Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Dudes Are Scary!

I had three phone calls last Thursday about dogs that cringe, growl, or bark at men. As I ended the last phone call, I started thinking.

Have I ever gotten a call from a man telling me his dog cringes or hides when it sees a woman? No.

Have I ever gotten a call from a man telling me his dog aggressively barks or lunges at women only? No.

Even in confirmed cases of animal abuse and cruelty where the aggressor was a woman, have I observed dogs that react in a tense, frightened way to only women? No, not that I can think of. These dogs are almost uniformly afraid of all strange people.

So, what is it with dudes?

Often people see a dog cringe at the sight of a guy and assume that the dog was "beaten by a man". In some cases, that may be true. More likely, however, the dog was not socialized to men (or different types of men) during their critical fear period of 7-14 weeks of age. It may mean that they had a startling or scary experience with a man during that time, specifically during their fear imprint period on weeks 8-10.

Maybe it is the way men move. Or the way they smell. Or their facial hair or wardrobe choices. Dogs do not understand our ability to change our silhouette and are often suspicious of people in hats, puffy coats, sunglasses, or ponchos until they have been exposed to different types of clothing. Because of this, I routinely advise women who foster puppies to make sure their male family members and friends visit often and interact with the dog in a positive way. Keeping a box of goofy dollar store items and playing 'dress up' before starting a game can do wonders for a pup's socialization.

Another theory is that women's body movements appear to move away from the observer.

Patricia McConnell explains in her blog that

"Research published in Current Biology asked volunteers to guess the direction of motion of figures that were represented only by points of light placed at critical joints. (Similar to the motion capture process used to make movies like Avatar in which a real person moves around with points of light attached to hips, elbows, shoulders, knees etc, and a computer records the movement of the lights.)

When watching the points of light that represented a moving figure, the volunteers said that the figures made by men were approaching, while the figures made by woman were retreating."

I have looked all over the internet to read the actual study and have only been able to find articles that reference it. And I am always looking for research that can help me understand the 'why' behind this question. If you have resources or research on this topic, please include it in the comments.

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