CONFIRMED: Can Dogs Sense Bad People?

You might have seen a few comedies where burglars break into a home, only to find a friendly “guard dog” wagging his tail and looking for some pets.

Alternatively, you’ve seen movies of dogs that growl at people to make you think canines are even aware of the bad things that go on in the back of our minds. Almost like they have a sixth sense for bad people. 

can dogs sense bad people
CONFIRMED: Can dogs sense bad people?

So, what’s the verdict? Can dogs sense bad people or not? 

We’re going to look at how dogs respond to people and give you some sense as to whether they’re good judges of character. We hope the ideas below give you more insight into your dog’s state of mind and some confidence in your pup’s ability to sift the good from the bad. 

Let’s take a look.

Can Dogs Sense Bad People?

We first have to establish what constitutes a “bad person.”

How is a dog supposed to know who’s good and who’s bad when it’s hard for people to make those distinctions for themselves? For example, a bad person might be kind toward dogs but manipulative to humans. 

Alternatively, someone might appear to be a bad person based on how they look or talk but actually have a great heart. So, we need to clarify what we mean by a “bad person.”

In this case, let’s think of a bad person as a danger to the dog’s owner. Whether that means they’re a physical danger or more of an abstract threat might not matter, as we’ll discover. 

It’s unreasonable to think that a dog can read the depth of your character right away. It’s not entirely out of the question, but it’s something that there’s not enough data or understanding about to make a judgment on. 

That said, can dogs sniff out people who might be a threat to their pack?

dog growling
A dog growling is not always an issue

Third-Party Evaluation of Others

A third-party evaluation is the perspective of a person or animal that’s not the subject of a particular interaction. 

For example, your dog might be sitting on the couch watching you and a friend discuss something. In that instance, the dog is making a third-party evaluation of your friend. You’d do the same thing if your friend talked to someone you weren’t familiar with. 

One study showed that dogs weren’t as positive towards humans revealing harmful intentions toward their owners. The same goes for people they believed to be acting unfairly in one way or another. The study also observed the behaviors of monkeys with similar results. 

Another observation was that dogs weren’t friendly toward people who refused to help their owners somehow.

This evidence suggests that dogs (and other animals) have a sense of fairness and are pretty keen on what’s happening in human interactions. Moreover, the study concluded that these animals could make (reasonably accurate) third-party evaluations of social situations. 

The complexity of the situation or the unfairness is something to focus on here, too. The unfair or unkind actions used in the study were clear-cut, whereas there are many secretive ways that a person can deceive another person. 

So, one point for the dogs here. They can make general impressions on people based on how they treat others. What about first impressions, though?

dog in a car
A dog in a car looking out the window.

Immediate Impressions of Bad People

We’ve all seen a dog respond negatively to someone for almost no reason. 

Maybe that person was even you! But, on the other hand, perhaps the person getting growled at was actually a bad person that meant to do harm. 

The reality is that people who have ill intent often show physical signs of it. These are signs that we might recognize a little bit before giving the person the benefit of the doubt. For example, the person’s body language, general demeanor, or even how they’re breathing could show some sign of violence or threat. 

These signs are often universal or understandable to different species. For example, you can tell when a cat is angry. You can tell when an animal is sad or depressed. Even though the cat doesn’t display the same aggressive signs as a person would, there’s no doubt in your mind that the animal is aggressive. 

The difference with people is that there are a lot of high-level thoughts and systems that might repress our instincts. Dogs don’t have those. 

If they sense something that might harm you, they’re not going to be shy about it. Your dog loves you more than anything in the world, which means they’ll put themselves on the line to defend you. 

In nature, failing to notice the signs of an aggressive animal could get you or your pack killed. So it’s best to follow your immediate impression in those situations, which is what dogs do. 

So, whether or not your dog can tell when someone is bad all the time is up for debate. However, there’s no question of whether they can sense an aggressive and dangerous person.

barking siberian husky
A barking Siberian Husky

The Role of Training

Dogs will do what they have to do for their pack without any training. Training a dog to know certain signs or identify specific things, on the other hand, amplifies their abilities a great deal. 

An animal might need extra exposure to aggressive people to learn how to identify them. You might also train your dog to address certain behaviors that could only be threats. 

For example, maybe you have a secure home and don’t entertain many new guests, especially while you’re not with your dog. In those situations, only intruders would enter your house while you’re not around, and you could train your dog to alert you at those times.  

Beagle and owner outdoors
A Beagle and his owner outdoor.

A Dog’s Sense of Morality

Thinking about how a dog sees right and wrong is one of those things that could make you cry at any moment. 

What other creature (or person) could you trust to do the right thing at all times? If there’s a problem and your dog notices it, they will let you know and try their best to fix it. However, when there isn’t a problem, their focus is entirely on giving you love and enjoying your presence

As far as we can tell, dogs have the right idea about how to live life. Their priorities are very straightforward. So unless they live with an owner who skews those feelings and leads a dog to do harm, you can depend on a pup. 

Take this story, for example. 

Mack, the Black Lab, got let out to go potty one day. His owner, Dave, thought it was just business as usual until he heard Mack barking in a very unusual way. Dave couldn’t tell what was happening, but he knew Mack wouldn’t behave that way for no reason. 

When Dave got down the stairs, he saw his neighbor Marcia collapsed in her backyard. She had a stroke and was stuck outside in desperate need of medical attention. If dogs didn’t have a clear sense of morality, what reason would Mack have to alert his owner?

He knew something was wrong. You can peruse the internet for a few minutes and find thousands of other stories like this. 

dog sitting in the passenger seat
A dog sitting in the passenger seat with his owner.

Need More Canine Insights?

The question “can dogs sense bad people” is a complicated one. The general answer is yes, though. They know when someone is aggressive or might physically harm you. 

There’s a lot more to study about the intelligence of dogs. We’re here to help. Explore our site for more insights into dog behavior, training, grooming, breeding, and a whole lot more.