The short answer, in my opinion, is yes. Have you ever noticed how dogs naturally seem to gravitate toward “good” people and shy away from “bad” people? Turns out there are studies that back up this observation.
Various research studies have shown that dogs have a natural ability to sense when people are kind. In a study conducted in Japan researchers put three groups of 18 dogs to the test in a simple scenario where their owners needed to accomplish a simple task of opening a box. Each owner was joined by two strangers. One stranger would assist the owner in opening the box, while the other would refuse to help. Once the dogs had observed the situation, they would be offered a treat by the strangers. The dogs were far more likely to accept a treat from the helpful person and would ignore the person who didn’t help.
While this wasn’t a large study, I believe it’s pretty accurate. There is increasing evidence that dogs can make emotional and social evaluations of people. Not only do dogs share this ability with humans, but oftentimes their ability to judge a person’s character exceeds our own.
How many times have you heard you need to trust your gut? And yet we often ignore those gut feelings. I can cite many times in my own life when I wish I would have trusted my gut. Even more so, I wish I would have trusted my dog in certain situations.
A Scary Situation
Many years ago I was dating a guy who on the surface sounded like a good catch. He was a psychologist and the director of a mental health facility. He lived in a nice apartment, drove a flashy convertible. He sent me a dozen roses the day after our first kiss. He wined and dined me in a style I wasn’t accustomed to. I got flowers at least once a week. But my dog hated him. If only I had paid more attention to the dog right from the start! A couple of months into the relationship I had a feeling something was “off” about the guy, because he had just proposed. I wasn’t in love with him and certainly didn’t want to marry him. I wasn’t even that attracted to him. I was just enjoying being able to go out and have fun. He presented me with a huge ring, but then went on to explain that it was made of cubic zirconia and was simply a replica of the “real” diamond that was being held at the jeweler’s until I accepted his proposal. That didn’t impress me much. It sounded kind of weird to me. I started getting the feeling that something was really “off” about the guy. When I refused to start making wedding plans I started getting really weird emails with bizarre poems that were very dark and threatening, talking about how beautiful I would look when I was dead. He never admitted to doing it, but I knew he was sending them.
Then he started sending emails and letters to my family members, my son, my mom and sister, telling them that I was really depressed and he was afraid I was going to commit suicide. He said I was stockpiling narcotics and planning to overdose, which was absolutely not true. Soon my family was all getting creeped out by him too. I really believe he was planning to kill me and make it look like a suicide. Needless to say, I broke off the relationship and that’s when all hell broke loose. He started sending me death threats to my work email address. Since I worked nights at the local hospital, I started having security walk me to my car at the end of my shift. I reported his threats to the police, but there wasn’t much they could do. He continued to stalk me for several months.
Oh yeah, and when I broke off the relationship he said he wanted his stuff back that he had left at my house. It was just a couple of little things, a radio, the ring, a change of clothes, so I boxed them up and mailed them to him. But when the post office tried to deliver the package he refused to sign for it and so it was all returned to me. Then he started accusing me of stealing his stuff. I finally got a restraining order and eventually he stopped. I heard by then he had moved on to a new victim. Whew!
The moral of the story? If you bring someone home to meet your dog and the dog doesn’t like them, ditch the person and give your dog a big hug and an extra treat.
I know there is another side to the coin, sometimes dogs can be too friendly. We’ve all heard stories about the dogs who happily greet the burglar who breaks into the house and follows them around while they steal all your stuff. What can I say about that? Well maybe the burglar likes dogs and is kind to them, I don’t know.
Anyway, that’s my story. What do you think? Do you believe dogs can be good judges of character?