Your dog is the friendliest, most loving creature you know. They practically wet themselves with excitement when you come home and gaze at you with adoration as you fall asleep. Even your partner doesn’t go that far (I hope).
But plenty of owners have experienced the embarrassment of running into a good friend who your dog just doesn’t like.
However, many have noticed their dog taking a particular dislike to those with an ethnicity they are not used to. Likewise, many people get the distinct feeling some dogs are responding to them in a ‘racist’ manner.
Could it be Buster isn’t the Good Boy he appears to be, and is harbouring some seriously prejudiced views under all that fluff and giddiness?
Of course, dogs can’t be racist in the same way people are racist. They don’t have the same divisive social systems or ingrained negative stereotypes which plague human society.
They’re also not capable of the same multi-layered thought processes as their human pals. And they definitely won’t be brooding over their long held beliefs, punching out increasingly irate blog posts about ‘people coming over here and stealing their jobs’ with their angry little paws.
So where did the idea that some dogs are racist come from?
Some animal psychologists believe if a dog hasn’t been properly socialised among a wide variety of people during puppyhood, then they may react to a person who they regard as being ‘different’ with fear-based aggression.
Animal Behaviour Specialist Janetta Smith spoke with UNILAD, offering her expertise on this paw-kward matter:
Personally, from experience with clients’ dogs, with my own and observing dogs abroad, I do not believe that dogs are necessarily ‘racist’.
What I have observed on many occasions is that dogs react to ‘strange or unfamiliar’ situations, as well as people’s negative and positive body language reactions.
Janetta notes how dogs are viewed differently in various cultures, and a dog may pick up on this in a person’s body language.
In some cultures and faiths, there isn’t the same passion or affection for dogs as there is in Western society. Many people will not have had happy childhood memories of a beloved family pet.
Janetta explains how many countries use dogs purely for security and guarding purposes, and this would obviously affect the way they react to being greeted by your barky little buddy.
According to Jannetta, this can lead to miscommunication between dogs and people from some cultures:
This results in many people from different cultures and colours being frightened or fearful of dogs, this then results in a change of body language around dogs.
This in turn causes the dog to pick up on this vibe, often feeling threatened or scared, and can make them feel the need to react in an often negative way (i.e shying away, barking, growling and in some cases making physical contact etc.).
Janetta believes it’s important to make sure your canine bestie is comfortable around a variety of people who may not be completely relaxed around dogs.
You can’t alter how the person reacts, or their body language. However, Janetta argues if your dog is more relaxed, their reaction will be less negative:
I found that because my dog is more sociable and accepting of people, including ones with different cultural or racial backgrounds, then it also helps to change that persons mind-set of being wary and frightened of dogs of any sizes.
I believe it needs education on both sides to achieve a happy outcome.
Check out how dogs can be much more sensitive to human emotions than you might expect:
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Janetta offers the following advice to make sure your furry best friend gets on well with a wide range of people:
If I could give any advice to dog owners it would be to socialise them properly and safely, so the dog – puppy or adult, new or rescue – is less phased by situations and people, and it becomes the norm.
Introducing and desensitising the dog gradually into different surroundings and locations, both quiet and noisy, be it sensory, people or inanimate objects.
Let them be exposed to different situations (parks, road walking, vets, shopping areas, outdoor events etc.).
Dogs are loving, noble creatures at heart, and with the right socialising and training they can be a friend to everyone. Human beings on the other hand…