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Why Dogs Bark or Growl at Men, and How to Stop This Aggression

Adrienne is a certified dog trainer, former veterinary assistant, and author of the online dog training course "Brain Training for Dogs."

How to change your dog's attitude towards men.

How to change your dog's attitude towards men.

Why Are Men So Intimidating to Dogs?

Owners often assume that rescued dogs are scared of men because they were possibly abused by men, but this saying doesn't always hold true. Many dogs with histories of being raised in loving families are still scared of men. So what gives?

There can be several explanations.

  • Socialization. One plausible reason is that the dog wasn't socialized with different types of men, especially during puppyhood, that critical time between four and 16 weeks.
  • Appearance. Another explanation may stem from the fact that men, from some dogs' points of view, appear to be more intimidating than women. Men are often taller than women, they often have much deeper voices, and they may have facial hair.
  • Assertion. What many of us may not realize is that men sometimes move in a more assertive fashion.
  • Faster or Stronger. Applied animal behaviorist Patricia McConnell mentioned studies were done where men were found to be seen as ''coming closer at higher rates or stronger intensity'' than women.
  • Doorways Are Triggers. Also, consider that coming in and out of doors is one of the biggest triggers for many reactive dogs, and the door is the area where any male must enter.

Below, I will offer a behavior modification program that may help your dog cope better with men entering your home.

How to Train a Dog Not to Bark at Men

What you'll need:

  • First of all, please, please, please ensure that your dog cannot get free. Both for safety and for behavior training.
  • You will also have to equip yourself with a nice treat pouch you can clip to your belt (to be practical), a leash, and the tastiest treats out there. These are not your regular kibble or those stale dog biscuits that were forgotten a month ago in a jar.
  • You want to invest in freeze-dried liver, slivers of hot dog, or small chunks of steak or grilled chicken.
  • You need them in very bite-size pieces (and if you give a lot of them or do this often, you will need to adjust your dog's feeding ratio).
  • If your dog has a history of barking, growling, lunging, or nipping, these behaviors can be quite reinforcing. In other words, once a dog realizes that by barking/lunging/nipping a guest, the guest leaves or moves away, and the dog wants to repeat the action because he was successful in making the guest go away. Always work under threshold.
  • And of course, you will need some men to come over and help volunteer.

Now you are all set to get started!

Step 1: Condition Your Dog to a Smacking Noise

Do this exercise a few days ahead before engaging the male volunteers. Basically, make a smacking noise with your mouth and immediately after, drop a treat or give it with your hand. You want to repeat, repeat, repeat until your dog starts to associate the noise with treats. You know this has happened when, upon making the noise, your dog looks at you for the treat. At this point, congratulations! You have classically conditioned your dog!

Step 2: Condition to the Doorbell

Have somebody practice ringing the doorbell. You will stay seated in your chair with your dog at a distance of several feet away. You want to initially work from under the threshold, this means from a distance where he is a bit less likely to react. The moment he hears the doorbell, immediately make the smacking noise with your mouth and deliver a treat. Repeat, repeat, repeat until you classical condition your dog to love that sound. You know that happens when, upon hearing the doorbell, your dog looks at you anticipating the treat. You are basically changing your dog's emotional state about the doorbell.

Dogs mainly live through associations; indeed many live on these equations: can opener = food, leash = walk, doorbell = guests, and so forth. What we are trying to accomplish here is to associate doorbells and men with treats and good things happening!

Note: If your dog is still barking at the doorbell and does not accept treats, you are working too closely, and he is too aroused, try to work from the farthest room of the house initially.

Step 3: Condition to Opening the Door

Have a volunteer ring the doorbell. Proceed as usual, giving the treat upon hearing the ring. Now, have the volunteer open the door a little bit. Before your dog goes into a barking frenzy, try to toss 2–3 treats on the floor. Have the volunteer stand there until the dog eats all the treats. Then have the volunteer leave. What we are trying to accomplish is to make the dog learn this equation: "When the male guest appears I get treats, when he disappears, the treats are gone."

