Karen B. London
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Behavior: When New Puppy Barks at Men
How to stop Shiloh from barking at Audrey's husband?

Question: Shiloh is a six-month-old terrier mix female from the rescue shelter that we brought home February 2. She is terrific and has taken well to our household including our five-year-old terrier mix male. My concern is that no matter when my husband enters a room she barks at him like she has never seen him before even though he talks to her using her name first. The barking is continuous, not just a short bark. He plays with her, even hand-feeds her at times, pets her and does all he can to help her bond with him and she seems willing to let him do this.  She seems to be “easy” around females and shies away from most males. Shiloh bonded with me right away.
Please, any suggestions would be appreciated as it is making my husband increasingly uncomfortable. Thank you.

--Audrey Silberman, Durham, N.C.

Answer: Shiloh seems afraid. Often the scariest situation for dogs is the appearance or approach of a person with whom they are not yet comfortable. Many fearful dogs react more to men than to women, especially men who are tall, have deep voices, broad shoulders, a strong jaw, or facial hair.

To help Shiloh exhibit better behavior when your husband enters the room, it is essential to change the way she feels in that situation. Focus on changing her emotions so the behavior will stop rather than trying to stop the barking directly.

There are two ways your husband can help Shiloh overcome her fear so that she does not bark at him in this context. One technique is to present himself in the least threatening way possible. When he enters a room, he should turn slightly to the side, lean ever so slightly away from the dog, and squat.

The second technique is to teach Shiloh to associate the appearance of your husband with feeling good. The basic idea is to consistently pair up what Shiloh loves best with your husband entering the room. For most dogs, this means steak, chicken or freeze-dried liver (no dry biscuits!), but some dogs adore balls or squeaky toys. Instead of her thinking, in some canine sort of way, “Yikes! He’s here and he’s so imposing!” we want her to think, “Here he is again! Oh boy oh boy oh boy, where are those super treats (or toys)? I’m so happy he’s here with that magical stuff!”

To make the combination of these two techniques most effective, every time your husband enters the room, he should do so calmly, position himself in the non-imposing stance, and immediately (within a second) throw the treats or toys to her. Ideally, he will toss them to her before she reacts, but he should toss them anyway, even if she’s already starting barking. It’s better to toss them as opposed to handing them directly to her. That way, he does not have to approach her, which could set her off. Her special favorite item should be reserved for this situation only to make the pairing with your husband as tight as possible in her mind.

Hopefully, your husband will soon have a special place in Shiloh’s heart. Best wishes and paws crossed for all of you.


Karen B. London, PhD, is a Bark columnist and a Certified Applied Animal Behaviorist specializing in the evaluation and treatment of serious behavior problems in the domestic dog.

CommentsPost a Comment
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Submitted by Emma | March 21 2009 |

My dog is a rescue and is clearly afraid of people, particularly men. I have only had her for four months, but so far she has yet to figure out that treats and toys are good things so I cannot use them as motivators. How do I get a dog who is non food and non toy motivated to feel good about men being in her presence rather than feeling threatened?

Submitted by Anonymous | January 16 2010 |

emma, i don't know if you found the help you needed at the time but for ongoing support, check in with www.fearfuldogs.com. there is a related yahoo group 'shy-k9's". even if you've had great success, you're experience would be helpful to all....

Submitted by Anonymous | January 20 2014 |

I got my dog from the humane society last year. He does not like men either especially younger men around the age of 20 or so. The vet thinks he has been abused by a man. They predicted his age around 3 years old last December so he is 4 now. We have tried many things but he still barks and tries to jump at them. I have to keep him on a double harness when I walk him. Any suggestions?

Submitted by Jane | May 22 2014 |

I would try just lowering the temperature for the dog. In the case of barking when a male enters, probably the dog has been abused by a male. I've heard of it a lot with rescue dogs. I would suggest the male should leave the room immediately upon the fear barking. I would not suggest this for normal dogs, only if you are sure it is fear causing the behaviour. I once read that for aggressive horses, which is rare and really only happens after abuse, just throw a biscuit of hay over the fence and immediately leave. That way the horse begins to disassociate from the idea that human equals pain. Then very gradually begin to get a tiny bit closer: maybe do this for a week or until you feel the horse has forgotten to be fearful at the sight of you, then maybe spend a few minutes doing something where he can see you and very gradually increase the time you spend there. The secret is to make it easy for the animal to feel in control of the situation, never threatened. Gradually you will find it takes less time for the horse to accept you getting a bit closer until you can come close to the fence or enter the horse's yard without any reaction from him. So you have to find an equivalent for dogs! Just follow your instinct and let the dog teach you.

Submitted by Lisa Wogan | March 24 2009 |

Editor's Note: We heard from Audrey. She says, "Shiloh is much better. We took your advice and it took time, but is working. There is an occasional bark now nothing like at first and my husband is comfortable with the results." That's good news.

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