Why is that dogs like some people, but not others?

Many dogs are happy-go-lucky fellows who love everyone and are happy to greet anyone they meet with a happy wagging tail.  But there are also a lot of dogs who appear to like some people, but not others.

Peggy the Chihuahua is a case in point.  She’s my little rescue dog and a contrary little thing at times and she most certainly would seem happy to make friends with some people, but not others.  For instance, she loves my one sister-in-law, but appears to be very fearful of the other – much to the latter’s disappointment!  Peggy will happily jump up to her favourite sister-in-law and will enjoy sitting on her lap; while with the other, she will grumble and growl and run away.  Neither really appear to behave any differently towards her, except that one is perhaps more laid back and the other has always been desperate to get her hands on Peggy for cuddles – and I guess Peggy always likes to do things are her own pace and in her own time.

We have been perplexed as to why Peggy seems to take to some and not others – but Holidays4Dogs has discovered a few reasons why some dogs seem to make different judgments about different people and it is not as mysterious as you might think.

  • Sense of smell – a dog has an incredibly powerful nose and it is one of the first things they will do when meeting another dog or person – given them a good sniff.  If a dog smells something they find confusing, or threatening, they will often back off and may display behaviours such as growling, or barking.  Some dogs dislike the smell of other unknown dogs (or cats) on people’s clothing but also, strong perfumes and chemicals, like paint etc, may well make your pooch turn their nose up at making friends.

  • Past experience.  Many rescue dogs have had difficult times and may have suffered abuse from certain types of people.  This may affect their behaviour towards people that remind them of past trauma – so, height, build, demeanour may all have an effect on how the dog reacts.

  • Body language.  Even normally friendly dogs may baulk if someone they don’t know hovers or bends over them, makes erratic movements, or gives them direct eye contact at close quarters.  While with people, not giving eye contact is widely regarded as a bit odd; in the dog world direct eye to eye gaze is seen as a threat.

  • Human to human interaction.  This is an interesting one because research has found that both dogs and monkeys appear to make social evaluations in similar ways that humans do.  Psychologists at Kyoto University carried out a study in which dogs observed their owners struggling to open a container.  After failing, the owner then asked another person for help – by simply offering the container to the other person, who either opened the container, or stayed still with arms folded.    After each interaction, the dog was given the choice to accept attention from the person, or to ignore them and in the tests where the helper refused to help – the dogs were much more likely not to accept attention from the un-helpful individual.  The same results were collected from similar tests with monkeys and it goes to show that if someone is rude or un-helpful towards you, your dog may decide for himself he doesn’t like them!

Does your dog like everyone he meets, or does he gravitate towards some people and not others?  Holidays4Dogs would love to hear your stories and why you think your dog might behave this way.