Does your old dog run from your husband whenever he approaches? Is this a new behavior, or has she always been this way?
There are lots of reasons why your senior dog is afraid of your husband. Maybe he accidently stepped on her paw, they were out when something frightening happened and now your dog connects your husband with that incident. Did he yell at her for something and now she’s anxious? If you’ve recently rescued your dog, it’s very likely she wasn’t socialised around men or was abused by a man, so now fears them.
It must be confusing, wondering why your dog seems to fear your husband, but loves spending time with you. She comes over for a cuddle, sits next to you as you relax on the couch, and comes running to you when it’s walk time.
Signs Your Dog Is Afraid of Your Husband
If your dog is anxious around your husband, here are some of the ways he may express it:
- Cowers and shakes when your husband enters the room
- Runs and hides when he sees him
- Pees on the floor
- Displays aggressive behavior – i.e. growls, snarls, bares his teeth
Reasons Your Dog May Be Afraid of Your Husband
- Did your husband yell at your dog for misbehaving, and something about the tone scared him?
- Did he accidentally step on him or cause an injury, which has now made your dog wary?
- Has your dog’s behavior been so trying lately, your husband actually raised a hand?
I’m in no way implying your husband has mistreated the dog, but sadly it happens and we need to make sure it isn’t the case here.
Is Your Dog Only Afraid of Your Husband, or Other Men as Well?
• Chances are, your dog is probably wary around other men as well.
• While we often are quick to say it’s because of abuse suffered in their past, which absolutely does happen unfortunately, there are other more common reasons for this fear.
• Lack of socialization is the number one cause. That means when the dog was a puppy, he wasn’t exposed to enough people, places and things, that would have helped him learn to be calm in our hectic world.
• Even a well socialized dog can be anxious around unfamiliar men, and that’s because they are bigger than women and children, have deeper voices, different facial features and are generally more imposing.
Can Your Dog Get Over His Fear of Men?
It’s impossible for me to say whether or not your dog can completely overcome his fear of men. It would depend on the level of anxiety, how deeply ingrained it is, and how much time and consistency you are able to dedicate to his “recovery.”
There’s good news though, because there are lots of things you can do that may help reduce that fear, and get him more comfortable around men.
Helpful Tips Before We Get Started on the Training
Never punish your dog
Never ever punish your dog, be harsh with him, or raise your voice. I understand the situation is stressful, but none of that will help, in fact it can make him more anxious or fearful.
Remain within your dog’s comfort zone
There is a distance at which your dog will be fine when seeing a man. For some it could be a few feet away, for others it’s in another room. Pay attention to your dog’s zone and don’t let a man enter it.
It doesn’t matter how many times a man will say “dogs love me” or “I’ve always had dogs I know what I’m doing.” Ignore them. Allowing men to breach that distance will stress your dog out, and could even lead to an aggressive encounter.
Let your dog set the terms
If he or she feels comfortable enough to approach a man, that’s fine, but I recommend he doesn’t make a move and avoids eye contact. Even though your dog felt it was okay to get closer, it doesn’t in any way mean he’s ready for interaction.
How to Ease Your Dog’s Fear Around Men
We’re going to use techniques called desensitization and counter conditioning.
Desensitization involves gradually exposing an animal to a situation or stimulus, that causes the undesirable behavior. It must be at a level so low there is no negative response. Over time the animal experiences the stimulus but doesn’t respond in the undesirable way, thus becoming less reactive to it.
The next part is counter-conditioning, which means changing the pet’s emotional response, feelings or attitude toward a stimulus.
For example, your dog lunges at the window whenever he sees the mailman. Counter conditioning is when the sight of the mailman approaching is paired with a delicious treat, creating a positive association.
It will become clearer as I walk you through the process step by step, in the next section.
There are many different ways to help your dog reduce his anxiety towards men, here’s one to get you started.
Invite a male friend, neighbor, or family member over to help with this exercise. We’ll call him Jim for the sake of convenience. Remember the comfort zone I mentioned earlier? It’s important.
Let’s say your dog is okay with a man being around, as long as he’s more than 10 feet away. When Jim comes over, control the environment so he is and remains, at least 10 feet away.
Here are a couple of ways to do this exercise:
• Jim comes in, sits down on the couch, and every so often tosses a treat over to your dog. He doesn’t need to look at your dog or talk to him, but your dog does need to see where the treat is coming from. Practice that randomly throughout Jim’s stay. You could leave a bag of treats outside the door, so he has them ready when he walks in.
• Jim can then get up and walk across the room, toss a treat in your dog’s direction and keep going. He still needs to remain in the comfort zone. If this seems a bit too threatening to your dog, even with the distance, stick with sitting on the couch for now.
• It would be helpful if Jim and other males could come over on a regular basis and practice. It’s helpful if your dog gets used to different faces.
• Over time and very gradually, Jim (and anyone else helping) will take one step closer to your dog or when walking by.
• It’s important to go very slowly. If at any time your dog reacts, the person got too close to quickly, so he needs to go back to the distance where your dog was comfortable, and progress at a much slower pace.
•This is a good exercise to start with, so practice it once a day if possible, and twice is better.
Do you share your life with a dog that’s afraid of men? Have you found ways to help reduce that fear? Sharing helps others, so please leave your helpful tips below.
I’m a certified dog trainer specialising in working with senior dogs. Whether you have health & wellness concerns, or you’ve just rescued an older dog and need training tips, I can help! Sessions are conducted via Zoom and I offer a FREE 15 minute no obligation chat. To book, email firstname.lastname@example.org or visit my website.