When animals first walked the earth, they entered an untamed wilderness where instinct was their greatest resource. With keen senses of smell and hearing, they were primed for survival. That queasy feeling in the pit of their stomach told them another animal was a predator, so from day one, the wolves, lions, and elks knew who they could rely on and which creatures would have them on a plate.
Dogs have these instincts as does mankind. Sometimes a pooch can get aggressive if they don't like the look of a person. How do they know that a human is not to be trusted? Can they sense a dubious character?
Signs a Dog Can Sense Character
If newspapers had been around when the world was young, the union between wolves and man would have been a hot topic. An unexpected event can have its rewards and for us, that was a new species called "dog". These squishy-faced, floppy-eared funsters were given plenty of talents from their wolfy-fathers, including being able to tell who was good or bad.
You’ve probably been introduced to this inherent skill when your French Bulldog took an instant dislike to a door-to-door salesman trying to sell you a vacuum cleaner. Some would say that’s a fair judgment, as these guys can be a bit pushy at the best of times, but Angel, your fashionable Frenchie, is seeing something else.
As the salesman walks their talk, Angel is pacing up and down, letting out a low growl. He remarks how cute the dog is, as Angel barks and whines.
Dogs are protective and can see a person’s vibe. They’ll sniff their credentials and check out the expressions on their face. Angel was on form and sensed he wasn’t telling the truth.
Since the dawn of time, man has had duality in their makeup. Woofers are more honest and can spot a faker with their instincts. Deputy dogs are always on patrol as they try to protect their owners from folks with no moral code. If the salesman is dishonest Angel will see it first. It’s a mutt's way of knowing you're about to be ripped off.
You can’t deny an instinct that was ingrained in a dog from birth and with a playground of human pretenders, our mutts have their work cut out. Next time you open the door and your pupster freaks out, check out their body language before you say a word. If your dog is in fight mode with teeth exposed and ears flat back, say you’re too busy and shut the front door. Take heed of the warning as they probably have it right. Dogs go into freeze mode when a person seems out of sync. It’s the same as their wolf-dad sensing a leopard in the scrub.
- Ears back
- Exposed teeth
- Trying to alert their owner
- Warning off a stranger
- Sensing their body language
- Seeing their facial expressions
- Smelling their hornmones
History of Dogs Sensing a Person's Character
Wolves are dogs' forefathers and can hear 6-10 miles away! This gives them the advantage of stalking their prey. Their sense of smell is legendary as they sniff a meal almost two miles down the track. They are at the top of their food chain and a predator in their own right. If a coyote wanders into their territory, it might not stand a chance.
Wild World of Wolves tells us they are intelligent and their brain is 30% larger than dogs. They hunt in packs and can travel up to speeds of 35 miles per hour. They are also the origin of our Beagles, Corgis, and designer dogs. Not a lot has been lost in the transition, as pups have the instincts of their wolfy-past. That’s how they sense a person is a wolf in sheep's clothing.
We turned wolves into funny-faced pooches that wear cute jackets and fit in our purse. Over centuries of change, we made dogs love us and get used to our ways. In return, they became sniffer-dogs and the eyes of the blind. Their astute sense of judgment helps police catch the bad guys
Dogs are emotive and can spot a fake soul. While these people charm their owners with stories and lies, the family pooch can tell they're not what they seem. It’s all in their face and their body language cues, plus their stress hormones being emitted that give them away. You can’t hide from the dog - they’re experts at the truth.
The Science of Dogs Sensing Character
Studies show that canines can recognize their own scent, so imagine how easy it is for your Mastiff to suss out the guy at the gym who fancies himself as a ladies’ man. If your dog was on the treadmill next to him, you can guarantee they would sniff out his intentions.
Alert Chicago brings us the news that science is also curious about dogs sensing character. The study came out of Kyoto University in Japan and involved dogs being prompted to choose containers that held treats. It began with researchers pointing to the canisters with the food and then trying to trick the woofers by pointing to the container that held nothing.
This was an exercise in trust as the pups were then asked to go to a container that held a treat. These dogs were onto it and could sense the character of the researchers was unreliable, so they went to the opposite container. A mere 8% of the mutts followed the researchers' lead.
It doesn’t take much for dogs to know some people are tricksters. When a second study was introduced with the same format but new people involved, the dogs were happy to approach the container they were asked to investigate.
This experiment shows dogs give people the benefit of the doubt, the way humans do. That doesn’t take into account their sense of smell that can put people in a different light. When a person is anxious, a dog can smell stress hormones and this gives the “Aha” moment as to why this human’s not to be trusted.
They are also tuned to human body language and have become adept at reading the signs of a good or bad character. They are highly observant and have fewer things to worry about, like work, marriage, or social acceptance.
Training a Dog to Sense Someone's Character
It seems us humans base our first impression of a stranger on how their look compares to someone who may have slighted us in the past. This is also how rescue dogs can react if they see a person that resembles an abuser from their former life. It could happen during a puppy’s early socialization when workers at a puppy mill were not so kind to the doggy-kids, and the image has been imprinted on the pooch's mind.
You may see it in your pup when they take an instant dislike to a guy with a beard or another wearing a hoodie. The adult dog judges this person's character from a memory of someone else. Unfortunately, in a world of opportunists, it’s likely we will meet at least one con-artist in the course of a life. Our dogs can be very helpful, as they’ve learned to read cues and evaluate if the people you meet are honest or deceitful.
Some folks think dogs have a sixth sense about people, but it could be their wolf-instincts at play. Animal behaviorist and author of The Soul of all Living Creatures believes dogs are super-sensitive. That’s a fair comment, as their sight, sense of smell, and hearing are way off the Richter scale compared to ours. Live Science told us that dogs have eye lenses that can see ultra-violet, so imagine the detail they pick up when confronted with a person of ill-reputePooches and other animals have been known to act crazy before an earthquake or tornado is about to touch down. They are connected to nature and know things before they occur. They've also been known to save humans without a thought for their own safety. If a dog determines a stranger is untrustworthy, they are probably right on the mark. Their senses are wildly scientific with a few mysteries yet to be solved.
How to React When Your Dog is Wary of a Stranger:
Listen to your pooch.
Take note of how they are reacting.
Analyze the person your dog is wary of.
Make sure your dog is not comparing the person to someone that may have once hurt them.
Read articles about dogs sensing someone's character.
Share your story - it could help other dog owners.