Many dogs express a clear preference about which people they like — and which they don’t. While there are no hard and fast rules about who a dog might like best, it’s easy to generalize: Dogs prefer adults over children, particularly women. Dogs also generally prefer people with soft voices and calm mannerisms over those who are loud and boisterous.
While these sweeping assumptions are not valid for every dog all of the time, many of them do have some truth to them, for some very simple reasons.
Dogs Prefer Adults — Particularly Women
A dog’s preference for one person — or type of person — over another has a great deal to do with socialization. Dogs don’t, as a rule, dislike men, but most dogs are cared for by women, and are thus more comfortable around them. A single woman is more likely to have a dog than a single man; in a couple, the woman is more likely to handle the dog’s care. In addition, most animal care workers and veterinarians are female. Some dogs may also be intimidated by a man’s physical appearance, as men are often taller and more sturdily built, with deeper voices and strange features, like facial hair and hats.
Dogs who lack contact with children during their prime socialization period are prone to prefer adults, for some very specific reasons. The way children act — moving with erratic and fast movements, invading the dog’s space — can be threatening to a dog, particularly one who has little experience with children.
Children may behave in ways that are scary to a dog, such as running up and hugging or kissing him, pushing or climbing on him, or putting things in his face. Children often fail to understand how to approach a dog safely and will reach out to pet him when he’s eating or sleeping, or pull a toy out of his mouth. Small children can be prone to accidentally dropping a dog they’re holding, which can be terrifying for the pet.
Dogs Prefer Calm, Quiet People
A person with a loud, booming voice is more likely to startle a dog than one who is soft spoken. A quieter voice with a light, joyous inflection is soothing to most dogs. When pet parents alternate between a stern voice with a hint of anger and a friendly and inviting voice when asking for a behavior, the dog almost always responds with greater eagerness to the happier voice.
People with peaceful body language who allow a dog to approach on his own typically get a warm welcome from the dog as well. A person who has turned her body just slightly to the side is more inviting for a canine to approach than someone facing him head on.
Kneeling slightly rather than bending over the top of the dog is also more approachable. Looking away every so often from the dog or avoiding eye contact with shy dogs also poses less of a threat than direct eye contact and helps the dog stay calm.
Association Outweighs Personality
While an individual’s behavior and personality may influence a dog’s preference, there is more to it than that. Your dog associates people with different activities and emotions, for better or for worse. For example, a groomer with relaxed body language and a soft voice may still not be able to make friends with your dog because he associates that individual with being bathed and cut. If grooming is a frightening experience for him, the groomer will never be his friend.
On the other hand, if your dog enjoys playtime, he may adore the handler at the doggy day care because he associates her with imminent play sessions. As a trainer, I almost always get a relaxed tail wag and a doggy smile from the canines I work with, because our interactions are full of treats, play and rewards. These dogs love me because they know that my arrival spells fun for them.
Your dog may have learned in his socialization period to be afraid of certain types of people, either because he was not exposed to that type of person or because he had a negative experience with that type of person. By the same token, your dog’s early learning period can be used to foster positive associations with a variety of people. This is why it is so important to introduce your puppy to as many people as possible, in as positive a way as possible.
While some dogs are innately friendly, others are more cautious or standoffish. If your dog is fearful of certain mannerisms or types of people, veterinary and training intervention can help in many cases.
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