Step 4: Condition to the Presence of Men

Continue the exercise but have the volunteer gradually open the door more and more. Repeat giving 2–3 treats the moment the door opens and then have it closed when the dog is done eating. At one point, have the door completely open with the man there not looking at your dog with his head turned sideways not making eye contact, and not talking. At this point, give 4–5 bite-sized treats and have the man close the door and leave when he is done.

Repeat this sequence of opening the whole door and closing it. Be good in your timing! And never have the man leave if your dog barks. If he barks, get his attention back on you by making the smacking noise with your mouth and giving treats for stopping.

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Note: If at some point, your dog is getting increasingly nervous, step back a bit in the program and go back to having the guest just open the door a bit. Every time you note your dog has a setback, go back a few steps in training.

Step 5: Condition to Men Coming Inside the Home

Have your guest now open the door—and hopefully, your dog by now has learned to look for treats—and have him take one step into the home. Continue giving 4–5 treats, and once the dog is done, have the man step back and close the door. Yes, you got it: your objective is to continue until your guest can walk inside your home without your dog going into a frenzy.

At some point, you want your guest to take over and be the one to toss the treats upon opening the door and stepping in. The more the person comes close, the more high value and more treats are delivered. If you can, actually invest in a Kong, stuff it up and have your guest toss it towards your dog. Repeat, repeat, repeat.

If you want to be extra successful, you can also set up your volunteers with mealtime. Have them come over when your dog needs fed and have them open the door, come in and place the food bowl down, watch him eat from a distance and then toss a nice treat before leaving. All good things start when the guest is over, and all good things end when the guest leaves.

One thing about dogs is that they do not generalize well. Therefore, if your dog learns to accept males as guests, he may not accept males on walks. You may have to make the smacking sound with your mouth every time a man is walking nearby and then have some men on walks volunteer in tossing treats. May I recommend a great read? The Cautious Canine by Patricia McConnell gives details about a similar approach.

With time, your dog may associate men with good things, and even though he may never trust a man fully, he will likely learn to tolerate him and be less and less likely to resort to his old defensive, aggressive behaviors—mostly because there is simply no reason to! Men bring good things!

Note: If your dog is exhibiting behavioral problems, please consult with a veterinarian specializing in behavioral problems or a dog behaviorist.

A Great Read for Defensive, Aggressive Dogs!

This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. It is not meant to substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, or formal and individualized advice from a veterinary medical professional. Animals exhibiting signs and symptoms of distress should be seen by a veterinarian immediately.

© 2011 Adrienne Farricelli


Marlene Schaefer on May 14, 2017:

WE rescued a 2 year German Shepherd about 6 months ago. She is aggressive toward men, barking, snarling and even nipping them. She is fine with women, children and even other dogs, but she does not tolerate men at all. We don't have a lot of guests but I don't want her to bite. WE have put her on a leash but she continues to bark and growl at them. I don't want my dog to have to be a leash when people are over and certainly do not want her to bite. What do I do?

tanya on September 11, 2016:

she grawls at men but she is fine with my 19 year old son

Adrienne Farricelli (author) on March 12, 2016:

Many Akitas are standoffish by nature but growling is suggesting she's not comfortable. Use caution.

Akita on September 05, 2015:

My Akita mix is obedient enough to come when another man calls her, but she will growl the whole way there. Never bites, thank God

Adrienne Farricelli (author) on October 09, 2012:

Good luck and best wishes Giblin girl!

GiblinGirl from New Jersey on October 08, 2012:

These are some really great suggestions I'll have to try out.

Adrienne Farricelli (author) on May 08, 2012:

Fear and play are a bit antagonist feelings, it is difficult for a dog to be fearful and play at the same time. Is she tentative with men and then once she gets to meet them she starts playing? If so, you need to train her manners, she gets only attention when her four feet are on the ground.

sharon mc laughlin on May 08, 2012:

my dog is scared of men but she will let them pet her but she will keep on barking and jumping on them playing

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