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Thread: Racist dogs

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    Racist dogs

    So, there is a story making the rounds about a pastor who told a black woman from a maid service that she couldn't clean his home because his dog was racist.

    This thread is not about that story in particular, but about the more general idea of dogs displaying aggression towards strangers based upon race. Let's leave whether that counts as true "racism" for the philosophy forum.

    There certainly is wide-spread discussion on the internet about this phenomena, most of not political, just dog owners concerned about their dog's behavior with dog trainers seeming to confirm the idea that dogs can display this sort of racial bias in aggression. I've also heard this from a couple different friends who about their dog, one friend was white and the other Hispanic, but both dogs supposedly had issues with black people.

    I haven't found any good scientific articles on it yet, so if you find some please link them.

    But what are the plausible sources for this racial bias? I can think of 3 obvious ones.

    1. Learned it from racist owners. Dogs are highly sensitive to their owners moods and subtle reactions to people. Even an owner that is not ideologically racist but shows tiny reactions of nervousness around people of another race might trigger this response in their dog.

    2. Just an instance of dogs being nervous of the unfamiliar. If a dog grew up on around people of the owner's race, maybe they would be more nervous around strangers with less familiar features.

    3. Black people being more nervous around dogs and thus triggering the reaction. Non-dog owners tend to be more nervous around dogs. In the US, only 20% of blacks own dogs compared to 45% of whites. That alone could make blacks twice as likely to display typical non-owner nervousness or fear around dogs that would trigger aggression by the dog. Plus, blacks may be more likely to encounter a higher % of dogs that are generally aggressive due to existing in a generally more aggressive environment. There is more street violence and domestic violence in poorer neighborhoods where blacks are more likely to live and work. And there is likely more animal abuse in these areas as well. If many of the dogs your encounter are generally more aggressive due to being in high stress, violent, or abusive environments, then you are likely to be more nervous around dogs, especially one's you don't know.

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    Senior Member Tharmas's Avatar
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    Some years ago I read a study – don’t remember where – about U.S. Army experiments in WWII to see if they could train dogs to sniff out Japanese. After doing tests they concluded that dogs could not differentiate races by smell.

    I found this article about the experiments. They were held on Cat Island, ironically, off the Mississippi coast.

    I ask Sgt. Gibson if their dogs could be trained to identify and attack certain races based on their scent. Sgt. Gibson: No, sir, it won’t be by scent. Tukufu: So the dog doesn’t know the difference between an Asian, a Caucasian, an African American? Sgt. Gibson: Not, not by scent, sir.
    It was unsuccessful. The dogs were unable to determine between the Japanese Americans and any other scents they were able to find in the woods. They were also unable to keep the packs together. Unless you had a handler there pointing and giving direction to the individual dogs the dogs went after different scents and essentially either lost or didn’t find the soldiers.
    My dogs are non-discriminatory. They sit at the window and bark at everyone who passes – male, female, black, white, brown, but especially anyone who has another dog.

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    Mazzie Daius fromderinside's Avatar
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    They may be able to distinguish difference like the NK did of US and some other ally troops in Korea re their sweat odor. I suspect the reason the studies weren't successful - after all dogs have sense of smell 400) to 10000 more sensitive that ours - was there weren't enough difference between how westerners and easterners treated dogs for them to give a damn. Or, conversely dogs sensed some asians eat dogs as part of their normal diet.

    Aver re-reading your description I conclude the dogs had terrible handlers. Probably should have hired a brit.

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    4) The dog had an unpleasant experience in the past that they attributed to someone with a certain appearance and they generalized it to all people of that racial type. My mother had a dog that didn't like black people, reason unknown. She was blind, she normally didn't even know what race someone was. It wasn't a case of being nervous around the unknown, no dog that had that problem would have made it through Seeing-Eye training.

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    Loony Running The Asylum ZiprHead's Avatar
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    Our dog doesn't seem to like black people. She barks at everyone that goes by but gets particularly vicious if it's a black person. We suspect the people that had her before us and, we suspect, abused her were black. When we first got her, she would cower at any raised hand or picked up newspaper or magazine. She's much better about that now after 10 months of being with us.
    ITMFA

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    I've owned a lot of dachshunds and had several that barked hysterically at black people -- even from the car window as we waited at a light. It's cringe-inducing (it was the subject of a brilliant sketch on the Key & Peele show.) Dogs get upset at what they cannot easily interpret visually, and people are powerful to begin with, the most powerful beings a dog knows. I've seen dogs get worked up over a strange posture -- for instance, an older person with a bent posture approaching the dog can set off alarm signals in a dachshie's brain. I would like to know if black dog owners experience panic barking at white people in their dogs.

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    I'm having a mixed race couple over for dinner tonight. They've been here before and I've never noticed my dogs treating the husband differently from the wife. My dog Kiki hates everybody but us regardless of race, age or gender. My dog Zoie loves everyone after she gets to know them. The last time this couple came over, I had to put Kiki in the bedroom, until dinner time. She's nice to people that give her treats and leftovers. Kiki is just a little bitch, but we love her anyway.

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    Mad Quilter Old Woman in Purple's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by southernhybrid View Post
    ... Kiki is just a little bitch, but we love her anyway.
    I have to sedate Thor (kitty) when it's time to go to the vet, cuz he's such an asshole to the Vet/Vet-techs. (He's not racist; he doesn't like ANYBODY other than his 'pet people': Me, Husband, and Daughter.)

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    Quote Originally Posted by ideologyhunter View Post
    I would like to know if black dog owners experience panic barking at white people in their dogs.
    Right, that's an important piece of data to understand the causes. Odds are some dogs react negatively to whites, but it's a matter of rates. IF the rates of a dog reacting negatively to a race other than the owner are similar, then that would seem to favor explanation #1 or #2 over #3. That's b/c #3 predicts different rates, b/c it is a theoretical byproduct of the empirically established differential rates of dog ownership and poverty between blacks and whites.
    Perhaps the reason Key and Peele made a skit specifically about white people with racist dogs is that black people with dogs racist against whites just isn't a thing they've witnessed or heard of, suggesting unequal rates of the behavior. OTOH, maybe they only care about it when it has happened to them.

    There are clearly many white owners who agree with you in finding this behavior in their dog "cringe inducing", as you do. Racist owners wouldn't find it so unpleasant, which suggests that this dog behavior is not generally tied to the racism of the owner, even if that is the driving factor is some instances.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Loren Pechtel View Post
    4) The dog had an unpleasant experience in the past that they attributed to someone with a certain appearance and they generalized it to all people of that racial type. My mother had a dog that didn't like black people, reason unknown. She was blind, she normally didn't even know what race someone was. It wasn't a case of being nervous around the unknown, no dog that had that problem would have made it through Seeing-Eye training.
    I did consider that but saw it a version of this as an addendum to my #2 about lack of familiarity. I doubt dogs would just generalize from 1 bad experience to a race unless they were unfamiliar with that race. Otherwise, their would be no more association with race than just with people in general or at least with people who aren't their owners or familiar to them. So, it would need to be a combo of a bad experience and that being one of their only experiences with that race to produce a generalization to new people of that race.

    Also, the probability of that combo of events is low, b/c it requires that a dog has almost no experience with blacks, but then the 1 black person they encounter treats them poorly or gives them reason to be especially nervous. In the absence of a racist owner (#1 explanation in the OP) or blacks being generally more nervous for reasons discussed in #2 in the OP, the random probability of those combined events is low. So, that explanation would account for few of the racist dog instances.

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