Can dogs be racist?

Better ideas.
Feb. 26 2003 11:06 AM

Can a Dog Be Racist?

The case of the prejudiced pit bull.

(Continued from Page 1)

Apprehension on the human's side and ignorance on the dog's can lead to a didactic encounter that reinforces prejudice and fear on both sides. The personality of the owner can make matters even worse. Dodman recently completed a large study of the personality profiles of owners whose dogs are fear aggressive and—no surprise—the owners tend to be somewhat fearful and awkward themselves. "If you are nervous around people, the lead becomes a telephone line going straight to the dog," he says. "As you tense up on the lead, the dog will pick up on the tension. He might glance at you and see the expression on your face and then he is keyed and ready to go. Cocked and loaded."

Add race to the equation, and the potential for ugliness deepens. If a white owner is apprehensive about say, blacks, the dog could manifest that apprehension, which could encourage blacks who encounter that aggressive canine to fear dogs and dislike their white owners. Even owners like my friends, who I'll posit didn't come into the situation with prejudice, now find themselves tightening the leash or crossing the street when they see someone Percy is prone to bark at coming their way. And while they do this to avoid a bad situation, it could reinforce the very qualities they wish their dog didn't possess.

Advertisement

It is possible to mitigate such behavior, through a sort of doggie diversity training, whereby the pet is gradually exposed to what sets it off. But it can be hard to persuade your black or white-bearded friends to participate in such cultural immersion exercises. (My friends had serendipitously hired a black trainer for Percy, whose behavior has since improved.) And even careful training can never totally eliminate the possibility that a trigger too similar to the traumatic event could cause the dog to lash out.

Some will argue that what dogs display is not racism, but something more akin to cause-and-effect conditioning. Really, though, is there a difference? Consider that many people become prejudiced by being raised in a very insular way, in their own enclave of whites or Hispanics or blacks, largely ignorant of people who are different. Humans, too, fear the unfamiliar and use a bad experience or two to tar a whole class of people. The difference between dogs and people is that people are supposed to be smart enough to recognize the logical fallacy of such a reaction and a dog is, well, just a dog.

TODAY IN SLATE

Medical Examiner

The Most Terrifying Thing About Ebola 

The disease threatens humanity by preying on humanity.

I Bought the Huge iPhone. I’m Already Thinking of Returning It.

Scotland Is Just the Beginning. Expect More Political Earthquakes in Europe.

Students Aren’t Going to College Football Games as Much Anymore

And schools are getting worried.

Two Damn Good, Very Different Movies About Soldiers Returning From War

The XX Factor

Lifetime Didn’t Think the Steubenville Rape Case Was Dramatic Enough

So they added a little self-immolation.

Politics

Blacks Don’t Have a Corporal Punishment Problem

Americans do. But when blacks exhibit the same behaviors as others, it becomes part of a greater black pathology. 

Why a Sketch of Chelsea Manning Is Stirring Up Controversy

How Worried Should Poland, the Baltic States, and Georgia Be About a Russian Invasion?

Trending News Channel
Sept. 19 2014 1:11 PM Watch Flashes of Lightning Created in a Lab  
  News & Politics
Weigel
Sept. 20 2014 11:13 AM -30-
  Business
Business Insider
Sept. 20 2014 6:30 AM The Man Making Bill Gates Richer
  Life
Quora
Sept. 20 2014 7:27 AM How Do Plants Grow Aboard the International Space Station?
  Double X
The XX Factor
Sept. 19 2014 4:58 PM Steubenville Gets the Lifetime Treatment (And a Cheerleader Erupts Into Flames)
  Slate Plus
Tv Club
Sept. 21 2014 1:15 PM The Slate Doctor Who Podcast: Episode 5  A spoiler-filled discussion of "Time Heist."
  Arts
Brow Beat
Sept. 21 2014 2:00 PM Colin Farrell Will Star in True Detective’s Second Season
  Technology
Future Tense
Sept. 19 2014 6:31 PM The One Big Problem With the Enormous New iPhone
  Health & Science
Bad Astronomy
Sept. 21 2014 8:00 AM An Astronaut’s Guided Video Tour of Earth
  Sports
Sports Nut
Sept. 18 2014 11:42 AM Grandmaster Clash One of the most amazing feats in chess history just happened, and no one noticed.