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June 5, 2013 8:08 PM   Subscribe

My dog is scared of men.

She's a rescue, about 11 months old by my vet's estimate. She's never so much as snapped at anyone, is very sweet, loves other dogs (She also loves cats, but they tend not to love her back) and, generally, gets along great with women.
But she's terrified of men. She's been like this since I got her; I assume it was something that happened before she was abandoned, or while she was being bounced around to four different rescues. The why of it isn't what I'm worried about right now, because there's nothing I can change about what happened to her in the past. I just want to help her to move past it.
She is improving, but very slowly. She used to bark like crazy at my male roommate every time she saw him, which she generally doesn't do anymore. But overall, she doesn't seem like she's getting used to men.
I'm a guy, and she loves the hell out of me, and there's two other guys that she isn't the least bit afraid of. It doesn't seem to be a matter of physical appearance or temperament, although she's now willing to approach and sniff/lick the hands of a guy who is patient, kneels down and puts their hand out. Usually.
I'm not expecting an instant solution, but any tips would be appreciated.
Here's a picture of the vicious beast (I'm removing some wallpaper, don't mind the messy background)
posted by Uppity Pigeon #2 to Pets & Animals (17 answers total)
We had a dog who was scared of men. Turned out what mainly triggered him was hats - baseball hats, mainly. It took us a long time to realize it because guys wear hats so often that we weren't making hte conneciton. Not saying it's going to be the same for you, but sometimes the triggers are less obvious than gender alone.

Also, what a beautiful sweet dog!
posted by Miko at 8:19 PM on June 5, 2013 [2 favorites]

Aww, she is such a cutie!

I've known many rescues that were scared of different things. Some got over it as they got more comfortable, others didn't. But low-key, repeated exposure is good. One thing that might help is to carry her favorite treats around with you and have random men, or your roommate/friends/whatever give them to her in that patient way they would greet her. Then she'll start to realize that some men are really awesome - they give her treats! You can also make a practice of giving her a treat anytime you pass a man on a walk, so that she develops even more positive associations with men. Both were suggestions from the trainer who taught a puppy class I recently finished with my rescue.
posted by lunasol at 8:28 PM on June 5, 2013 [6 favorites]

I agree with lunasol, but she may not take treats from scary strangers right away. They might need to start by just sort of tossing the treat gently in her direction.
posted by muddgirl at 8:30 PM on June 5, 2013 [3 favorites]

Along the lines of Miko's story, I knew a dog who reacted badly to men who were intoxicated. And my little pitbull mutt gets stressed out and barky when people are shaped funny -- large backpacks, large hats, umbrellas, carrying a package, disabled and moving unpredictably, etc. I think her vision is somewhat impaired, which probably contributes to it, but it's pretty predictable that if you don't look like two arms and two legs and a regular (in her mind) torso and head, moving in a straight line, she gets startled.

Anyway, if you can get a session with a trainer that might be worth it. Is she food-motivated? Have your roommate and other men who she is willing to approach, even a little, give her lots of treats and praise her a lot. Just regular kibble is sufficient if she's enthusiastic about food.
posted by librarina at 8:33 PM on June 5, 2013

Not uncommon. All dogs are different, so take this with a grain of salt. IME, the best way to introduce a man-phobic dog to a man is to have the man seated before the dog come into the room. Then you can toss treats by his feet. Then he tosses the treats. Then you work up to him giving her treats. This may take some time, but hopefully it will take shorter and shorter the more you do it. We have a man-phobic dog in the shelter right now and it usually takes her about 5 minutes to get used to a man this way. She has improved since she's been with us, so there is hope.

Have you consulted a professional? There's no magic bullet, but they might have ideas about how to productively increase her exposure to strange men.
posted by walla at 8:42 PM on June 5, 2013 [2 favorites]

Bombard her with men...take her anywhere there are crowds: events, parades, farmer's markets, etc. Even heavily attended dog parks (weekend mornings) might work to desensitize her.
Then just take her downtown for a walk around less and less attended sidewalks.
In other words, more walks and social interactions.
posted by artdrectr at 8:44 PM on June 5, 2013 [2 favorites]

I'd be cautious about bombardment, or "flooding" - it is a strategy, but it could backfire. If she finds herself extremely anxious because she's surrounded by men it could set her back and make her more sensitive. Or she could learn to deal with it. You have to consider both possibilities and her personality.
posted by walla at 8:49 PM on June 5, 2013 [3 favorites]

One thing that may help is to use a little child-psych attachment theory. Children (and pets, because let's face it, dog training is mostly child psych) use their parents as a "secure base" to explore the world. They look to their parents for guidance as to what is safe/okay. You have to show the dog that you approve of the male friend.

I was house-sitting for a rather high-strung Sheltie once. The dog wasn't abused or anything, but lived with Mom and two kids, and probably his only experience with men was the a-hole ex-husband. My friend Clint came over, and the dog freaked out. I got Clint to come over and crouch down with me, and I patted his hair and showed the dog that he was my friend and he was safe. I swear, the dog calmed down almost immediately!

Also as mentioned above, treats are a great thing to associate with men! The smellier/grosser, the better.

