Some dogs don't like certain stereotypes of people.
You’ve probably experienced this before; you’re walking along the sidewalk and an adorable dog approaches from afar. The owner, eyes wide in fear, pulls her pooch to the opposite side of the street with an apology of “Spartacus doesn’t do well around !”
It’s true that some dogs aren’t always fond of a particular sex, but not too many people know the actual reasons why this happens.
Arguably the most widely assumed reason behind a pet’s fear of a certain type of person is that the animal was likely abused by someone of that gender earlier in life. While this is sometimes the case, it’s not the most likely culprit. Unfortunately, many pet owners will come to this assumption automatically rather than test the theory, causing them to paint all members of the opposite sex as a threat their dog or cat must be kept safe from.
The most likely reason your dog or cat is afraid of the men or women in your life is because she hasn’t been exposed to many of them. Socialization is an important part of your dog’s life and should start early, at less than 16 weeks. If your pet wasn’t properly socialized as a puppy with members of both sexes then she could definitely be wary of one or the other. Even as an adult your dog should still be exposed to a lot of different people to help keep her friendly throughout her life.
What can you do about it?
Helping your pet get over her anxiety toward members of a certain sex can be a struggle, but it’s not impossible. Take things slow when starting out, as forcing your pet around strangers can make the situation even worse.
Let Her Set the Pace
Never force your dog into an uncomfortable situation, like a room full of men if she’s more comfortable with women. Instead, introduce her to one man at a time and make sure he comes equipped with plenty of treats. If she doesn’t take to him, don’t force her to stay in his presence. Consider removing hats and foreign objects from the situation to get her used to the unadorned human form.
Don’t Scold Her
If your dog runs in fear of a man or woman, don’t discipline her. By doing so you’re only going to increase her fear of the situation as a whole. Instead, let her head to a place where she feels comfortable and try again later. Never command your dog to sit still in order to let someone pet her if she’s clearly uncomfortable with it; that’s just asking for someone to get bit.
Dogs pick up cues from their owners, so if you go into a situation nervous about how your pup might react, she's going to pick up on it. This will cause her to become nervous herself; it's a vicious circle. Instead, be confident and composed when someone approaches you so your dog knows that there's nothing to fear. Behave in a friendly manner and warn them as they come close so they can, in turn, help you keep your dog relaxed.
Enlist a Trainer
Bringing a trainer on board to help you tackle this fear is always the best option. They’ll be equipped to handle any problems that might arise as well as know when your dog is no longer feeling great about a situation. A good trainer will have a strategy for utilizing desensitization to help your dog to acclimate to the opposite sex.
Ben Kerns is a freelance writer, photographer and outdoor adventurer based out of San Diego. When he’s not busy working you can find him hopping across the world looking for new places to climb big rocks. He’s also fanatically obsessed with funding his outdoor obsessions for as little money as possible.