Can Your Dog Spot the Bad Guy?
Can dogs reliably tell who's a bad actor?
You sometimes hear people say “My dog just knew” – meaning their dog never liked Mr. So-and-So, and sure enough Mr. So-and-So turned out to be a bigamist or an armed robber. Can dogs reliably tell who’s a bad actor?
Probably not. If Zippy is an all-around friendly dog, then surely some of the people he’s been friendly toward, or at least polite to, are not so nice. He got it right with Mr. So-and-So, but it doesn’t follow that he has a reliable special awareness of who is and isn’t to be trusted.
On the other hand, what if Zippy isn’t usually friendly to other people?
If your dog wasn’t well socialized in puppyhood, he might be suspicious of most new people (and most other new things in his life, as well). Once again, he got it right with Mr. So-and-So, but in this case Zippy’s sort of the mirror image of the dorky guy who hits on every girl he meets: He gets lucky (and Zippy gets it right) the hundredth time, but the other 99 times are strikeouts (and those other 99 “suspicious” people were really perfectly okay). We just don’t remember the strikeouts as well as we do the home runs.
Some people with bad intentions move furtively, or stare, or otherwise act in ways that dogs are likely to find threatening. And if your dog picks up on such behavior and thereby clues you in, too, yippee! But in general, we need to be our own Bad Guy Detectors. Our dogs can’t do it for us.
Jolanta Benal is the author of The Dog Trainer’s Complete Guide to a Happy, Well-Behaved Pet.