Have you taken her to training at all? That will really help with her confidence in general, and the trainer can give you some tips on the fear.
posted by radioamy at 8:58 PM on June 5, 2013 [1 favorite]

I am of the bombard her with men and love. I had a dog that was afraid of men, it worked for her. Of course, you need to be understanding and if the dog is really freaking out, remove her from the situation. Cute doggie!!
posted by buzzieandzaza at 10:35 PM on June 5, 2013

My pup was nervous of all men when I got her -- like yours, I presume something bad happened to her during her life on the streets. In fact, their overall stories and temperaments sound quite similar; I got mine when she was about 11 months old and she's always been a totally non-aggressive sweetheart.

At first she was scared of all men, including my dad. After a few months with me, she was used to Dad, who would frequently come and take her for walks. He is definitely still her favorite man, but she's gone from being scared of all men through being nervous and shy around new men but warming up eventually, to now (5 years after I got her) being a pushy little brat who will walk up to any man she can find and expect him to pet her and give her the adoration she so clearly deserves.

I always (still do) let her hide behind me if she wanted, and never made her get close to anybody, but I did let male friends and relatives offer her treats. She's immensely food motivated, so that was enough to get her close to somebody, even if she immediately ducked back behind me to enjoy her food. Enough times of that, plus several months of Dad taking her for walks regularly, and she started to see strange men as potential sources of goodness. Taking her pet-oriented places seemed particularly helpful, like the dog training facility or the pet store. I don't know whether it was something about the men who were there or something about the places themselves, but she warmed up faster there than out in the neighborhood dealing with whoever walks past.

I would try to figure out what she's motivated by and what she likes. Is there a particular toy she loves? Will she do anything for a certain treat? If you can encourage her to associate new men with getting the most delicious liver treats ever, or someone throwing her favorite ball a bunch of times, that may help her get past her fear a little faster.
posted by katemonster at 10:46 PM on June 5, 2013

my dog sounds a lot like yours: i got him as a rescue at 10 months and he really does not like men in particular and will bark at them and get aggressive on occasion. he's a killer minipoodle. ;) i think going slowly is probably a better approach and i like walla's suggestion of having the man sit down and giving her treats. since i have little doubt my dog was abused i find going slowly to be better as i have no desire to re-traumatize the little guy.
posted by wildflower at 10:57 PM on June 5, 2013 [1 favorite]

Try asking them to approach her while somewhat squatting. I've seen dogs that were really intimidated by people walking at full height but were fine with people sitting or squatting down.
posted by empath at 3:17 AM on June 6, 2013

When I got my dog she was terrified of teenagers, especially in groups (among other things). This was to the point if we were going down a street and there was a group of kids she would pull fiercely to go in the other direction. It took a few months of training/exposure for her to get over it.
posted by mikepop at 5:48 AM on June 6, 2013

I strongly recommend against the bombardment approach. If she's that afraid, you do not want to suddenly expose her to being surrounded by a whole bunch of men - that's a way to possibly freak her out more. Instead, listen to the recommendations for slow gradual desensitization, with lots of treats above.

Pet-oriented places are the best, as katemonster mentioned, because you're much more likely to find random strangers who would love to treat your dog and understand why and how you'd like them to go about it.
posted by canine epigram at 6:02 AM on June 6, 2013

To back up what radioamy said, my mom just adopted a very nervous dog who was clearly anxious about strangers. When we first met mom made a point of hugging me to show her that I'm ok, and I think it soothed some of her fears.
posted by brilliantine at 7:03 AM on June 6, 2013

If you have male visitors over have them basically ignore the dog. If they are all calling to her or trying to get her to come to them, it will actually make her feel more threatened, if they are staring at her and reaching for her. If she comes up in her own time, they can slowly pat her and talk to her softly. Try to have them avoid reaching for the top of her head as that can be intimidating for some dogs.

If any of them would like to help have the men friends sit down, on the floor if they are comfortable with it and basically ignore the dog. Don't make eye contact, don't reach for the dog, don't call it's name. Just have the randomly chuck a few dog treats casually on the floor between them and the dog. Dog appeasement gestures, signs you are trying not to be a threat, include yawning, not making eye contact and laying down. So have them yawn, big jaw cracking yawns. Let the dog approach them in her own time. Once she's approaching them no problem, have them slowly start to make contact, don't have them reach down and pat on the top of the head, have them come in and pat from the side and maybe rub under her ears. Letting her back off when ever she wants. Have them feed her from their hands after that.

Lots of exposure to men in the future will help, but don't rush it, let her do it slowly and build up her confidence. Men in general can be scary to dogs as they are larger and have deeper voices. If you are out and about and she approaches men of her own free will, give her lots of praise and positive reinforcement.

If it makes you feel any better, my dog likes men, but only 6 months of the year, put them in a coat and he wants to kill them all.
posted by wwax at 9:36 AM on June 6, 2013 [1 favorite]

Had this issue with a dog once -- we thought it might be due to prior abuse. I agree with others who say to go with slow, gradual exposure to men, have them sit/kneel down, give her treats. Our dog was mostly scared of men with beards, though that doesn't sound like the issue in your case. (I think beards are a little scary, myself.) It might take many months; be patient.
posted by phoenix_rising at 7:01 PM on June 6, 2013

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