6 min read


Can Dogs Tell if a Person is Bad?



6 min read


Can Dogs Tell if a Person is Bad?


Did you hear about the German Shepherd that was beaten and shot by burglars while protecting the sixteen-year-old boy who lived in the home? Two thieves broke into a home in Washington D.C while a boy was home alone. The boy hid in the closet while his dog, Rex, barked at the burglars and tried to defend the boy from harm. 

When the burglars entered the room where the boy was hiding, the dog jumped at the burglars. They shot the dog in the neck, leg, and knee but Rex survived. The story made international news. Rex knew something was wrong. Rex knew these were bad people. But how?


The Signs a Dog Knows Someone is Bad

We think of our dogs as always agreeable and making their wants very clear, with wagging tails and little yelps. But dogs can have a range of emotions and reactions to any number of things - noise, movement, being left alone and different people. 

Dogs will not only react to different people, but to different types of people and to a range of human emotions. They just seem to know when someone is happy, sad, sick, or frightened. It leads us to wonder if they can also detect our character flaws. They seem to be drawn to "good" people - positive, inviting and kind people. And sometimes dogs surprise us because they seem to be loyal even to people who are mean to them.

But there are bad people in the world. These are people who are unkind, who take from others, and who do not share. It could be that our dogs are a better judge of these types of bad people than we are by the ways they avoid them.

There are a number of signs that your dog will give you when they want to avoid someone or something. Dogs will naturally protect themselves from situations that they perceive to be threatening. When they are being self-protective, they will show signs of submission. The dog will lower the body. You may see the dog raise the paw as if making a request.

Just as our hands get sweaty when we are anxious, the dog will have sweaty paws and may even leave sweaty paw prints. The tail will be down and even tucked. The corner of the mouth will be back and the dog may even make a lick at the source of the intimidation. These behaviors are the dog's way of trying to prevent or avoid conflict.

Dogs may not like certain people. There are a number of signals that humans send that dogs can interpret and react to in self-protective ways. Just as we are observers of them, dogs pick up on our nonverbal cues. They say the impressions between people are made in less than 60 seconds. 

The subtle cues are sometimes the most telling. It could be the way someone is dressed, their eye contact, the tone of their voice, their body posture, their mouth expressions, or the tone of their voice. These signals all add up to give us a read on the person's character. 

Body Language

Some signs your dog may show when they sense someone is bad include:

  • Low Tail Carriage
  • Sweaty Paws
  • Tail Tucking
  • Paw Raised
  • Licking

Other Signs

More signals your dog will give if they think someone is bad are:

  • Aggressive Behavior
  • Hiding
  • Running Away

The History of Dogs Judging Character


We want to believe that we are the ones who socialized the dog. Some, however, believe that it is the other way around. The dog socialized humans. We are all familiar with the theory that the early man tamed the dog to help in the hunt and to guard the tribe. That may be true. Or not. It may be that the wolf had social abilities that tamed the human! 

When humans arrived in Europe 43,000 years ago, the saber-tooth tiger and other gargantuan creatures were already extinct. The theory that humans used wolves does not hold up because humans were already pretty good hunters. 

Besides, wolves eat a lot of meat, as much as one deer per ten wolves - every day. Humans could not feed themselves and the wolves, too. That would be too hard to accomplish! Historically, and even today, humans seem to do a better job of eliminating wolves than protecting them. 

There is an alternative notion to how man and dog became friends. In this new way of thinking, the relationship between human and dog came about as the result of the dog's natural social adaptability.  It is thought that the dog and human relationship is one of "survival of the friendliest". 

As dogs scavenged near to human settlements, they were friendly and tolerated. The friendliness caused the evolution in which their fur became softer, their ears were more floppy, and they learned to wag their tails. As the dogs evolved physically, they also developed the intelligence to read human gestures. 

The abilities of these early dogs to respond to humans then led to their involvement in human enterprises, like hunting and living among the people. It may be that the wolf adopted us. They may know us much better than we think. 

The Science of Dogs Knowing Someone is Bad


Dogs are actually pretty good judges of character. Scientists have demonstrated this with experiments in which they tested dogs' reactions to good and bad behavior in humans. 

A recent article claims that dogs can recognize when someone is being a good person, and are particularly adept at realizing when people are being horrible to one another. The researchers had dog owners act out two different scenarios in front of their dogs. 

In one scenario, the owner struggled to open a container with two researchers nearby. One researcher helped while the other did nothing. In the second scenario, again, the owner struggled to open the container in front of the two researchers. This time, one researcher would stand there passively while the other would actively refuse to help. 

After the scenarios, the researchers would offer the dog a treat. In the first scenario, the dog was just as likely to take a treat from the passive researcher as the helpful researcher. In the second scenario, the dog was much more likely to ignore the treat from the person who was mean to their owner (refused to help). 

These findings suggest that dogs can tell when someone is being unkind to another. In other words, your dog can tell if someone is a bad person just by observing their behavior and how they treat you.

Training Your Dog to Protect You


A dog can make us feel safe and that they will protect us at all times. Some dogs are so friendly that they just might go home with a burglar! You may not really need a guard dog, but there are things you can do to teach your dog to protect you. 

Never teach a dog to be aggressive. That is dangerous for you and others. You may want to teach your dog to be protective by watching a fence line, warning off strangers, or standing between you and trouble. 

A good dog begins with good owners who do their diligence with good obedience training. You want your dog to know and follow basic commands before you can teach your dog complex skills. You need to establish your control and leadership of your dog first with positive training. 

Teach your dog when to bark and when to not bark. Most dogs will bark naturally when someone comes to the door. If you have a dog that is an annoying barker, have someone come to the door, Once the dog barks three times, say "No Bark", have your dog "Sit", and give a reward. Repeat until your dog understands the "No Bark" command.

You can teach your dog the boundaries of your property. Walk the property lines with your dog. Teach your dog to stop at the boundaries of your yard. Put the dog on a gradually increasing length of leash and repeatedly teach your dog to stay at the property line when there are distractions, like people walking by. 

You may feel safer at night if you have your dog near to you. Teach your dog to sleep at the foot of your bed. Don't let the dog sleep with you. You want your dog to be near, at your feet so that the dog will be able to alert if there are unusual movements around your home. 

If you really want a guard dog, here are some of the top breeds for guard work:  Great Danes, Akitas, German Shepherds, Boxers, Great Swiss Mountain Dogs, Rottweilers, and Doberman Pinschers. Make sure you work with a responsible trainer to have the best management of your dog to keep one and all safe. 

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Safety Tips for Dogs Around Bad People:

  1. Teach your dog basic obedience commands.
  2. Use a leash.
  3. Do not leave your dog with others if you question their treatment of the dog.
  4. Watch for signs of anxiety in your dog and address those fears.

Written by a Cavalier King Charles Spaniel lover Pat Drake

Veterinary reviewed by:

Published: 06/03/2018, edited: 04/06/2020

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