There's no shortage of ways dogs benefit the lives of their owners simply by being around - from their daily offerings of emotional support to their protective instincts when disaster strikes. Yet one of the most important roles our canine companions play might actually be in sensing when people we meet could be trouble.
In fiction, it's a common trope for an antagonist's dark nature to be foreshadowed by a dog who seems untrusting of them from the start. As it turns out, that may not be so far from the truth when it comes to avoiding real psychopaths.
The Dodo spoke with Dr. Lillian Glass, an internationally acclaimed expert in the fields of body language and communications, to learn how dogs can help us identify people who aren't as nice as they might seem.
"Dog are very intuitive. They can pick up when something is not right," Glass said. "They are great barometers of what is problematic, but you have to know how to read your dog."
Psychopaths can be masters of manipulation, but their characteristic lack of empathy or outright meanness to animals is often a clear giveaway. Feigning affection for other creatures is difficult for people with those disorders, so they are unlikely to interact with dogs with the same sense of warmth and caring that most folks show toward them.
Even the absence of a playful tone of voice is an indicator that an individual may be one to avoid.
"They don't have it in them to put on that affect. It's not a part of them. If someone is completely monotone around your animal, that would be a huge warning sign," said Glass. "I would look at their body language too, not just their voice. I would see how they touch the dog, how they look at the dog, if they smiled, and what their facial expression is. Also, your dog will let you know. Some dogs might bark, others might shrink back."
While it may be tempting to jump to conclusions based on a single interaction, Glass is quick to note that there are many reasons an otherwise healthy person would be standoffish around dogs, like if they had a traumatic incident with animals in the past. Still, if someone seems oddly cold, or worse, outright cruel to your pet, it should raise red flags.
"Dogs are conditioned to melt our hearts," Glass said. "There's something in our brains that connects us with these animals in a very primitive way, so if someone shows no emotion or treats them poorly, it says a lot. If someone is not feeling your dog, or if it's not genuine, there could be a real issue."
For more information on how to identify and avoid problematic personalities, check out Dr. Lillian Glass's book Toxic People: 10 Ways Of Dealing With People Who Make Your Life Miserable.