When you love your dog more than words can describe, it’s only natural that you want everyone else to love her, too. But beyond that, you want your dog to happily enjoy the company of the people she meets, especially friends and family who come to visit. But what happens if your dog has an inexplicable fear of certain people?
In particular, dog owners commonly report that their pups are afraid of men, and chances are, you have a fair amount of human males in your life. Whether these men are visiting guests or strangers on the street, your dog’s irrational fear can be frustrating, and worse, it cause a lot of unnecessary anxiety in his or her life. If this sounds like your pooch, you’re certainly not alone. Luckily, there are things you can do to help.
Why Your Dog May Be Afraid of Men
1. Former Abuse
The most obvious possibility is that you have a rescue dog who was abused or mistreated by a male before you adopted them, and now associates all men with bad things. It’s also important to note that a single negative encounter – perhaps one in puppyhood – could be traumatizing enough for this general fear to take root.
2. Perceived Threat
With the above said, there are lots of dogs out there who have never had a bad experience with a man but still get nervous when they’re around. This could be because they perceive men as more threatening than women, especially to a dog who’s naturally nervous. Caesar’s Way explains:
“…men are generally bigger and louder than women, with deeper voices. To a dog, big and loud are both threats, so they would naturally tend to shy away from this energy.”
3. Lack of Socialization
The best time to socialize dogs is between 7 weeks and 4 months of age, a time when they are impressionable and learning about the world. Your dog may be apprehensive around men simply because they weren’t socialized around them, so a man seems scary and unfamiliar. According to The Spruce:
“Usually, a fear of men in dogs can be traced to not being exposed to a wide variety of men in early puppyhood. Even a dog who has lived with a man can be fearful of men who are different than the one they are familiar with. Men are usually taller than women or children, have deeper voices, and may have different features, such as facial hair.”
Caesar’s Way also suggests that a difference in scent may account for a dog’s aversion to male humans. In addition to body care products that may smell unusual to them (especially if the pooch only lives with women and/or children), their sensitive noses can also detect our hormones. The site explains:
“In the dog world, puppies are raised by their mothers and the father is rarely even around. Therefore, the female smell of estrogen is something that puppies are exposed to from an early age, and this smell is also associated with their first food source — nursing. Their mother’s scent equals safety.”
Because of this, the scent of testosterone may feel foreign to your pooch.
Another possibility worth noting: perhaps dogs pick up on the subtly different ways men and women act toward new them. The article surmises that in general, men may tend to approach your pup in a more playful way, while women may come off as gentler and more nurturing. For a dog who’s generally nervous or passive, an assertive approach may be nerve-wracking — especially when initiated by a bigger, louder “animal” — even if it’s meant to be friendly.
How do I get my dog get over his / her fear?
We may never know for sure what makes some dogs anxious around men. Even if we know consider this fear to be irrational, the threat is real in the eyes of our dogs. As their guardians, it’s our job to try to help them feel safe in order to live the best life possible. Here are some ways you can start to resolve the problem:
1. Narrow it Down
Sure, your dog growls at the mailman and cowers whenever your police officer brother-in-law comes to visit; but does that mean he’s afraid of all men or could it be that he doesn’t like men in uniform? Maybe it’s just men with beards, or men wearing hats. Whatever it is, chances are, your dog finds these attributes frightening.
Maybe she considers the UPS man an intruder, and associates all uniformed men to be the same. If she’s a rescue, she may have been picked up by an animal control officer and associates all men in uniform with that scary memory. Perhaps a man with a beard yelled at her before, or she’s just not used to seeing men wearing hats. Whatever it is, figuring out the specific trigger will help.
2. Change the Association
If you think you’ve narrowed it down, see if there are people in your life who are willing to help break your dog’s negative association. If your bearded nephew sends your dog into a frenzy, see if he’s willing to patiently offer treats or toys to your reactive pooch. Maybe your friendly mailman is willing to give your pup a snack every time he drops off the mail. Invite male friends and family members over and ask them to wait, with their gaze down, until your dog approaches them (rather than the other way around). Make sure they move slowly and talk gently until your dog warms up to them. (And of course, equip them with plenty of treats!)
Just make sure you only do these exercises with people who you trust to follow your wishes and respect your dog. For more detailed training advice, check out this article.
If your dog’s fear of men is severe or you notice him/her acting out in aggression (baring teeth, snapping, lunging) — enlist the help of a professional dog trainer or behaviorist so no one gets hurt.
If you’re reading this and just got a puppy or are planning on adopting one, you’re in luck: this knowledge will help you socialize your pup to help them grow up to be confident and well-adjusted. When socializing, it’s important to let your dog have positive interactions with people of all sizes, ages, genders, ethnicities, etc., so they don’t develop irrational “fears of the unknown.” But if your dog is already an adult, it’s not too late; you can still socialize your adult dog.
4. Never Force
We humans use the expression “face your fear,” meaning to confront, head-on, the things that keep us up at night. But with dogs, this is not the case. The Spruce explains:
“Don’t force your dog beyond his comfort zone. If there are men in your household or men who frequently visit, don’t force your dog to accept their attention. This can lead to strengthening your dog’s fear at best, and a bite for you or the man preventing him from escaping his fear at worst.
Allow your dog to approach men on his own. It may be hard for the male dog lovers in the household, but the best thing they can do is ignore the fearful dog. Trying to make friends with the dog may have the opposite effect than what is hoped for, simply intensifying the dog’s fear. Allow your dog to decide how close he wants to get to the man.”
When it comes to overcoming fears, always let your dog take the lead; with lots of love and patience, progress is always possible!
Does your dog have a fear of men? Have you tried anything to help him / her through it? Share your stories with us in the comments below!