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Discussion in 'General Dog Forum' started by mattcandyc, May 8, 2018.
Can dogs sense if a person is good or bad?
Dogs have spent many thousands of years interacting with humans and that has involved learning to interpret our body language accurately. So I am not sure you could say they sense inherent goodness and badness (whatever that actually is) but they certainly read early signals of benevolent or malevolent intent. Their acute sense of smell also alerts them to hormonal changes in our body such as cortisol (the stress hormone) and adrenaline (associated with the fight or flight response).
I have no idea how they decide but I am absolutely sure they pick something up. One that suprised me, is Folly normally does not bark when someone rings the door bell, just rushes up to it wagging her tail. However a couple of weeks ago the bell rang and she instantly went into what I could only describe as defense mode. Barking and growling, (The only time she has ever growled). When I opened the door their was a fella looking a bit shifty and wanting to sell me drive stuff. He was the type I would never have done business with any way and I do not on principal buy at the door, but Folly's actions I could not put down to anything other than she did not trust him and that was without getting close to him.
I always believed that dogs could do this, maybe it's true?
I now see it's a difficult question to answer. I ask as I heard somewhere that dogs can sense good and bad people, the Nazis were bad and Hitler had a dog.
I think they certainly know who means them harm and who doesn't. Rationally their survival must have depended on getting this right, as in Am I a welcome companion or the next meal?
( Hence the Hitler thing because I guess he was kind to his dogs.)
I trust my dogs and if they say they dont trust someone its with good reason.
Max used to be very warey of our insurence man he would let the guy into the house but always kept a wary eye on him.. Turns out the guy was a crook taking the premiums but not actually paying them to the company. He targeted newcomers and migrant workers hoping they would go home before anything happened for them to need life insurence..
Another dog met my husband's work mate once. She nearly took the kitchen door down trying to get at him and I had never seen her like that before, I took her for a walk and she calmed down the moment we left the house and got away from the man. He was later charged with sexual offenses against women. I dont care what experts say, my dogs dont lie.
A friend of mine used a dating agency and took her dog along on 'first dates'. Her dog took an instant dislike to one man, growling at him before they'd practically said hello - this dog is extremely laid back so she was quite shocked. As it turned out, she wasn't interested in the man, though he seemed perfectly nice - but he then pestered her by text over several weeks, more or less stalking her.
Her dog really took to another man... he and my friend got married just a couple of weeks ago
They 100% sense something that we may not pick up on straight away.
like so many things dog, i'd say "it depends".
in part it depends upon Who defines "bad" - the dog, in the moment, or the owner - per the prevailing human definition of 'bad', in which bad ppl are violent, thieves, sexual predators, verbally abusive & overcontrolling, & so on.
If the dog gets to define 'bad', then yes - the dog decides not only what bad is, but who fits that bill, & they'll be right by their own lights. // But a dog's definition of "bad" includes ppl who wear the same scent as someone who hurt them in the past, even accidentally if it was a significant hurt that was traumatic. Dogs also define ppl who rudely get into their personal space without being introduced, as "bad" - but about 90% of owners don't back their dog up when s/he steps back & growls or lifts a lip at someone who "only wants to pet them".
We're a bit shocked that our dear, sweet dog reacted that way, & we say something like, "Shadow! - mind yer manners...", or "Ah! - Behave!" with a frown, & let the intrusive PITA persist in haras... errm, petting our dogs.
So we don't always agree with our dogs about Who is 'bad', or What's a 'bad thing to do'.
Neither of my dogs, one of them an extremely-social, highly-skilled, widely-experienced therapy pet, the other a shy undersocialized hypersensitive BSD-Groenendahl, had any trace of an unusual reaction on meeting the man who'd become my fiancee', who was indeed a "bad" man to get emotionally involved with.
He was spectacularly jealous, throttled all my other friendly connections, took over my social network as his own, & was physically violent when he was angry. // More than a year after he threw ME out of his apt, he was stalking me on the street to try to find out where i lived, phoning me at work, & making my life H***. That was about 18-mos after he'd already stolen my dogs, & took them to his mother - over 2-hours drive away, in another jurisdiction.
It was supposed to be "temporary", but he knew - altho i did not - that she'd never agree to let them go.
I had to go to court to get a restraining order, to stop the stalking & the calls at work - where 'answering the phone' was part of my job-description.
