I have noticed first-hand that some dogs freak out when certain people are around (barking, squeaking/squealing, fidgety, stressed-like, etc.), but then when I come around those exact same dogs they are perfectly calm.

For example, my brother comes to visit, comes inside the house and the dog will start barking viciously, but if I do the same exact thing (with the dog a distance from the door and unable to see) the dog will not make a peep. Also, sometimes the dog will get aggressive or stressed out when certain people get near them, but most dogs I get near never act this way, and are usually calm.

Why is it that some dogs freak out, snap, stress out, get angry, etc. around certain people (even those they may see often), but to others, like me, they are usually soft, more relaxed, calm, etc.?

I had first proposed a theory that maybe it had to do with the dog's observation of the human's behavior. But I don't think dogs are too complex in their brains/reasoning to be able to recognize variating moods, and doubt they can read emotional intelligence that well(if at all).

  • I have also amazed one dog owner, who before a visit to her place told me that her dog does not like strangers and is very difficult when strange people visit her place. Then, at the door to her apartment, I went to crouch near the door, dog came out, circled me twice and went back in. My friend was like "what did just happen?" and then we went in, sit in livingroom sofa and the dog just lies down on the floor. She could not believe it, and I have no explanation. Dec 14, 2013 at 20:42
  • dogs like to explore people that come into their territory, the alpha will do most of the interacting while the rest of the pack circles and sniffs. If you deny that then he'll get nervous about the new guy, he'll also feed of the stress of his owner and the visitor, if both are nervous then he'll act out Dec 14, 2013 at 21:03
  • Its probably useful to look at the totality of the dog's body-language, as well as that of the person the dog is reacting to. We have a mini schnauzer mix, and his reaction to anyone coming near our apartment is rather fierce sounding barking - his body language is relaxed and he's tailwaggy however.
    – Journeyman Geek
    Dec 15, 2013 at 0:36
  • 1
    @EsaPaulasto Hunkering/crouching down, showing your shoulder and looking away are all calming signals to dogs. Standing over them and looking down, by contrast, can be quite intimidating. Most people, when told that a dog doesn't like them, will probably do just that and also be tense, not letting the dog out of their sight which just makes him more nervous.
    – ThomasH
    Jan 11, 2014 at 22:19

1 Answer 1


This is really too broad of a question to have any specific answer.

But for the purposes of an answer, the answer is : it depends.

The individual dog always has its own temperament - calm, excitable, nervous, etc. And the individual dog will usually be calmer around those it is comfortable and familiar with. I want to include the dog's history here; if a dog was picked on by children, the dog may always be timid around children because of that association. Don't forget that dogs live life, too - they may be having a bad day, overly anxious already, or too tuckered out to care much. Dogs also have their own preferences and affinities, and it is possible a dog may not "like" someone very much.

Dogs also pick up clues from humans and their behavior. From the human's attitude, walk, energy levels, or even their general "vibe". Dogs can indeed read human expressions and have been shown to empathise with humans on some level through scientific studies (the study where the dog yawns because the owner yawned is particularly interesting).

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