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Help! My Dog is AFRAID of MEN!

I received a private email from a gal by the name of Jody asking for some help. She’s concerned because her dog is afraid of men. Since fear is the #1 reason a dog bites, she’s right to be concerned and I give her a lot of credit to try to help her dog overcome his fear, which for me is Jody being a good dog Mom! I’m proud of you, Jody!

Jody Wrote

“We adopted our dog at a year old from a local rescue society. He had an injury on the top of his head and his hair was missing in places. It is unknown what he went through when he was a puppy. He is wonderful around our immediate family, loves to be a 60 pound lap dog and plays well with our 4 year old dog. However, he is afraid of men. Children and women can come into our house with no problems but if a man walks in he barks and keeps a distance.

Over Christmas we had friends over and one man lunged at him to scare him… 3 times. He was drunk. Our dog jumped back and barked at him. I know now I should have put my dog in another room, but I didn’t… the 4th time the man did this my dog jumped up and bit him causing a hospital trip and stitches.

His friends say my dog needs to be shot, my other friend won’t let her children come into my home and my husband is having second thoughts about adopting a dog that, for one reason: is male and another reason: about a year old and not a puppy. I love my dog, but I really don’t know how to help him get over his fear of men. Will I always have to put him away when I have company come to my house? Will he ever get over his fears? Even though there has never been an issue with my 5 year old son will I have problems in the future? I want to be able to give my dog the life he deserves, and I don’t want to be forced to return him to the rescue society where he will either be in a kennel all his life or be put down… Any advice would be appreciated.”

Why is a Dog Afraid of Men or Women or Children?

It’s hard when your dog is afraid of something, in particular if they’re afraid of humans. Most people think fear of one human gender or another or fear of a child for example means your dog had an unpleasant experience with that gender or age group. This may very well be the case for some dogs, but not always. In some instances it may simply mean that your dog wasn’t socialized well with men or women or children so they just don’t know what to do or how to behave around them. Two of our dogs were not well socialized with children because we don’t have children in our home. The third one must have been because she does well with all people so far (she’s still rather new to our family) but we have no way of knowing because she’s a rescue. We have to rely on visits from the grand kids and they are busy people with lives of their own. We all know how kids like to be with their friends instead of adults, right? They have things to do and places to go and they’re not usually interested in visiting a lot with the old folks like Gramma and Grampa.

You also need to know (or remember) that younger children are more at eye-level with dogs. Some dogs are very sensitive to direct eye contact and in fact, some are so sensitive that direct eye contact can trigger a bite because these dogs take it as a threat or confrontation. Children have a normal tendency to stare and if that stare just innocently happens to fall on the face of a dog that is sensitive to direct eye contact it can be a trigger for a bite. The child is just being a child and the dog is just being a dog and so in the eyes of the adults on scene who saw nothing out of the ordinary happen to cause the bite they label the dog dangerous or vicious when they’re really not. They’re just protecting themselves to what they perceive to be a threat. Riley is sensitive to direct eye contact and so for this simple reason and that of all-around safety, we do not allow children under the age of about 8 or 10 to come close to him unless it’s children he has been properly introduced to and he knows them, such as our grandchildren for example.

There is no way to know why your dog is afraid of men. It could be either of the above or something else altogether. The reason really doesn’t matter, the fact that he’s afraid is all that does.

How We Handle Intoxicated People with Our Dogs

We have no use for intoxicated people being around us or our dogs so we just don’t let it happen. If we see that someone is intoxicated we leave the room, walk the other way or whatever it takes to not subject us or our dogs to the actions of an intoxicated individual. There is no getting around the fact that drunk people act stupid and do stupid things which put them and others (including dogs!) in bad situations for which sometimes we (or the dog) winds up paying the price. Your drunk friend did exactly that. He intentionally scared, irritated and provoked your dog.

I’m happy you learned from your experience even though unfortunately your learning came too late in this case, that it’s your job to protect your dog. You are absolutely correct in that you should have removed your dog from the room and put him in a safe place. I’m sure you’ll l do things differently in the future!

