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Can Dogs Be Racist?

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Is my dog racist? I live in a pretty homogeneous area where most people are of the same race and ethnicity, so that is what my dog has been exposed to. However when he sees someone of a different race, he barks like crazy and I'm so embarrassed. Is he racist? And how can I deal with this?

A: I am afraid to tell you, your dog is a racist. Is it any more correct to say your dog is profiling what he knows? It’s a shame, it’s embarrassing – but it is fixable, though you may seriously require professional hands-on help, depending on just how afraid your dog is.

First, make sure your dog knows the cues “watch me” and “look here” so that when you say them on your walks, your dog focuses instantly on you and nothing else. You can teach them by offering kibble or treats on your walk. As you walk, just say the cue, and hold a treat toward your pup. Only when your dog focuses on your face, pop the yummy.

Another way to train your dog -- just as or even more effectively -- is to use a clicker. A professional dog trainer or certified dog behavior consultant can show you how.

Now, give this a try when a person of another race walks by. Before they approach, say the cue. If your dog is watching you and chomping on a mouthful, he won’t be barking. Also, over time, he’ll begin to associate the approach of a stranger of another race with food – which is very nice.

When you’ve got this down – and you think you’re making progress -- ask a friend of another race to do you a favor. Meet him or her at the park, or anyplace your dog likes, that offers distractions.

See if your dog will approach as you pop very special treats. Have your dog sit (I assume he knows this), and then have your friend squat down and offer little pieces of hot dogs or sandwich meat (unsalted and low fat).

If it works, spend some time with the friend for your dog to build trust. If your friend has a dog of his/her own, bring that dog too (assuming your dog likes other dogs). Repeat this several times. As you build success, have your friend bring a friend. This can work – though you may be owing your friends a free lunch for the favor.

Even with you relaxed (dogs to pick up on our concerns on the other end of the leash), your dog may simply be too afraid and at some point continue barking. At that point, I suggest you call  a professional reinforcement.

Steve Dale is a pet expert and certified dog and cat behavior consultant. His new books,Good Dog! and Good Cat! are available for purchase here.


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