I have had quite a few clients lately tell me their dogs love everyone...except men. Reactions to men can run the gamut to tail tucking and hiding behind the owner to growling and biting. Whatever the reaction the dog makes, you must know it all comes from a base of fear. There are many reasons dogs can be fearful of men. They could have a genetic history that predisposes them to fearful behavior, possibly their early socialization was void of a wide variety of men, during a critical socialization period they had a scary encounter with a man (this does not necessarily mean they were hit by a man, it could simply be a man using a deep, bellowing voice or moving in a certain way). It could be a combination of any of it. In general men are taller, gruffer, have deeper voices and more commanding presences than females. A man can be the sweetest, gentlest, teddy bear of a guy but to a dog that is fearful of men he is a big, loud, scary creature.
So what do you do with a dog that's fearful of men?
Keep the leash tight when a man approaches?
Avoid any and all contact with men?
Yell at your dog for being ridiculous?
None of the above.
The first thing you must do is realize, to your dog, the fear is real. No matter how ridiculous or unwarranted you may think it is, to your dog, it's real and that is all that matters. You can't reason with a dog, you can't discipline fear out of him; you need to respect his feelings and help him through it and support him in overcoming the fear. We can accomplish this through a very managed plan of action that involves counter conditioning (changing the emotional response to the man) and desensitization (this allows your dog to begin feeling comfortable in the proximity of a man). We start slow and with known men that your dog is hopefully comfortable with or at least a man that takes direction well! If you rush this process you only worsen the fear and if you force your dog to "deal with it" it could come back to bite you...or someone else!
Respect your dog and support him, that is what true love and companionship are about! Find a positive reinforcement trainer that can help you through the process and be committed to the plan of action.
For those men out there that are slighted by some dogs they meet, my advice to you is don't take it personally! If you are faced with a dog that is afraid of men, the best thing you can do is give that dog space, no direct eye contact, sideways body posture and if you happen to have anything yummy in your hand slowly and gently toss it to the dog (as long as the owner says it's ok) otherwise completely ignore the dog and don't make any sudden movements. You will go a long way in helping that dog succeed in overcoming his fears and his owner will be so grateful as well!