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Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Dogs and Prejudice

From the mail bag:
I've heard of dogs not liking certain people and different theories about this.

Is it visual (skin/hair/eye color)? Olfactory (different people have different diets and different scents, e.g. vegetarians will have a different scent than carnivores)?

Last year, Puddin and I were in a training class where some of the dogs were barking.  In an effort to suppress the barking, the trainer sprayed some dogs in the face with vinegar water. One dog, a Rottweiler looked especially frightened and dejected when he was sprayed in the face.

I said to myself, "that dog is probably going to start being afraid of all men with beards.. or all men with deep voices, or men in general." Hopefully, I was wrong and the dog forgot all about the incident.

But sometimes when dogs seem to have an irrational fear of certain genders, certain races, certain physical attributes, it can be because of a trauma.  The dog decides what is traumatizing. The Rottie might become afraid of the smell of vinegar, or all plastic spray bottles, or all men with deep voices, all Caucasian men, even all men. The list is endless.
So what might seem like prejudice in dogs - is actually "generalization." A dog might have a bad experience with a man, then all men become frightening.

Sometimes it depends on how many good experiences the dog has had.  If this dog has had a lot of positive experiences with men in beards, then that one bad incident probably wouldn't make the dog fear men with beards.

Writer and Behaviorist Turid Rugaas writes about a lady who brought home a new Basenji puppy. As the husband was walking out to greet the new family member, a broom fell out of the broom closet and hit the puppy.  Two and half years later (when the couple went to see Turid), the puppy was still afraid of the husband.  Based on the story, the puppy didn't actually generalize. He didn't become afraid of all men or all brooms, but he did form a negative association with the frightening broom and the male caregiver.

Even though dogs can generalize because of a trauma (as in the above two examples), most dogs are probably fearful because of lack of exposure. 
So when we see dogs who are fearful of men, the reason might not be abuse. It might be that when the dogs were young, they didn't get enough exposure to men - A lot of shelter workers and shelter volunteers are women. A lot of vet techs and boarding facility workers are female. 

Does your pet have any unusual fears?  Tell us about it in the comments below.

Email general questions or comments to Replies might be shared on this blog but names will be changed or left out.


  1. Big Macs Would Rain From the SkySeptember 4, 2013 at 5:23 AM

    My dog is afraid of the smoke detector in the kitchen. When it goes off (it's a beep about every second or so) either from cooking or from testing, he goes and hides in another room with his tail between his legs - he'll even leave his food, and he loves eating.

    I don't know why this is - I even asked his biological mother if there was ever an incident when he was younger and she said "no."

    Maybe he was at home alone one day when the batteries were dying and had to listen to the dying battery warning for hours, I don't know.

    1. Hi Big
      My dogs are also afraid of the smoke detector chirps. But my dogs are afraid of a lot of things.

      I suspect that high pitched noise is painful to a lot of dogs. I've read that in low and normal ranges, dogs' hearing isn't much better than ours. But in higher ranges, their hearing is vastly superior.

      Those smoke decector chirps are very annoying for many humans. Imagine how annoying they'd be for someone with super hearing.