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3 Dangerous Instincts That Put Dog Lovers in Danger

Dangerous Instincts: How Gut Feelings Betray Us is a new book by Mary Ellen O’Toole, PhD, a former FBI profiler. She is a friend of a friend and was nice enough to offer these safety tips to people who love dogs.

champion of my heart, best dog blog, dangerous instincts book with border collie holding it up

The dangerous instinct #1: “I have a dog, I don’t need a home alarm.”

The reality: While your dog might serve as a deterrent, skilled burglars know how to get around a dog. My co-author, for instance, lives in an area where a serial burglar ring is on the loose. The burglars have hit a number of homes with dogs. The police tell my co-author that the burglars are able to get past the dogs because they bring a Kong filled with peanut butter with them. They toss it into a room, the dog follows, and then the burglars have free reign over the rest of the home. In a worst case scenario, an offender could neutralize your pet, or even kill him with poison or a weapon.

The dangerous instinct #2: “I’m hiking with my dog, I don’t need to bring my cell phone with me.”

The reality: If you have not trained your dog to protect you, you have no way to know how your dog will actually react if someone attacks you. It’s just as possible that your dog would run and hide or cower in fear rather than defend you. Also an offender can immobilize a dog, even a large one, very quickly. More important, what if you get into trouble that your dog can’t help you get out of? For instance, what if you get lost or experience a medical emergency? What if you fall or become trapped? What if your dog gets injured or entrapped? Wouldn’t you want a way to call for help? Carrying your phone with you is an important safety measure, both for you and for your dog.

The dangerous instinct #3: “That guy can’t be dangerous. Look how cute his puppy is! Sure I’ll give him a ride.”

The reality: Serial killers and rapists own dogs, too. Dangerous people often use dogs and other pets as a ruse that allows them to gain access into someone’s comfort zone. They will use pets to make them look normal and harmless. They know that dog owners tend to trust other dog owners, so they use the pet as a way to disarm their victims and gain their trust.


Note from Roxanne: I’d love to hear of any dangerous or potentially dangerous encounters you’ve had while out and about with your dogs. O’Toole’s advice reminds me of this woman who was killed while hiking with her dog.

I’ll confess my most recent not-so-smart thing I did over the summer. I picked up a young woman hitchhiker (something I NEVER do) in our canyon because she had a young puppy with her. She also had a couple creepy looking guys with her, but only she needed a ride.

Everything was fine. I drove her to the gas station in town. I bought her some gas, and she hitched her way back up the mountain with someone else.

I’d just read another friend’s book about missing people, and this girl struck me as someone who someday might disappear and her family would never know what happened to her. In fact, on the drive down the mountain, I tried to talk her into calling her family and maybe “going home.”


Author’s Bio: Mary Ellen O’Toole, PhD, is a former FBI profiler and author of Dangerous Instincts: How Gut Feelings Betray Us (Hudson Street Press, 2011). She has tracked down, interviewed or studied some of the world’s most infamous criminals including the Green River Killer (Gary Ridgway), the Serial Killer of Baton Rouge (Derrick Todd Lee) and the Unabomber (Ted Kaczynski). She also worked the Columbine, Elizabeth Smart, Polly Klaas and many other high profile cases. You can learn more about her and her book at


I just received my free review copy Friday, and it’s in a stack of many books I’ve been asked to review … so once I’ve had time to read it, I might share other insights. But I’m so thankful for this relevant, helpful guest post … since last week went a bit sideways on me, and I’m short on time this week too.

And, in the interest of full disclosure, O’Toole’s co-author is my colleague and friend Alisa Bowman. You might recall this post about Bowman’s book on how she saved her marriage .



Roxanne Hawn

Trained as a traditional journalist and based in the Rocky Mountains of Colorado, USA, I'm a full-time freelance writer for magazines, websites, and private clients. My areas of specialty include everything in the lifestyles arena, including health and home, personal finance and other consumer interests, relationships and trends, people and business profiles ... and, of course, all things pet related. I don't just love dogs. I need them in my life. Seriously.

HealthyDogs4Life - December 17, 2012

All good tips – and I am very guilty of the first one.

My husband and I often joke about a burglar would just need to throw a hunk of meat at our dogs and they’d be just like that dog in the Allstate commercial…”hey, thanks for the food, go ahead, take what you want, I’m good for ten minutes or so”

I think that commercial is really the truth though – unless your dog has been specifically trained to guard and protect….

Susan - November 1, 2011

What a cute photo! These are excellent points about how a dog can create a false sense of security. Personally, I try to never go anywhere without my cell phone and I never pick up hitchhikers. I did hitchhike once in Hawaii because my then boyfriend and I hadn’t rented a car with 4-wheel drive and needed help getting down from a very steep mountain. But it was very common to hitchhike in that area for that very reason.

Kerry Dexter - November 1, 2011

good points to remember. lots of wisdom in this post — and a great picture of Lilly with the book, too.

Donna Hull - October 16, 2011

I’m reading this book too. What great information on staying safe in this scary world, with or without a dog. I guess I can get rid of the idea that a big dog will keep me safe.

Merr - October 14, 2011

Great tips here…good reminders. Thanks for the dog-centered angle. - October 14, 2011

Great tips and I definitely plan on reading the book.

We don’t solely rely on our dogs for protection, but there is no doubt in my mind that our dogs would protect us. The one thing when you have a doberman; people are just intimidated by them. My first dobe; no one could get within 3 feet of me if she didn’t them. My current dobe; well, let’s just say that she’s not as brave.

Like Sheryl said “her dog had that guys number”. They know what’s going on and it can’t be said enough:

If your dog doesn’t like somebody, you shouldn’t either!