Anyway … we don’t even let intoxicated people into our home. If their drinking is more important than visiting us, they are made to leave and may visit us when they are sober. It’s that simple and easy for us to keep our dogs and our home safe from people who’ve been drinking. We avoid having to pay the consequences or the cost of this person doing damage to our property, harassing our dogs or hurting themselves by say falling down the stairs which in our sue-happy society could well be a lawsuit waiting to happen.

A Hard Look at the Drunk and the Dog Owners

We start out with the fact that there’s a party going on, lots of people, lots of commotion. This can make some dogs nervous, anxious or uncomfortable in some way all by itself. The signals from a dog who’s not totally comfortable are not always obvious to humans and so the dog may have been nervous, anxious or in some way uncomfortable to begin with but the owners may not have known this. This could have started things out on the wrong foot for the dog. Then we add:

The Drunk: You have a drunk acting stupid like drunks do. In my opinion your drunk friend literally asked to be bitten. I have not one ounce of pity for him. I seriously doubt he’ll learn from this nor will he ever take responsibility for his actions. In his mind and those of his cohorts who want to see your dog dead, he’s the victim when reality is that his actions pretty much screamed “Bite me, Fido, come on — bite me. I dare ya!” to a dog whether he was uncomfortable to being with or not.

The Dog Owners: If your husband was there, either one of you had the option, the right and the dog-parental duty to remove your dog from this gathering the moment you realized you had a drunk in the house. This didn’t happen and so we then have to then look at how the dog may feel the need to take care of himself.

The Dog: It’s my very strong feeling that your dog felt threatened and protected himself. If some drunk made you or your husband feel threatened, would you not get as far away from him as you could? Perhaps your husband would tell the intoxicated person to leave you/him alone or in his own way stop whatever was going on that was making you/him feel scared or uncomfortable.

Dogs have the mental abilities of about a two to three year old child at most and handle things like fear in fight or flight mode. Could a two to three year old child figure out that if he left the room he could get away from being harassed by the drunk? No, the child would look to his parents to help him and chances are Mommy or Daddy would scoop that child up and away so fast it would make your head spin. Daddy might even punch the drunk right in his schnozzola! Unfortunately, no one helped the dog and so he had to choose between fight or flight. In this case he chose to fight (protection mode) perhaps not only to protect himself but he may have thought that this drunken idiot might just hurt his buddy (your son) or someone else in his family. By the way — if your friend reads this or you share this with him, I don’t really care if he gets mad at me. People that do things like he did to your dog make me extremely angry so as far as I’m concerned, we’re even.

On a side note, if we had a gathering of people at our house we expect that unexpected things can happen in a heartbeat and we as dog owners cannot be everywhere every moment therefore cannot monitor the goings on 100% in every nook and cranny. Our dogs are put in a safe place before anyone arrives and they stay there until they all leave. Do I like it that they can’t join the fun? No, but I would rather my dogs miss the party and not be faced with the potential of being put in a situation where they might bite. They don’t need to be fed goodies by Auntie Hilda or cousin George who are just trying to be dog-friendly but that may contain something harmful to them. My goal is to keep my dogs and people safe so I will always take the “safety first” option. Putting my dogs in a safe place also frees me up to enjoy myself rather than trying to follow my dogs around to make sure nothing happens. Three dogs can go in three different directions, I can only go in one at a time. Better safe than sorry is the key. My sister has three dogs and she does the same thing. To us, it’s just being responsible dog owners.

Placing Blame in the Wrong Places

Your husband is putting blame in the wrong places. We already know the best thing would have been for someone to remove the dog from the presence of the drunk and since the dog lives there and the drunk doesn’t — my choice would have been to remove the drunk from the house. Had this happened, there wouldn’t have been a bite. Hubby’s blaming the dog when the blame belongs to the dog owner. I don’t mean to sound cruel or rude nor do I wish to hurt yours or your husband’s feelings but when someone asks for my feedback on a dog problem, they’re going to get my honest opinion. Neither of you may like my comments but it’s important for me to be honest. Your dog doesn’t have a voice, but I do and I will speak up for him when speaking up for a dog is warranted. My comments here probably come as no surprise to you and I hope you don’t take offense, it’s not my intention to offend.

