Dogs are man’s best friend for a reason. They offer us unconditional love, support, and companionship no matter what we’re going through. Or so we think until they show some discrimination towards a stranger or loved one.
There have been multiple cases of dogs attacking people depending on their skin color and further physical features outside of general appearance.
To prove this claim, a short film, “Mauled,” came out last year and explored the historical exploitation of dogs to intimidate and oppress communities of color and black people. The film won the Pulitzer Prize for National Reporting in 2021.
What Does It Mean When A Dog Is Racist?
If someone refers to a dog as racist, they are likely suggesting that the animal is prejudiced against people of certain races or ethnicities. It could be based on the dog’s past experiences or its general disposition towards certain groups of people.
It could be challenging to know what the pooch is thinking. But if your pet consistently shows aggression or avoidance towards people of certain races or ethnicities, it is racist.
What Could Cause Racism In Dogs?
There are three main reasons why your dog could inhibit racist behavior:
1. Lack Of Socialization
Many dog owners don’t try to introduce their dogs to people of diverse ages, races, genders, and sizes. A dog might be wary of unfamiliar objects or people if raised in a closed-off colony with little exposure to the outside world. In other words, the behavioral issues with dogs reflect the separated lifestyles that many Americans still lead.
In addition, a 2010 Pew Research Center survey found that 20% of black families in the US and 45% of white households possess dogs. As a result, disproportionately, more canines have been socialized around individuals with a lighter complexion, and as a result, they react more strongly to people with black skin.
2. A Representation Of The Owner’s Attitude
Dogs raised in homes where their owners express racist attitudes towards people of other races may also be more likely to exhibit racist behavior towards those people. Dogs are highly attuned to their owner’s emotional states and can pick up on subtle cues they may not even know.
So if a dog’s owner constantly expresses negative emotions towards people of other races, the dog will conceivably pick up on that and start exhibiting similar behaviors. It is yet another example of how our attitudes and actions can profoundly impact the lives of our furry companions.
3. They Were Probably Maltreated
People frequently think that if dogs react angrily or frightened toward a particular person, they might have been abused by persons who resemble the individuals who prompted their reaction. This theory is especially prevalent when working with rescue dogs.
This notion could be contradictory because it justifies your dog’s terrible behavior, which he developed as a result of the mistreatment. On the contrary, it unintentionally assigns blame to the individual your dog is wary of. So, please don’t blame your dogs’ conduct on this unless you are sure they were not abused. But apart from abuse, it is more frequently a lack of affiliation and constructive contacts.
Can A Dog Be Trained To Be Racist?
There isn’t scientific proof to back up this claim. However, some believe it is possible to do so through conditioning or teaching the dog to respond to specific cues that signify race.
A dog can be trained to associate a particular race with a negative stimulus. For example, a person might pair the sound of a specific race’s name with a negative association, such as giving the dog a shock when it hears the sound. Over time, the dog may associate that race with negativity and fear.
However, there is no way to know whether this is indeed possible. Regardless, it is essential to be aware of the potential for dogs to develop racist tendencies if they are constantly exposed to racist attitudes and behaviors from their owners.
Can Puppies Be Raised To Be Racist?
The short answer is no. Puppies can’t be racist because they don’t have the cognitive ability to understand the concept of racism.
Racism is the abuse of one ethnic group over another for no reason other than the color of their skin. Puppies may have an instinct to attack certain people or animals based on their appearance, but they don’t know that they’re committing an act of racism.
Ways To Fix Racist Behaviour In Dogs
Whichever the justification, owners have no right to support such behavior. It’s not an easy task to untrain a dog to be racist, but you can do it. So what steps can dog owners take?
1. See A Dog Behaviorist
The first thing you need to do is determine why your dog is attacking certain groups of people. You may want to take your dog to a behaviorist who can help determine why your dog is behaving aggressively towards a particular group of people.
A behavior specialist will:
- Create a unique program just for your dog,
- Act as your additional set of eyes and hands
- Provide you feedback
- Monitor your dog’s development
- Make adjustments to the program as needed.
The expert will also make the atmosphere more predictable, which is helpful if you and your dog are anxious. Once you figure out what’s causing the dog to react, you can train the dog to respond positively to that stimulus.
2. Positive Training
The easiest way to change your dogs’ prejudiced behavior is to approach training carefully, just like you would if you were training them to sit. Dogs use pattern recognition to analyze their environment, much like humans. They can pick up commands by being exposed to them repeatedly and receiving prompt praise when they effectively carry out the desired activity.
In essence, owners should praise their dogs if the biased dog responds positively or neutrally to an individual of color. They’ll quickly figure out that remaining quiet around strangers earns them goodies, and they’ll stop misbehaving even when the rewards stop.
Owners should also remove their dogs from potentially substandard situations. So, reducing the opportunities for negative behavior will assist dogs in breaking the racist cycle.
You can ask your pals of different races to help address the situation if they make your dog feel uneasy. Have your friend stand nearby and let them pat your dog softly. Offer your pet a treat as a reward if they comply.
You can also get your friend to throw treats at your pet whenever they see them. Ensure they throw the treat from behind, as the distance will help to reduce social pressure. After your dog can consume treats less than 10 feet from your friend, you can start building a friendship between the two.
This strategy helps to show your dog that visitors can be kind. By teaching your dog that encountering a person of color means a treat, you can reinforce good sentiments and connections in your dog.
4. Avoid Saying “Racist”
Dogs lack the same mental capacity to be discriminatory as people, so refrain from referring to them as “racists.”
Dr. Laurie Santos, a researcher from Yale University in the Canine Cognition Center, explains that when individuals complain that their dogs are being “racist,” they typically mean that the animals have an adverse reaction to members of particular social groups. She adds that the term “racist” has many societal meanings that may go beyond simply judging someone based on their appearance.
Santos suggests referring to the dogs as “prejudiced” or “biased” instead. She also points out that no peer-reviewed research has established conclusively that skin tone can cause undesirable behaviors in dogs.
5. Be Patient
Research shows that reactive dogs can benefit from behavior management and counter-conditioning training. These activities require patience and a lot of repetition. Responsive behavior does not vanish in an instant.
Understand that making progress will require some diligence and perseverance. Keep going even if you take two steps ahead and occasionally one step back. These techniques are guaranteed to work, and you’ll move forward at full speed before you realize it.
It might sound bizarre and like something you wouldn’t imagine in real life, but the fact is, racism from dogs is objective. And as much as we love our canine pals, this impudent behavior could get you in trouble if they hurt someone.
Knowing this, the best way to correct a dog’s discriminatory behavior is to approach training carefully, just as you would if you were training the dog to sit.
Dogs do not always know how to behave in a social environment. Thus, it is always the dog owner’s responsibility to stop them from misbehaving. Remember that they’re still figuring out how the universe works while you teach them. So be patient, and don’t yell at them.