Some dog lovers say, “If my dog doesn’t like you, neither will I.”
If I sticked to that mantra, I’d hate most men. Between me, Matilda and Cow, we’d have our own She-Woman Man-Hater’s Club. And while that sounds like fun, it’s no way to live life.
Matilda and Cow both bark loudly when guest visit the house, which is normal – I’m able to get them to stop after a few appropriate alert barks. But if a man walks through the door, and hangs out in their space, they may continue to bark and bark, especially if the man talks loudly.
This is something I’m working on, and have made progress with, but they’re still quite sexist.
The Pressure To Punish
It’s embarrassing when your dog barks at someone.
They may judge you for your dog’s “bad manners.” You may feel pressured to yell at your dog to make that person feel better.
Especially a “manly man” who may accuse you of being too soft on your dog. I happen to think the manliest of men are the ones who trust that I know what I’m doing with my own dogs, thank you very much.
But if yelling at your dog, or even scolding them in a firm voice, was able to get your dog to stop, you wouldn’t be reading this blog post.
You might already realize that scolding a dog will not help them feel comfortable around men. It won’t make your dog friendly. It probably won’t even stop them from barking.
Barking Is The Best Thing Your Dog Can Do
Don’t allow anyone to bully you into “shutting up your dog.”
Your goal is NOT to get your dog to stop barking by any means necessary.
Your goal is to make your dog feel comfortable around men, and help them understand that they do not need to protect you or feel fearful of them.
When my dogs bark at men, they’re being polite. Even if it doesn’t always seem that way to me or the man.
They’re letting me and the man know that they do not want him in their space. They’re making it clear that they’re scared. That he better not try to touch them.
If I pressure my dogs to get close to a man they’re wary of, they might bite him. Not because they’re bad dogs, but because they’re animals that will protect themselves if they think they have to.
Why Dogs “Hate” Men
Dogs who are afraid of men have not necessarily been abused by a man.
Matilda and Cow are always happy to see their “dad,” so it’s not as though they have never loved a man. They were afraid of my male relatives at first, but now they cuddle with all of them.
It simply takes many dogs longer to warm up to men.
Men are bigger, taller and have deeper voices. They seem less likely to stoop down when they approach dogs, and may not realize that they hover in a way that dogs find intimidating. Some men have beards or wear hats that dogs can find scary.
Dogs can likely smell the hormones, body colognes and other odors that make a man, but I haven’t found any conclusive data about this. I’m only certain that a dog can tell a man from a woman based on smell, appearance and the sound of their voice.
Yes, I Just Gave My Dog A Treat For Barking At You
When my dogs bark at strange men, I do something that many people find confusing.
I give them treats.
It might seem as though I’m reinforcing their bad manners, or reinforcing their fears. It might seem like I’m rewarding them for barking at people.
But really, this just diverts my dogs’ attention back to me. As I said – it’s okay for my dogs to bark if they’re scared of men. Giving them a treat regardless of how they react helps them relax.
You may have noticed that when your dog is super focused on a distraction, or terrified, they will not accept even the tastiest of treats. In that case, you’ll need to get more distance between them and whatever is scaring or distracting them.
If your dog is just a bit tense and barking, you can use treats to calm them. Then, lead them away from the man, or continue to give them treats until the man has left.
Changing The Entire “Man Experience”
It’s preferable to give your dog treats before they begin to bark. Your goal is to get your dog to react to approaching by looking at you for treats, instead of barking.
Limit your dog’s time around men to no more than a few minutes at a time, and give your dog treats the entire time. Your goal is to keep your dog focused on you, and for them to never get frightened enough to actually bark.
This is technically called classical conditioning.
Classical conditioning is a learning process in which you change your dog’s emotion and reaction to a stimulus by pairing it with another stimulus. To make your dog feel calm and happy around men, give them treats whenever they’re around men.
Use treats to make the experience positive and help your dog focus on you. Don’t ask your dog do anything in particular. Right now, you’re not looking for “good” or “bad” behavior. Give your dog lots and lots of small treats at quick intervals so she’ll realize that men = treats.
In these sessions, do not lead your dog close enough to the man to make them react – just close enough to notice he’s there.
Taking To The Streets
Not all of your dog’s interactions with men have to be personal.
Simply taking your dog for more walks in downtown areas, instead of the park, can allow them to experience more men who will usually quickly pass you by.
A dog does not need an outstretched hand to pick up a person’s scent. Walking downtown allows your dog to get a quick whiff and glance, and the man will be gone before the dog can perceive a threat and become fearful.
I’ve noticed that my dogs are much calmer around men when we’re on the streets than when they enter our home. This gives us easy, low-level interactions to practice with.
Matilda and Cow will even approach men and try to sniff them. If the man tries to pet them, they usually retreat and might bark, so I keep interactions short and distant for now.
I don’t want to teach my dogs to bother everyone they see. For now, I praise them for showing polite interest in men, then encourage them to keep moving.
Don’t take your dog to the street if she’s extremely fearful or aggressive towards men.
Do bring treats and be ready to open your mouth if a man tries to pet your dog when she’s not ready. Leave your earbuds at home and be ready to take your dog out of any situation that’s too scary for her.
Teaching Your Dog To Be Friendly Towards Men
Some resources suggest that you allow people to give your dog treats.
The problem is, you’re forcing your dog to get close to the man to get their treat. If you coerce a dog to get too close, too fast, they’ll still be scared of him.
As your dog shows improvement through the above classical conditioning sessions, you may notice your dog begin to relax around men.
You can begin operant conditioning, which means to use reward or punishment to increase or decrease a behavior.
If your dog has made great progress with classical conditioning, you can slow down the treating and begin to only reward your dog when they make a good choice.
For example, your dog may choose to look at you instead of focusing on the man.
She may politely sniff his shoes, or show interest towards him. Click/praise/reward.
She may sniff his outstretched hand instead of retreating. Click/praise/reward.
She may allow him to pet her. Be very careful about men trying to pet your dog. Tell him to move slowly, and to softly say her name, or happy words that she’s familiar with.
Watch her face for any signs of stiffness. Is her tail wagging softly, or is it upright and stiff? Are her ears pinned back in fear, or pointed forward with curiosity?
Only after your dog has made a choice to approach the man, politely and at her own pace, may you consider letting him offer her a treat. At first, he can toss treats to the ground instead of offering them to her by hand.
Protective, Scared Or Territorial?
Your dog might not be barking at men because they’re afraid of them.
They might be trying to protect you. If they “hate” men who enter their homes, they might see the man as an intruder.
Whatever the underlying reason for your dog’s reaction, their heart is beating fast, and involuntarily.
Classical conditioning and operant conditioning can resolve these issues by changing your dog’s reaction to men into a positive one.
Whatever your dog “thinks” she has to do around men – you can change her mind, and show her what to do instead, whether you want her to focus on you or attempt to make friends if the situation calls for it.
Don’t Try To Treat Aggression On Your Own!
This article is about dogs who are wary or fearful of men – not dogs who are so terrified they growl, lunge or try to attack.
One wrong move can easily lead to a bite. If your dog bite someone, they may have to be euthanized.
Work at your dog’s pace, read her body language, and don’t force her into situations that make her uncomfortable.
You can work with a veterinary behaviorist to help your aggressive, fearful or reactive dog without risking your dog’s life. Be careful of who you work with. Anyone can call themselves a dog trainer, even if they use methods that can make your dog’s issues even worse.
Ask your vet for a recommendation, or find a trainer or behaviorist who is certified through the Association Of Professional Dog Trainers (APDT) or the Certification Council For Professional Dog Trainers (CCPDT).