Blaming rescue dogs and male dogs. Again, wrong place to put the blame. Just because a dog is a rescue does not mean it comes complete with issues or “other people’s problems”. There are many reasons a dog winds up in rescue, many of which have nothing whatsoever to do with the dog itself. You said you didn’t know his history. Maybe your dog’s original owner died and there was no one in the family willing to take him. Rather than put him down, they gave him a chance to find a new home. To blame him because he’s rescue is really unfair. Some of the best dogs in the world are rescues and in case you’re not aware, several of the Michael Vick dogs went on to become some of the best service dogs you could ask for.

It’s also wrong to blame the dog because he’s male. There are many people who think male dogs are more aggressive than females. Think again, there’s no basis for his thought process on this. Female dogs can be just as aggressive as males, sometimes even more-so. Did you know that when two male dogs fight there may be bloodshed but they call it quits on their own when one’s had enough or they’ve determined  who the winner is? Two female dogs on the other hand will fight to the death. No, I’m NOT kidding. This is fact, not fiction nor is it anything I made up. Think about it, who’s cattier in the human race? Who fights dirtier? Females do. It works the same with dogs.

The fact that your dog is a rescue means nothing in this. He’s just a dog who behaved like dogs will under stress. This same thing could have happened even if your dog was from the best breeder in the country. You didn’t mention his breed but if he’s a purebred of any breed, he might just be from really good lines.

What Can You Do?

Neither I nor anyone else can ever give you a guarantee that any dog won’t bite. Read my Understanding Dog Bite Behavior or Don’t Blame the Dog When it Bites for more information on why dogs bite. I can’t guarantee your son or anyone else for that matter is 100% guaranteed to never be bitten. A guarantee is literally impossible and on the other hand just because your dog bit once, doesn’t mean he’ll ever do it again. Look at the circumstances surrounding your bite incident. Your dog was harassed, scared, irritated and provoked. That’s reason enough that some people would smack someone isn’t it? Why should your dog not do something to protect himself? He can’t smack someone so he used the only weapon his has, his teeth. He didn’t attack someone and chew them up making mincemeat of their face. He bit someone and let it go at that.

When a sober man comes into your house your dog reacts by barking and keeping his distance. Ideally, you’d like him to respond the same as when it’s a female or a child. Since nothing in this world is ideal, it sounds like your dog is smart enough to keep a safe distance between him and a man. Maybe you could give him a little credit for his great avoidance behavior? He’s not doing anything harmful, in fact he’s being safe.

There is nothing wrong and everything right about putting your dog in a safe place when he feels threatened or scared. He’s uncomfortable around men. Think of where your dog feels safe, his crate? A bedroom? Instead of letting your dog remain where he’s uncomfortable, take him to where his is comfortable. Other things you can do are:

  1. Work on socializing your dog around men. You’ll find lots of information on socializing a dog by Googling.
  2. Do not under any circumstances force your dog to be around things that scare him. Forcing a dog beyond his comfort zone can take a bad turn in the blink of an eye.
  3. When it comes to approaching people of any sort, let your dog approach them. Do not allow them to approach your dog. More on meet & greets can be found in my How to Meet a Dog article.
  4. Respect your dog’s emotional and physical boundaries. They have a “personal space” around them just like people do. You don’t like yours invaded and neither do they.
  5. If your attempts to socialize don’t fix the situation, learn and use dog behavior management techniques. You may be relegated to putting your dog in a safe place for the rest of his life when things threaten him. Don’t feel badly about this, feel good that you are protecting your dog and the people that would be around him if you didn’t and helping him feel safe.
  6. Teach your son and all children to respect dogs and how to behave properly with dogs which do not include things like ear and tail pulling, poking, prodding, sitting on dogs, teasing etc … these are bites waiting to happen. You wouldn’t let some bully kid pick on your child, don’t let your child or other children bully a dog.
  7. Teach your son and children to never ever look directly into any dog’s eyes and to never approach a strange dog.  Refer to my bite article for more on this.
  8. Understand and accept that owning a dog comes with the fact that under certain circumstances it may bite. This is a fact and is part of owning a dog. Anyone who says their dog won’t bite has just never seen their dog under circumstances that would cause him to bite.