That doesn't mean that dogs are always wrong, or always easily fooled - but like anything else we humans seize upon, we can have selective memory, & recall the times the dogs were right in preference to the times the dogs were flat-out wrong.
But that's theory.
In the real world, if my dog was a sociable dog, & was very leery of any stranger, i'd simply take it at face value & cut our interaction short. If the dog is wrong, i haven't invested much in that stillborn relationship - & if the dog is right, then i'm saving myself a lot of grief.
IOW, i'd believe my dog - because right or wrong, the cost is minimal, & my bias lies with my dog, not the stranger that my sociable dog is saying is untrustworthy.
I don't think they have a sixth sense as such, they are better at detecting subtle cues that we either fail to identify or are incapable of identifying (articulated very nicely by @JoanneF and others above). Yes, Hitler was undoubtedly an evil, vile person, but not to his dog it would seem. Also, many dogs abused by their owners seem to often return to them despite the abuse. Perhaps this is a need for familiarity and companionship overriding self-preservation, I don't know.
My dog is friendly to all people, and sometimes that concerns me as he'd be happy to approach someone I wouldn't be, and occasionally that's put me in a place I don't want to be. That said, on our early morning walk, we came across a young lad all over a young woman (they were both drunk or on something else), and the girl was spurning the guy's advances and they both ended up on the floor. Jimmy gave the lad a nice, low down growl and went into a rigid stance, which was awesome to see. He wasn't threatening, but showing that he was clearly upset at the situation. I asked if they needed help, it was politely refused and we went on our way. Looking back, perhaps I should've called the Police, but neither of them were there on our way back about 30 minutes later.
Maybe on occasion dogs are picking up on the attitude of the person towards them - my friend's dating disaster might have looked at her dog and thought 'Why on earth has she brought that?' while the lover of her life might have been thinking 'Wow, she's brought her dog! Yay!'
And naturally, people who love our dogs are by definition good, and people who don't like them are bad, bad people...
But I do think confirmation bias plays a large part - that when we see something that tallies with our belief in our dogs' abilities we'll focus on that, but we'll tend to ignore all the occasions it doesn't quite fit.
Sorry but I dont think its sixth sense I think its something we all have but have been socially conditioned to ignore.
There are people you meet who make your skin crawl, you get a funny feeling in the pit of your stomach and the hair stands up on your neck. You know they are not right regardless of the socially acceptable exterior they present.
I think our dogs quite simply havent been socially conditioned to ignore as many of their basic feeelings as we have. So they still react while we ignore it.
BTW, particularly for the women reading this, i'd like to recommend the book, The Gift of Fear.
it gives simple suggestions for what to do when U find Urself in one of those situations where the spidey-sense is telling U, "this is very dicey...", & U'd like to get out of it alive, & if possible, also unhurt.
Good tip... too many people ignore those feelings because they dont want to appear rude..
Hmmm...on a lighter note why has every dog I've ever owned liked my mother-in-law?
Then there's people who just seem to have some 'magic' in their interactions with dogs. Once I was chatting to a group of dog walkers while our dogs were doing their own thing. A teenage boy appeared, who had some treats with him. About 5 or 6 dogs, including Jasper, went over and sat in a semi-circle round him like infants at storytime. Then he gave each one a treat and as each on took their treat, they didn't pester for more (even Jasper, whose idea of 'fair' is 'The lab gets a treat, I get a treat, the spaniel gets a treat, I get a treat, the pug gets a treat, I get a treat.....') and just went back to doing their own thing. The the lad disappeared, with us owners all thinking 'What? How?...')
There's also one man who Jasper adores, who can actually take his dogs' ball back off Jasper when he's nicked them. Jasper has a moment of thinking about objecting but then simply accepts the inevitable - the man has a Clint Eastwood kind of demeanour and doesn't need to say a word or use threatening body posture. It'd be nice to think I could learn his secret but think you have to be born with it.
It's like those teachers at school who put the fear of God into you, those who the students like and respect and really make an effort for, and those who the children ignore, play up, and show no respect however much the teacher tries. You just can't bottle it!
Maybe it is respect more than like...also they don't have to simmer at the MIL-isms. This weeks favourite- "I see you're staying with denim, then." Oh how we laughed.
Has she met my mum? At risk of going off topic, her choice comment was 'That dress makes your figure look even worse' FWIW, I'm size 10.