Can Dogs Tell Human Gender?

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Introduction

Did you ever notice that some dogs seem to like women better than men while other dogs seem to respond more to men than women? Some dogs growl and shake every time a man comes into the room. Then, there are other dogs who are completely bonded to their male owners, always at their sides but not so responsive to the girls in the family. 

So often we hear owners say things like, "Oh, my dog only likes women" or "My dog is a man's dog". Could it be that dogs can really tell the difference between men and women?

Signs Dogs can Differentiate Genders

Dogs are social creatures. They can pick up on cues from humans and other animals. Dogs have their own ways of communicating with one another and with humans. They can signal when they are excited, happy and playful, sad, frightened or aggressive. They send signals that send messages of their submissiveness or domination of others. 

Dogs may not use words but their dog-speak is perfectly clear, especially if the owner has taken the time to learn about dog behavior. It is important to be aware of the context and the signals your dog is sending to keep your dog and others in the environment safe, calm and interacting in positive ways.

When we think about dogs being able to tell gender, we look for signs that the dog is friendly toward or fearful of others. There are a number of signs your dog will show you if a human is triggering fear in the dog. A fearful dog may act in a range of behaviors that may extend from avoidance behaviors, such as running away and hiding, to aggressive behaviors, like growling and baring the teeth in self-defense. 

This is why it is important to be aware of triggers for your dog and to take precautions when you see these signs in your dog's body language. If your dog is fearful, you may notice shaking, hiding, whale eye, or cowering. If your dog is becoming defensive out of the fear, you may see protective but potentially aggressive behaviors such as barking, wagging the tail to the left, an excitable alert stance, or even the lips curled back.

When you see any of these signs of distress, it will be important to take steps to separate the dog from the person or situation and to get some help in knowing how to handle the dog with these types of reactions in the future.

On the other hand, if your dog is attracted to someone, you will see many signs of positive energy from your dog. The dog will be excited and go to the person, sometimes even whimpering from excitement. The dog may rub against the person, sniff and nuzzle. Some dogs will get so excited if they like someone that they will urinate. 

A friendly person can be lucky enough to get an invitation to play from the dog when the dog stretches the front legs and raises the hind legs in the play-bow position. The dog may give friendly yelps and barks. There may be smiles and even a little happy-drool in the enthusiastic greeting of your playful pooch.

Body Language

Signs your dog senses differences in people include:
  • Growling
  • Barking
  • Shaking
  • Cowering
  • Exposed teeth

Other Signs

More cues your dog will give if they have a preference of one gender are:
  • Friendly (or unfriendly) greetings
  • Staying close to only one gender of person

The History of Dogs Telling Human Gender

Many people have a perception that when dogs act fearfully toward certain people, it is because the animal was abused. If you own a pet that was rescued, you often do not know about the early experiences of your dog. 

All dogs go through periods of development as pups in which they are naturally fearful. From the age of 7 weeks to 4 months, this is an optimal stage of socialization in which the pup needs to be exposed to different sights, sounds, sensations, people, and environments. 

There are also fearful stages in which the dog may develop into a more or less adaptive pet depending on how they were trained and managed during those developmental stages. While we may make a generalization that a dog is afraid of others based on gender, it is likely that the dog is responding to other triggers. 

For example, men and women have different gaits. The gait of a man is more direct and can appear to be charging at the dog. Women, on the other hand, have more of a sway to their walk and do not appear as threatening in their natural movements. The dog could be acting fearful in response to perceived movements or shadows as opposed to the gender of the person. 

There may be other triggers associated with the person causing the dog to act fearfully, whether it be a mustache or a tool belt. 

When it comes to children and dogs, once again, it is a matter of experience and temperament. Children can be loud and unpredictable and they may approach the pooch directly, causing the dog to feel intimidated. By being a good observer of your Rover's reactions, you can tune into the triggers that can point you to training and management strategies that will make your pet more adaptive.

The Science Behind Dogs Telling Genders

People easily make snap decisions about one another. In just a glance, we make pretty accurate judgments about one another - one of the first being gender. We have all seen our dogs react differently to people they encounter and we often make attributes that these reactions are due to gender, often assuming the dog had positive or negative experiences with males or females. 

A team of researchers set out to test how dogs may recognize human gender based on their different sensory modalities. They tested a total of 51 dogs of 17 breeds. A man and a woman stood in front of the dogs. A speaker was positioned behind each person. A sound of a man or woman's voice would come from the speaker, sometimes not matching the gender of the person. 

They recorded if the dogs would look at the man or woman when the voices matched their gender. The researchers learned that dogs who lived with only one owner were not very accurate in discerning the appropriate match of voice and gender. The dogs living with three or more people had better gender discrimination ability. 

The researchers concluded that dogs learn from their social experiences. Whether or not a dog can tell if people are male or female depends on their previous exposures to men and women.

Training a Dog to Respond Well to Both Genders

Whether your dog is afraid of boys or girls, men or women, there are things you can do to help them overcome their fears. Remember that fears are learned. When your dog runs away from something fearful, they are reinforced by escaping the feared stimulus. 

To teach your dog new behaviors, you will be using methods to reduce your dog's anxiety while becoming exposed to the fearful trigger. The more pleasant the experience and the reinforcement, the better the likelihood you can reduce the dog's anxiety and create new adaptive behaviors.  

Desensitization is the methods of gradually introducing your pet to the fearful stimulus. Counter-conditioning is the pairing of positive associations with the exposure. These methods are incorporated into this Peek-A-Boo training game.

1. Start by having the familiar, non-threatening person say, "Peek-A-Boo" and throw the dog a small treat several times a day for a few days.

2. After a while, the dog will start looking for the treat when hearing the words "Peek-A-Boo".

3. Have the feared person say "Peek-A-Boo" while the familiar person throws the treat.

4. Gradually introduce the presence of the feared person saying "Peek-A-Boo" and throwing the treat. 

5. Keep doing this until the dog is acting comfortably with their new friend.

How to React if Your Dog Responds Differently According to Gender:

  • Always be patient and positive.
  • Gradually introduce your pup to new and different people.
  • Take your dog into different environments.
  • Teach your dog basic obedience commands.
  • Set good boundaries with your pet when you are away with gates and crates.