Should You Take Your Dog Back to Rescue?

If you and your husband are basing your decision solely on this bite incident, I see absolutely no reason whatsoever you need to return him. You are correct, he could wind up in a kennel for who knows how long or put down. Unless they have the proper insurance, most rescues cannot take in a dog that has a bite history including taking back dogs that were adopted from their organization.

If this were my dog, there’s no way I would send him back for this. He didn’t do anything wrong, he was just being a dog who did what he felt he needed to do to protect himself and maybe his family. Why make him pay the consequences with his life for human error and drunken stupidity?  You have many positive options available to you which allow your dog to live a good life with you and your family.

Good luck and I hope you’ll come back and let us know how things are going!


  1. Annika says:

    Hi! I was wondering if I could get your advice on my 8-month-old Bernese Mountain Dog, Thor. Thor has been with me and my family (three adults, 1 male and 2 females) for about 5-6 months and has been really great around women, children, other animals, and men. However, recently (about a month now), Thor has been very timid and antsy around men. He is in no way aggressive but he shies away from men and typically barks. This isn’t great because Thor spends a lot of time downtown with me, and is around a lot of strangers (he has been going downtown with me since about 11 weeks of age). I don’t really understand what happened or why he is doing this because up until this point, he has not had any issues with men.

    Also, is it normal for a dog to bark at other dogs until he is introduced to them? Thor has started barking more recently and will not stop unless I firmly shush him or he meets the dog he is barking at.

    • Mom says:

      Hi Annika,

      Thor has entered adolescence and his own personality is starting to form and emerge and this can be a difficult time for puppies. Have you gone through any formal obedience training with him? If not, I suggest you do this immediately and make sure the trainer is reputable. It not only helps show pups who’s the boss but it aids in bonding. Since he seems to have developed an issue with men, have your hubby attend with you and be an active participant. Hubby should spend time with Thor, again actively participating in his activities and make it fun for Thor. Throw the ball, take him on walks etc.

      Make sure his interactions with boys and men is pleasant, that no one teases him. Teasing a dog is not only mean and nasty, it can make your dog afraid of say the general age group that’s teasing him or make him aggressive towards boys, kids in general etc. For example if the neighborhood bully kid is teasing Thor, Thor may take a strong dislike to children. This means you can’t just leave him out in your (hopefully fenced) yard to do his own thing. You need to monitor him and his surroundings to make sure nothing is going on that’s harmful to him or would make him fearful.

      Research the stages of puppyhoood, puppies of adolescent age, things like that. I would definitely keep him well socialized. This is not the time to let his fear scare you off from having him interact with people or other dogs.

      I’m not fond of the barking at other dogs thing, he can give off the wrong signals to some dogs. I wouldn’t think it’s abnormal for Thor to bark at other dogs until they meet but you need to learn his body language. Is he barking excitedly, aggressively etc.? I think what I’d do is to teach him to sit when other dogs are in his visual and he starts acting out. Sit, praise, treat. Wait until he’s calm before an intro. This sounds a whole lot easier than it will probably be to make it happen, he’s a puppy with puppy energy.

      I think the obedience training, advanced obedience and other interesting FUN training would be beneficial to this situation. Find out what structured activities interest him most and pursue them. The whole family needs to participate and be consistent. You all need to decide what page you’re going to be on and stick with it. Not a whole lot messes up a pup more than inconsistency because it confuses them and they don’t know how to react if everyone is telling something different and you wind up with one messed up dog through no fault of the dog. Sit is sit, not sit down, not sit boy, sit is sit and the same with all other commands.

      I hope this helps some.

