlike women, men often have facial hair. Whether it’s a beard, goatee or a mustache, dogs may be reacting to facial hairs if they haven’t been socialized properly to people with facial hair or if they had a past negative experience.
Interestingly, in one study, pictures of bearded men and clean-shaved men who were making aggressive facial expressions were compared. The pictures of the bearded men were perceived as more intimidating.
Perhaps this is because beards are perceived as a sign of active testosterone in the body which may signal status and aggressiveness. Another interesting study by Guthrie in 1970, explains how throughout primates, male facial hair are associated with threat displays likely because facial hair causes the size of the lower part of the face to appear bigger. One must wonder if dogs may see men the same way.
5) The Intimidating Voices
An interesting study has shown that dogs can spontaneously categorize human gender by hearing voice alone. This means that dogs can associate certain tones of voices with men. Men in general have a deeper voice which some dogs may find intimidating. Perhaps to some dogs deep, booming male voices may resemble a bark or growl and that’s why they may react by growling or barking upon hearing them.
Desensitization and counterconditioning through the “hear that” method can be used with the aid of a professional to help dogs fearful of men who become reactive upon hearing male voices. Dogs can be systemically exposed to voice alone at first with the man at a distance for mild cases or out of sight for more severe cases.
By pairing the voice with treats, positive associations can be gradually created. Afterward, further criteria can be added, such as the voice becoming louder and adding other subtleties such as laughing, clearing the voice and coughing.
6) The Size of Men
When it comes to size, men may likely appear more intimidating to dogs compared to women. Men are generally taller and and have more muscle mass than women, even though this is not a general rule.
Men also are known for having broader shoulders and chest, larger feet and hands and a larger skull and bone structure. Dogs fearful of men may notice these differences, especially when accompanied by other “manly” features.
Can dogs detect human gender just by smell? We know that every individual has a distinct smell, but is there such a thing as a “man smell” and a “female smell”?
Scientists seem to concur that we emit gender-specific odors. A study has shown that actually humans are able to extract (at a subconscious level) gender information from chemosensory cues associated with gender.
With a dog’s sensitive sense of smell it wouldn’t be surprising if dogs could detect gender too, but at a conscious level, rather than unconscious, thus making them react accordingly.
Man’s Best Friend?
Dogs are known as man’s best friend, but many dogs are afraid of men (and some of women too!). When it comes to fear, dogs as other animals tend to be hyper specific which means that they are prone to be afraid of several small, specific details.
Fear of men is likely the sum of many details such as voice, smell and gait. To help a dog overcome his fear of men it’s important to identify all the details that trigger fearful responses so that you can work on each component a little at a time.
This means gradually introducing the scent of men, then the voice of men versus a full-scale exposure to a tall man, who is coughing, wearing a hat and quickly carrying a ladder into your home! Through a gradual and systematic program of desensitization and counterconditioning, dogs fearful of men can be helped. If your dog is fearful of men, consult with a force-free dog behavior professional for safety and correct behavior modification implementation.
- Gustafsson A & Lindenfors P (2004). “Human size evolution: no allometric relationship between male and female stature”. Journal of Human Evolution 47 (4): 253–266.
- Anna Brooks et al, Correlated changes in perceptions of the gender and orientation of ambiguous biological motion figures, Current Biology, Volume 18, Issue 17, pR728–R729, 9 September 2008
- Guthrie, R. D. (1970) Evolution of human threat display organs. Evolutionary Biology 4:257– 302. [aJA]
- Behavioral and Brain Sciences, (2009), Does sexual selection explain human sex differences in aggression? by John Archer.
- Cross-modal discrimination of human gender by domestic dogs V. F. Ratcliffe, K. McComb, D. Reby* School of Psychology, University of Sussex, Falmer, U.K, Animal Behaviour 91 (2014) 127e135
- Modern Dog Magazine, Dogs That Hate Men, retrieved from the Web on March 12, 2016
- The Other End of the Leash, Why Dogs are More Afraid of Men, retrieved from the Web on March 12, 2016
- Animals in Translation: Using the Mysteries of Autism to Decode Animal Behavior
By Temple Grandin, Catherine Johnson, Mariner Books; 1 edition (Jan. 2 2006)
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