Living Large - October 13, 2011

This post also reminded me of Meredith Emerson, such a tragic and senseless killing. And that killer had a dog, loved dogs, as a matter of fact and that was the reason her dog was found alive and well – after brutally killing her – he said in his confession he could never kill her dog. The dog is living with her parents, back in CO, BTW. I have never had anything happen like this when I’ve been with my dogs. I had a Shepherd/Collie mix that went everywhere with me when I was a kid. Probably the reason my mother let me wander all over town, she knew as long as Smokey was by my side, no one would get to me. Great post with good reminders, Roxanne!

JJ - October 12, 2011

I’ve had a similar situation while hiking. I was still in high school (some five years ago), and had my big black dog with me.
Back then, that dog was a mess (though I didn’t know it) and was very uncomfortable with confrontational men. (If you don’t know why, I won’t tell you.)
In any case, there was a girl with two guys who looked like she’d rather be somewhere – ANYWHERE – else, complete with a black eye and an old shirt held up to her nose.
The black dog growled and the two men, in their infinite wisdom, stared the dog down and went on about how they were going to “dominate” the dog and “show him who was boss.”
It was a very long time ago, so I don’t remember everything that transpired (or even what I was wearing) but I do remember grabbed that girl by the arm and taking off like a bat out of hell, dog at our heels.
I also remember how terrified of my dog (and dogs in general) that girl had been….. But, as these things go, she decided that my dog was her hero.

ruth pennebaker - October 12, 2011

Thanks for this great advice. It’s so easy to get lazy and assume all will be well.

Casey@Good. Food. Stories. - October 12, 2011

So true on that last point. No matter how cute the dog or puppy, the owner can still be rotten to the core – I’ve seen shoplifters tie up their adorable golden retrievers outside the store I work at, then come in and steal cookbooks! (I don’t get involved with the thefts; that’s for the managers and police to deal with.)

Sheryl R - October 11, 2011

Twenty or so years ago, I was walking with my three dogs on a wooded trail that was pretty remote (not far out of town, but no houses or people around and heavily treed). My dogs were really friendly, but when a man came along the trail and tried to strike up a conversation, one of my dogs placed herself between him and me and growled and continued to growl, non-stop, while he said, “what a pretty dog, nice dog, good dog”. He kept trying to make conversation and tried to wheedle into her good graces, but no luck. She continued to growl until he went on his way.

She was only 45 pounds, but she had his number. (Or maybe she sensed my discomfort with him – he was creepy!)

Good girl, Shanna!

Julie - October 11, 2011

People are afraid of Cali, but she would be the first one to greet them at the door and welcome them in 🙂 We have never thought of her as much of a watch dog and if someone offered her a treat – they would be best friends!

Hawk aka BrownDog - October 11, 2011

Hi Y’all,

Many years ago I worked with Schutzhund training. Most of the training we did was in obedience and tracking. The most advanced was training protection.

The German dogs working the borders made no sound whatsoever. If someone trespassed the dog lay quietly in wait and then leaped and nailed them. I knew one of these dogs and that’s how I became interested in working with these dogs.

The problem with the average dog is that it makes noise. That’s fine for a deterrent, but a serious burglar or worse simply kills the dog.

BrownDog’s Human - October 14, 2011

    Hi BrownDog’s Human:

    Just curious how long you were involved with Schutzhund training? That must of been pretty interesting. I think those dogs are amazing!


Molly Mednikow - October 11, 2011

This is great post and I also plan to buy the book for more insight.

Jane Boursaw - October 11, 2011

Great post, and I LOVE the picture of Lilly with the book. I always think that if I end up on my own one day, I’ll get a big dog, mostly to make me feel better.

MyKidsEatSquid - October 11, 2011

I go over that last tip with my kids all the time because they’re such dog lovers. Frankly, I’m probably the one who needs to pay attention to that because any time I see a puppy I tend to see if I can pet it. Thanks for the reminder!

Alexandra - October 11, 2011

So many good points here. People who want to take advantage of you often have acting skills. That would make the puppy a prop, if they had one, wouldn’t it? Gives me chills.

judy stock - October 11, 2011

Roxanne, good cautionary tale here. Always thought that dogs would be a protection against home invaders or burglars. My dreams have been shattered. UGH. But the truth is always good to know. thanks for this. Sounds like a great book to me.

Pamela - October 11, 2011

I was lucky that our crack addict neighbors were basically harmless (except to ourselves). When my dogs surprised them in the house, they were scared sh*tless. Though not enough to keep from breaking in again the next time they thought we were gone.

However, more serious bad guys in our neighborhood used to poison dogs guarding desirable property–like the local lumberyard.

Dogs are not weapons and should not be used as such. Hope the reminder makes a difference for someone.

    Pamela - October 11, 2011

    Oops, that should read “except to themselves.”

Claudine M Jalajas - October 11, 2011

I’ve often wondered if dogs would really protect their owners like they do in the movies. Glad to hear that they probably need to be trained to do that. Good tips!

Melanie @ Frugal Kiwi - October 11, 2011

Great points! People do tend to think of their dogs as the end all and be all of home security some times. Good to remind everyone that dog owners aren’t the only ones who can bribe the pooches.

NoPotCoooking - October 11, 2011

I always hope our dogs will be a deterrent to break-ins because they do make a lot of noise, but you are right about someone being able to distract or disable them. Good tips. Sounds like a great book.

sheryl K. - October 11, 2011

This is so interesting. I’ve often thought that having a big, scary-looking (or not so scary-looking but BIG) dog would be a deterrent to anyone. After all, I have a little pooch that once barked and scared a delivery guy so much he jumped into the back of his truck! But not always, I guess…

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