  2. Alex says:

    I have a beagle/Pitbull mix and ive had her for 6 days and somedays shell be totally fine with me and somedays she just cringes and seems scared to even look at me. I dont know if she was abused but by the way she keeps her tail tucked she was… i just want her to be comfortable with me because i love dogs and i want a cuddle buddy. How do i work with her when she wont even come by me or even take treats from me?

    • Mom says:

      Hi Alex,

      The first thing that jumps out at me is that you’ve only had this furbaby for 6 days. Dogs need time to adjust to a new home. People have a tendency to think that a dog in a new environment is no big deal to the dog, that they all just walk in and make themselves to home. It doesn’t work that way. Your dog may have been abused, but on the other hand she may have been dumped by a family she lived with for a long time and now feels lost and quite obviously scared or anywhere in between. No matter what her past she needs to learn to trust you. Give her some time, give her your patience.

      Things like loud voices scare some dogs, so if you have a loud voice that could be part of the problem. When you adopted her was she sweet and cuddly or do you just expect all dogs are cuddlers? If the latter is your mindset, you need to change that. I can tell you they are not all cuddlers and you may have dog that just isn’t. If that’s the case, respect her space. I thought all dogs loved to play with balls or other toys but we have one that just has no interest in them unless it’s a puzzle type toy. That’s her thing, other toys are not. She may be the personality that will come to you when she wants cuddling. Both our girls are pretty much “Cuddle me on my terms not yours” dogs so we work with them not against them on this. Dog’s have their own personal space around them just like people do. Do you always feel like cuddling with your significant other or family members? Likely not and neither do dogs. Some dogs just prefer to share their personal space when they are up for it and not unless they are.

      If she’s fine some days, work with that. Other days respect that she’s not into your working with her mode. Putting your expectations on a dog is no different than putting them on another human. It’s not fair to expect certain things from people or dogs and by doing so you are setting yourself up to be disappointed sometimes in either case.

  3. Yvonne says:

    I need help my 4 month old German shepherd puppy is still afraid of my husband. when my husband call or get close to him he runs away scared. what can i do to change this. please help

    • Mom says:

      Hi Yvonne,

      Probably the first thing I’d do is to have hubby sit on the floor with some really yummy high value treats (itsy bitsy pieces of boiled chicken is usually a favorite) but he must ignore puppy. Maybe put the chicken on hubby’s leg near his ankles, not holding it in his hands or have hubby lay on his tummy facing away from the direction of the pup and you put the chicken on his back. Puppy will smell the chicken and really want that chicken and I’m betting that after awhile he might run up and snatch it and maybe take off right away. Do this just a few times the first day, maybe 3 or 5 times and then quit and next day same thing. Hubby’s quiet but you praise praise praise puppy when he’s hear hubby. Hubby should not make any move towards puppy nor should he speak to puppy. Every few days up the ante by moving the treats closer to hubby’s hands but hubby continues to ignore. You want puppy to associate treats with hubby in a non-threatening way.

      Eventually treats can wind up in hubby’s *open* hands and at any time that puppy seems to be more comfortable with this routine you can add a “sit” to it so that puppy sits until he’s told it’s ok to get the treat. You don’t want him learning that he can snatch and run whenever he wants, he needs to work for his treats or you’ll have a stinker on your hands thinking he can take whatever he wants when he wants.

      When you feel puppy is significantly more comfortable around hubby you can have hubby close his hands but not tight, leave a little “hole” for puppy to sniff. This is a great time to teach puppy some command (sit? down? whatever) and when he performs it hubby opens his hand so puppy can have the treat. When you both feel puppy has become even more comfortable hubby can start talking softly to puppy and praising him for his good actions but no fast movements.

      Since he’s so young I think you have a good chance to work the fears out of him by using this and other reward based positive training

      I would also do things like having hubby do a good portion of the feeding, the letting out to potty, the dog walking, the positive training at least for awhile. Sounds like your pup needs to learn to trust hubby and if hubby is patient, calm, talks softly etc … I believe the trust will come if you give puppy a chance to bond with hubby and help puppy learn that hubby = good stuff!

