Conquering Your Dog's Fear of Men
One pet owner's true story of helping a shelter dog conquer her fears.
Living in a home without pets just didn’t feel right since I’d grown up with dogs. So when I got my own place, I headed out to adopt a canine companion. When I saw Andi at the Manhattan Animal Care Center Shelter in New York, she was calm amidst all the other barking dogs. I was instantly convinced this 2-year-old was the dog for me.
Andi became my roommate the next day. She also soon became my best friend, but she took the job a little too seriously. She decided it was her responsibility to ensure my life was devoid of men or, in her mind, the enemy. As soon as a guy walked into the room, she barked and hid, quivering, behind my legs. No man was safe in Andi’s eyes. Friendly male family members and neighbors were no longer welcome to stop by, and certainly no suitor was allowed to hug me. This situation seemed like it could put a real damper on my dating life!
Everybody’s got a past?The shelter told me that Andi’s previous family had given her up and that she was good with children, which is true. But I figured there had to be more to her story. She let women pet her right away. However, if a man made any attempt to touch her, she cowered as if she expected to be hit.
I took Andi to the veterinarian soon after I adopted her and asked about her behavior. The veterinarian said trust often is an issue for shelter dogs. So I embarked on a mission to help Andi learn that she could rely on family and friends—both male and female—to treat her well.
It’s a matter of trust?The veterinarian had it right: For Andi, relationships are about trust, which she builds on her own time. She usually started trusting a gentleman after four or five meetings. She would slowly show her newfound comfort first by sitting next to his legs and then letting him pet her.
She eventually allowed a few men to work their way into her heart. My father couldn’t resist Andi’s big, sad eyes. Now that he’s been around a few times, she jumps onto his lap and he cuddles with her. Every time my grandfather came by, he encouraged Andi with a gentle, “Come here, Andi. Come on.” These days, she jumps onto his lap and he pets her until he has to leave. Andi has even chosen a favorite man: my boyfriend. (Whew!) He always let her smell him before he tried to pet her. When he did pet her, he was calm and gentle. She now gets excited when he arrives.
We’re working on it?While these loving relationships happened naturally, I implemented a few techniques to help Andi conquer her fears. For example, I asked a male friend I could trust to participate in training. He would stand 10 feet away from her and hold a treat until she made her way over to sniff it. She was always too scared to take the treat, so he tossed it for her to retrieve. The next step was for him to sit on the floor with a treat in his palm. He encouraged her to come using a soft, comforting voice, and he rewarded her when she did. He ignored her if she barked or snapped.
After three years, Andi’s behavior around men still isn’t perfect, but both of our love lives are flourishing. Andi still doesn’t build instant bonds with men, but she’s much quicker to trust them. So she’s definitely learning. And I am too. My takeaway lesson: Always insist a man prove he is worthy before you hand over your heart.
Fear doesn’t always equal abuse?If you adopt or purchase a dog that is older than 6 months and it is fearful, there’s no way to be certain it wasn’t abused. However, some dogs are genetically inclined to be more fearful. What’s more, it’s not uncommon for dogs to be afraid of men. Men tend to have deeper, more authoritative voices and their actions can seem more threatening than women’s.
Before getting a new dog from a shelter or breeder, speak with your veterinarian about which type is best for your lifestyle and your family. If you’re adopting a dog, ask the shelter to provide as complete a history as possible. After your new dog comes home, work through any behavior challenges, including fear. The best way is to seek training advice from your veterinarian.