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Section II: Going to the Dogs
8. Why do dogs dislike some people for no apparent reason?
While the argument that dogs do not dislike humans for no reason—but may do so for no reason apparent to their own human—makes good, logical sense, I can testify that it ain’t necessarily so.
I had a German shepherd, Anna, who had never been abused, never had a negative encounter with any male human, and was generally mellow and friendly with strangers. She liked men: she doted on my boyfriend and she loved my son.
I used to take this dog to a sidewalk cafe that occupied the front of a local upscale grocery market. My friend and I would buy some coffee and we would sit around watching the rich people come and go and socializing with the locals. Other people would do the same, also bringing their dogs.
This was an effective way to socialize our dogs to humans and to other dogs.
One lovely day I’m sitting there swilling coffee. The dog is loafing by my side, seemingly calm and happy. She has schmoozed with other people and patiently resisted her interest in dismembering other dogs. Life is good.
Suddenly, out of the blue, she springs to her feet and explodes in a barking rage. Highly alarmed, she is launching into full Ger-shep defensive mode. The object of her fury is at first invisible to me. In a minute, though, I realize she’s focused on a man way across the parking lot. This guy is at least 100 yards away. He has only just set foot in the parking lot, having crossed a main drag between the market and a mid-rise office building.
He is a well-groomed, ordinary-looking man in a business suit—he looks like a lawyer or a business executive, which is probably exactly what he is. He’s doing nothing out of the ordinary: just walking along at a normal pace, headed to the market to pick up the usual take-out lunch. I have never met this man; therefore, my dog has never met the man, since she has dwelt with me since she was six weeks old.
The dog goes batsh!t. If I’d dropped her leash, she would have gone after him and absolutely would have attacked him.
He apparently didn’t realize he was the object of the barking frenzy (who would?). He proceeded calmly into the grocery store—fortunately we were seated a distance away from the entrance.
He goes inside, buys his lunch, comes back out, and heads for the office. Soon as she spots him coming out, she goes bonkers again. She barks at this man until he finally crosses the six-lane thoroughfare between the parking lot and the office building.
Turns out this guy was something of a regular. Every time the man would appear off in the distance when we were sitting there, Anna would fly into another rage. Once he drove up in a car, parked, and got out to walk into the store: flying rage.
The dog never had any close-up interaction with the man; he ignored her and didn’t even look in our direction. I’m sure he just thought it was an obnoxious dog, and never realized he personally was setting her off.
Not one other human being ever had that effect on Anna during the entire 12 years of her life. I did not know him nor had I even noticed his existence the first time she went off on him. There may have been some cue unnoticeable to humans—maybe he was a serial dog murderer and stank of dog blood, who knows?
But as far as I could tell there was exactly zero reason for the dog to want to kill that man.