The idea that a dog is a great judge of human character is a popular one among dog lovers, but is it really true? A.A. Milne, the creator of Winnie the Pooh once said “Some people talk to animals. Not many listen though. That’s the problem.” Should you listen more closely to what your dog is trying to tell you about a person or a place?
There is no true scientific proof that dogs can detect danger or dangerous people more accurately than people can, but that may partly be because the instincts and behavior of dogs has only recently been seen as worthy of study. In the past, it was believed that dogs were too domesticated to learn from. But in studies conducted by the director of Duke University’s Canine Cognition Center, Professor Brian Hare, it’s been found that dogs are even better than chimpanzees at reading the body language of humans. That may give them an edge in discerning when people are nervous or scared.
Because of their heightened sense of smell, dogs can detect things like alcohol, drugs, blood, sweat or explosives when humans can’t. Unless he’s been trained to, a dog doesn’t judge these items as bad or dangerous, but they may alert even an untrained dog that something is different in his environment. He can also detect sounds that humans can’t, making it very possible for your dog to react to whispers, breathing or sounds of distress you don’t hear.
If you have an aggressive or fearful dog, don’t chalk it up to his “instincts.” Aggressive behaviors in a puppy or young dog should be curbed as soon as possible. Obedience classes or the assistance of a professional trainer can be extremely helpful in correcting these unwanted behaviors.
Should you trust your dog’s instinct? It depends. A dog that’s poorly socialized or territorial may behave as though everyone’s a threat. An aggressive or insecure dog shouldn’t be trusted as a barometer for your personal safety or the safety of your home. However, if your well-balanced, normally friendly dog bristles when a certain someone comes to the door why not listen to him? It would certainly make A.A. Milne proud, and that’s some pretty good company to be in.