Can dogs be “racist”?

Via Waylon Lewis
on Sep 2, 2009
get elephant's newsletter

While my best friend “Redford” is a happy-go-lucky, super-social, tail-wagging, progressive-minded, equal-opportunity pooch, he’s deathly afraid of security guards and has taken an unexpected nip or two at the outstretched, friendly hands of homeless people. And he almost always growls at them. How does he even know they’re “bums,” who are generally just nice gents who want to pet him? And why doesn’t he like them? It’s embarrassing, and, if he were ever to bite one, dangerous.

curb your enthusiasm "racist dog"

Then, there’s the common urban myth—or truth?—about dogs and African-Americans. Some say that dogs can’t see darker faces as well, and so act nervous or hostile. In any case, search “racist dog” on Youtube, as I just did so as to find the Curb Your Enthusiasm episode below that my friend Lindsey and I watched last night (and that sparked the posting of this question), and you’ll find 100s of videos. So something’s going on here.

My question is, what?

And how do we teach our confused furry pals that security guards, homeless gentlemen or African-Americans aren’t anything to be afraid of? This is a (strange) job for Cesar Millan, my idol.

Bonus: Cesar Millan, in action.


About Waylon Lewis

Waylon Lewis, founder of elephant magazine, now & host of Walk the Talk Show with Waylon Lewis, is a 1st generation American Buddhist “Dharma Brat." Voted #1 in U.S. on twitter for #green two years running, Changemaker & Eco Ambassador by Treehugger, Green Hero by Discovery’s Planet Green, Best (!) Shameless Self-Promoter at Westword's Web Awards, Prominent Buddhist by Shambhala Sun, & 100 Most Influential People in Health & Fitness 2011 by "Greatist", Waylon is a mediocre climber, lazy yogi, 365-day bicycle commuter & best friend to Redford (his rescue hound). His aim: to bring the good news re: "the mindful life" beyond the choir & to all those who didn't know they gave a care. | His first book, Things I would like to do with You, is now available.


One Response to “Can dogs be “racist”?”

  1. YesuDas says:

    We had a dog that always growled at obese African American men. We got her from a friend who bought her on the street from two weeping children (on a sleeting day in Minneapolis, no less) who explained that "Our mama had a baby, so we have to get rid of the dog." Our theory: Dad–a big round black man–never wanted the dog to begin with, abused it, and used the baby as an excuse to jettison the dog.

    Now, Minnesota is 94% white, so there was never any doubt as to whom the dog was growling at, which was embarrassing. Here in Philadelphia, her preferred growling-at demo are thick on the ground, which was another kind of problem. But here's the thing: one day, she began growling at a man who "fit the description," and instead of backing away, the man crouched down, spoke to her in the soft, high-pitched tones that comfort dogs, and stuck with it until our dog let him pet her. And after that, her freakiness around XXL African American men was visibly reduced. So in our case, anyway, I think it was definitely something in the dog's background that made her behave that way.