  4. Judy Hubbard says:

    Hi Jody,

    My husband and I just adopted a mixed 8 year dog from the pound who is very mellow. We have had Dino for about 4 weeks now and he has bonded to me right away, but is afraid of my husband who is a very gentle man. I recently had surgery a hip replacement went my husband went to kiss me last night Dino bite my husband. Every time my husband gets near me Dino growls at me. What can we do so Dino can get over this and trust my husband.

    • Mom says:

      Hi Jody,

      The first thing that jumps out at me is that at the time you wrote this, you’d only adopted Dino four weeks prior. I have no idea the circumstances surrounding his prior life or adoption but I can tell you there is definitely an adjustment time for any dog. Many have been traumatized, neglected, abused … you name it. It’s not “Let’s take him home and we all live happily ever after from that moment forward in many cases.”

      This dog is 8 years old, he had 8 years of life before he came to live with you, and I don’t know what his life was like, I don’t know if you knew what his life was like. He may have been abandoned by the family he grew up with. What if this were you? Would you be fully adjusted in four weeks? He may have been passed around like a box of Cracker Jack which totally destroys trust, would you be happily adjusted in four weeks? You can’t expect perfection from a dog that has likely been through a terrible emotional trauma. Would you adopt a child and four weeks later expect this child to be “yours” fully and completely, love and all? Some man or men may have mistreated him, of course he’s then going to be afraid of men and it doesn’t matter how gentle your husband is the point is – he’s a man. He may have lived in a home where affection was non-existent and he doesn’t know that your husband is just kissing you if he’s not been around displays of physical affection. Give Dino some time and take precautions in the meantime.

      I would also get him to the vet for a thorough check up including thyroid levels. An 8 year old dog could be a host to many different medical conditions some of which may be painful and may cause temperament issues.

  5. Poodle says:

    It makes me so happy when I see a happy ending, we had a lot of trouble with our Shepherd boy when he was stolen and abused. But persistence paid off.

  6. Megan says:

    I’m a femal handeler my german sheperd is a bitch she is obedient wen I take her out with my 9 month old Bby in the pran she has to be in front but if any men come near she will sniff there hands and then start barking at them then sits right by my side doesn’t matter if the male gets down to her level ither she still barks and kinda back off my german sheperd is4 months old

  7. Jody says:

    Update for you: my husband says he’s not giving up on our dog. We started taking walks in public to socialize him. My husband has taken over our dog, walking him while I walk our other dog, when people come to our home my husband puts our dog on leash and keeps him close. Tries to calm him and won’t let anyone near our dog unless it’s safe and our dog is comfortable. We’ve recently signed up for assistance from a trainer experienced in large and aggressive breeds/behaviors. We are working closely with our rescue society to help our dog and to give him the best life he deserves.

    The man that was drunk in our house will not be back, and I’ve learned valuable lessons. Even though I’m soft spoken and do not like drama and confrontation I need to step up, grow a back bone and protect my family. It wasn’t a big party, just a few people sitting around our table playing cards, but one visitor or ten doesn’t make a difference.

    Your article on why dogs bite is how I found you. Google is an amazing thing! And your article was very helpful. Thank you for taking the time reading my email and giving me information. I appreciate it :) My dog is a PitBull Mix with a giant smile.


    • Mom says:

      Hi Jody,

      I think I’m going to cry! What a GREAT turnaround for your husband! I’m so happy for you and proud of both of you for stepping up to work this out. You are absolutely right, it doesn’t matter how many people are gathered together.

      Your dog doesn’t sound aggressive to me, but since he is a member of the Pit Bull breed, the trainer you will be working with may be able to help you learn about important behaviors. I wish more people would take dog behavior seriously. PItties have that bad rap that really isn’t always deserved and it sounds like yours is one that doesn’t. If your dog really wanted to hurt that man, he would have done more damage than sounds like what he did no matter what breed.

      I’m glad I was able to help, best of luck to all of you. I hope you’ll stop back in a few months and give us an update.



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