Can your dog really tell the character of a person on sight? We’ve all heard that saying, “if your dog doesn’t like someone, chances are you shouldn’t either.” Most of us have a story or two to back up that assertion, as well. But is that just something we assume as pet owners, or do our dogs really have some sort of heightened sense that tells them whether our new friend is a friend indeed or up to no good? That’s what we’re going to find out!
Can a Dog Determine a Person’s Character?
It’s not just your experience any longer – science can back it up! A study published earlier this year in the journal Neuroscience and Biobehavioral Reviews concluded that dogs (and capuchin monkeys, in case you’re interested) “negatively evaluate people who refuse to help their owners.” Another study from 2015 produced the same results.
In both studies, pet dogs observed situations in which a stranger provided help to their owners and then another where the stranger actively did not help. In the first scenario, the dog accepted treats from the stranger who had been helpful. In the second scenario, however, the dogs ignored or did not accept treats from the strangers who had been unhelpful to their owners.
Kazuo Fujita, one of the researchers in both studies stated, “we discovered for the first time that dogs make social and emotional evaluations of people regardless of their direct interest.” In other words, the dogs’ loyalty to their owners and distaste for those who had been rude or unhelpful was more important to them than receiving a treat.
Dogs turning their noses up to people who mistreat their owners is different than them sensing whether or not someone is immoral or has nefarious intentions. While I’m of the opinion that dogs are an excellent judge of character, I also think it’s important to keep in mind that there could be other factors at play. Your dog may be:
- Reacting to their scent and behavior. Is the person intoxicated and/or behaving unpredictably? Your dog may simply be responding to the situation rather than the character of the person.
- Influenced by former life experiences. Although we adopted our older dog when she was just three months old, my husband and I think she was mistreated by a male when she was a puppy. She loves my husband and many other males she sees frequently, but she is immediately defensive around most males she doesn’t know.
- Defending his territory. Your dog may view you as part of his territory, and he feels it’s his job to make sure you’re protected.
Ultimately, it’s up to you to determine whether your dog’s assessment of someone’s character is accurate, but in my experience, you might want to take it into consideration the same way you’d ask your best friend for his or her thoughts. Your dog’s most important mission in life is to love you and protect you, and that loyalty is going to get you a pretty honest “opinion!”