Is It Possible For A Dog To Be Racist?

Shutterstock / Eric Isselee
Shutterstock / Eric Isselee

Part of the beauty of having a dog is that in every day moments she displays such innocent humor. What’s particularly funny is that she doesn’t interpret the irony as I do; everything for her is real and happening. That complete unbridled innocence in the way she receives the world—sounds of an alarm outside the house; her name being called; the smell of another dog—is wonderfully purifying for us humans. We place a judgement on almost anything while they place no judgement on anything. For them, it just IS.

But that doesn’t mean that various incidents won’t garner colorful responses from dogs. Quite the opposite. If they hear a loud, sharp sound from outside, they immediately jump to their feet, prick their ears, and search with their wide open eyes. (So cute!) And if my dog hasn’t seen me for a few weeks (actually, who am I kidding, she’s like this even after a few hours of separation), when I finally return she’ll become wild with joy and excitement, her big clumsy tail wagging, her body physically twirling in the air around me, rubbing up against me, and she may even let out some pee (we really need to move past the emotional peeing phase!) And if I become cross with her, she‘ll cower in a corner, lower her eyes, her tail will curl under, and she’ll try to make herself invisible.

It’s just that there’s no attitude, no ego attached to any of it. Eckhart Tolle (The Power of Now, A New Earth), who’s fundamental teaching is one of “presence”, says that we have much to learn from animals. This is because they are entirely present all the time, while we are for the most part, stuck in our heads thinking repetitive thoughts.

That beings said, my dog has recently given me some reason to worry. Firstly, while she was once a happy go lucky dog who loved to rough and tumble with other canines, of recent times, our expeditions to the dog park have become limited and, well… uncomfortable. It all started when my friend bought her a Chuckit. You know, those plastic things that you pick up balls with and then “chuck it.” My dog LOVES this game. She is the fetch QUEEN. And now, Chuckit or no Chuckit, she is all about the ball. Any ball. Every ball. They’re all hers and they’re the only thing she cares about. So, the second we walk through the gates at the dog park, she’s like a dog with a… ball. And when any other dog comes near her, and inevitably they do — we’re at a dog park after all — she urgently barks them away. This means that she no no longer has any interest in playing with other dogs, and all she could care about is either her one ball or collecting a nest of balls which she then chooses to hide with under a bench or table as if she were a mother hen protecting her eggs. It’s so weird! And very anti-social. I find myself apologizing to other dog owners whose dogs have innocently approached my dog for a sniff and rough-about, only to be furiously herded away. She’s relentless!

What’s perhaps even worse than this, however, is my dog’s aversion to people with dark skin. This is really embarrassing. While normally full of affection and cuddles (when the ball isn’t on the scene), when a black person approaches her, my dog will lunge at them and bark. Or she’ll growl. Of course I discipline her every time this happens, but I can’t seem to affect her fight or flight instinct that is the cause of this bad behavior. For instance, I live in an apartment block and the other day I had her off the leash as she and I were strolling to the laundry and collecting the mail. Suddenly, as my neighbour Jeff rounded the corner, my dog lunged at him and barked. I have only recently moved into this apartment block, so I restrained my dog, apologized, and explained that she’s not aggressive, she’s actually very friendly (which she normally is). Jeff, an African American man in his 30s, shimmied away saying, “Doesn’t seem friendly…” And just last week, while I stopped at a red light and an African American lady stood at the intersection begging for money (a widespread tragedy in Los Angeles that calls for deeper examination in my next article!), I reached for my purse to give the lady a one dollar bill, and as I did, my dog, who was perched in the backseat, began to snarl at her. I really was starting to worry that my dog had become racist!

Thankfully, just yesterday there was an exception to this rule. My friend, Hanna, swung by my place last night to collect something that she’d left the week prior. As she didn’t have time to park, my dog and I met her on the street. Hanna was standing outside her car waiting for us and the second my dog caught sight of her, she lunged and began barking. Hanna was really frightened, and I was shocked and embarrassed. And then I realized: Hanna was dressed head to toe black. She was even wearing a black hoodie. And as it was late, she was standing in the dark. My dog barks at dark figures (whether it be dark skin, dark clothes or someone in dark shadows) because she’s scared. This has to be true because to everyone else, she’s like a pussy cat. Soft, submissive and sweet. After all, isn’t the root of all anger fear?

Let’s hope my fear theory continues to prove itself valid and that I can better integrate her into dark shades. My dog being racist is not funny. TC mark

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