Ok it’s a generalised title. Most dogs don’t dislike men but a small but significant number do. Ask anyone that works with dogs, particularly shelter workers, which particular group of people dogs tend to dislike – the answer is invariably men. Behaviourists don’t know why but we suspect the size, the deep voices, the attitudes of men make dogs wary. Perhaps we are now beginning to understand…

Young man, young dog

An interesting post by Patricia McConnell tied together a recent study on human motion with our dogs’ likely perspectives on human gender. Research shows that people view male and female movements differently. When shown image points on the human torso in motion, people perceived males as walking towards us while females are perceived as walking away (It’s in his walk).

Biologically and historically this makes sense. Men are the hunters, ready to approach (to kill or to warn off) in a threatening manner. Females are the gatherers and nurturers and need their children to follow. It’s still debatable, however, whether dogs view human movement in the same way as we do.

Dogs may perceive the male approach as threatening thus become fearful and/or defensive. Scared dogs may try to flee but dogs who cannot take the flight option (because they are on a leash or in a vet clinic or in their own homes and have nowhere to escape to), often have to take the fight option. Research has shown that a more indirect approach to a dog (front to side-on, no eye contact) results in less incidences of canine aggression.

Extrapolation: To take this idea a step (pardon the pun) further … assuming this is the case and dogs perceive male movements as threatening… how then can we advise men to move? Certainly in a more indirect way when they are moving towards a dog. With a more swinging gait? (Is this more feminine?)

Then again, perhaps it’s not the movements at all. Perhaps the human voice has an impact too. Light, ‘happy talk’ seems to disarm dogs, again suggesting that the female voice is less of a threat. Or perhaps it’s our pheromones which dogs can detect and react to. Time and more research will tell.

Your experiences…

Do you have an experience with a dog who does not like a certain group of people?

Have you had an experience with a dog who acts fearfully or aggressively on your approach?


  1. This is case where it’s important to understand that gender and sex mean different things – my hunch is that dogs who are reactive to men are responding to real differences between the sexes, but if dogs are responding to the behavior of men – their gender – then we can more easily address the problem by having men modify their behavior along with counter-conditioning our dogs. If men, in general, have something they can do differently around dogs, the man-fear will have less reinforcement than if dogs have an instinctive reaction to real difference between men and women (which leads to some dogs over-reacting) than counter-conditioning those dogs is the only solution.

    And by the way, I’ve seen with my reactive dog and a few generally shy dogs that the classic indirect approach has the opposite effect – my hunch here is that an attempt to engage the dog is a trigger for those dogs. These dogs appear to be more comfortable with people who are bumbling around largely oblivious to them.

  2. My dog is nervous and fearful of strange people, but particularly men…She calms down and approaches women a lot more readily, she takes longer to come round to men…Recently she has started approaching more people in general which is nice to see, but most of the time I am asking her to walk on past which isn’t so nice when she approaches them…xD…

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