Sometimes it’s inexplicable, when your happy, friendly, and socialized dog suddenly starts acting afraid around other people.
Or worse, if he acts afraid and nervous around your boyfriend.
This can be a tricky problem because it’s safe to say that your boyfriend will probably be around a lot at your house, but you can’t let your dog be in a constant state of being afraid.
Let’s begin to resolve the problem by trying to understand where your dog’s fear is coming from.
Are dogs afraid of men more than women?
Let’s start by asking all the right questions.
Has your dog exhibited a sudden and unexplained fear for other new people before? Is it possible that he may not have been properly socialized as a puppy? Is it possible that your dog is afraid of men and not just your boyfriend in particular?
There’s a lot of talk circulating around the dog loving community of pet parents noticing that their dogs seem to be afraid of men. It happens more with men who are strangers but it’s also quite common with men that the dog is already familiar with. Does this mean that dogs are more afraid of men than women?
The truth is, there’s no scientific answer to that question. However, there are some articles that suggest that since dogs are raised mostly by their mothers than their fathers, they may relate the smell of women as safe and comforting while the smell of men may just register as strange or foreign. Women also tend to approach dogs in a nurturing, comforting, and non-threatening way while men tend to approach dogs in a playful and assertive way that can be misconstrued as aggression.
These are all possibilities but aren’t exactly cold hard facts. All that we can do is observe your dog’s behavior. Try to notice if he acts strangely around just your boyfriend or with your other male friends as well.
Why are dogs normally scared of people?
There are a lot of reasons why dogs are scared of people, and it doesn’t always mean that they were abused or neglected. There are some dogs who are just shy or very timid to the point where they are nervous about meeting anyone new or being in a strange environment. Another reason could be that they were not socialized enough at a young age which means that they weren’t exposed to enough people or physical contact with people, making all people – strangers or not – kind of scary for them.
But then again, sometimes the reason may really be that they were abused or neglected before they became part of your family. If you have an adopted dog, you can give the shelter a call and ask them for a bit more information about your dog’s history.
Dogs are very empathetic creatures with strong memories. They could have a broom fall on them and hurt them at a young age, and they could develop a fear of all sticks. Being around violence or being abused by their old owners would certainly leave a mark on their psyche relating people, especially strangers, to feelings of fear and hurt.
Is this a sudden change with your dog?
If your dog has been consistently friendly and approachable before your boyfriend with both men and women, then that’s another mystery to unravel. If this is the case for your dog, then it could be anything, from your boyfriend’s deep voice or his particular scent or maybe it’s his size that’s setting off your dog. Something about your boyfriend’s presence could be triggering a negative feeling or memory in your dog.
Was your dog afraid of your previous boyfriend?
Ask yourself, has your dog reacted to all of your boyfriends this way or just your current boyfriend? Even if it wasn’t outright fearfulness or cowering, was your dog friendly with your previous boyfriend? Did they play together or spend time together? Did he approach your ex boyfriend in a friendly way without being invited or was it more like silent coexistence?
The reason why we ask is because if your dog was wary of your previous boyfriend, then he might have already been exhibiting fear and nervousness but in a different way. Your dog may have been fearful of both of these men but only in varying degrees.
Is your dog afraid of any other men, such as a brother?
Finally, you need to ask yourself if your dog is afraid of other men who have visited your house, like your brother or your friends who are guys? If they have reacted badly to other men, not just your boyfriend, then that could indicate a fear of men in general.
You can test this out by bringing over some other male friends to see how your dog reacts. Ask them to approach calmly and in a relaxed manner but don’t try to engage with your dog. Simply enter the room that your dog is and act naturally, addressing you instead of your pet. Observe how your pet reacts.
If your pet doesn’t react badly or fearfully, try to have your male friend approach your dog but in a nurturing and comforting way, not in a playful manner. Ask him to level with your dog by sitting to the same eye level to avoid towering over him, then wait and see if your dog approaches.
If your dog doesn’t approach or isn’t friendly with any of the men who visit your home, then it’s a possibility that your dog is fearful of men in general. If your dog is friendly with most men but seems to be afraid of your boyfriend, then it could be something more particular to him.
This could be anything from fear of men whose voices are deeper, or have beards, or are bulkier and appear larger in size. It could also be that your dog is simply jealous of your boyfriend. Crazier things have happened.
While we may never get the exact reasons of why your dog is afraid of your boyfriend, we can still begin to find ways to soothe your dog’s nerves and try to help your pet view your boyfriend’s presence as something more positive than negative.
What is the best way of comforting a dog who is scared of your boyfriend?
The best way to comfort your dog who is scared of your boyfriend is to use yourself as a distraction. You are his comfort zone and his safe place, so comfort him with hugs and pats and distract him with your presence. Another good tip is to swaddle him with something, maybe a shirt that you just wore and still has your scent on it, which may comfort your dog with its gentle pressure and the feeling of being held.
If the reaction is too severe, from cowering and trembling to outright barking and aggression, it may be best to separate your dog from your boyfriend, at least while your boyfriend is around. You can try to reintroduce your dog to your boyfriend’s presence but gradually and with positive reinforcement.
How can you get your dog to like your boyfriend?
The first step to take is to ease your dog’s fears. It’s important to always appear relaxed and at ease when you’re around people that makes your dog nervous or fearful. Keep in mind that our dogs will pick up very quickly on how we feel and might begin to mirror those feelings, so the more nervous and fearful he acts, the more relaxed and comforting you need to be. That’s so we don’t inadvertently create a cycle of fear and nervousness.
The second step is to prepare your visitors that you have a nervous pet. If they go into the situation unprepared, they will for sure become nervous and afraid in turn. Let your boyfriend know that he’s causing your dog anxiety and ask him to be relaxed and comforting too.
The third step is counter-conditioning. When your dog is afraid of going to the vet, give him a treat every time you go so that he starts to make a link between the treat and the trip. Same goes for your boyfriend – try to condition something positive for your dog every time your boyfriend comes over.
Start gradually by giving him the treat, then when he shows improvement, let your boyfriend give the treat. Ask your boyfriend to praise your dog too, with his favorite phrases like “Good boy, Rosco!” Dogs love hearing their name, so let your boyfriend call him by his name liberally in comforting tones.
If all else fails, however, you may have to consider obedience training, since being in a constant state of fear can increase your dog’s aggression.
There are a lot of articles that talk about dogs’ fearfulness of men or of strangers in general, but it’s not easy to find the true cause of what’s triggering your dog’s anxiety or aggression. The good news is that with the help of positive conditioning, we can gradually help your dog to see your boyfriend as a positive presence instead of a negative one.
With a bit of effort (and a little bribery), your dog will begin to love your boyfriend as much as you do, and hopefully they’ll soon coexist easily in your home.