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Can dogs be racist?


WorldNetDaily was among those asking that question this week after reports that Jenna, a German shepherd whose owner admits she doesn’t like non-whites, was stabbed by one of the owner’s employees.

The attack cost Jenna an eye.

“The dog reacts to black people, Hispanics, anyone who is not white,” owner Paul Tocco, who runs a family-owned oil-delivery business in Yonkers, told New York’s Journal News.

One of Tocco’s employees, a black handyman named Andrew Owens, became annoyed at Jenna’s incessant barking, and reportedly “egged on” the dog before charging at her and slashing her eye with a 9-inch folding knife.

Detective Ken Ross said Jenna, a four-year-old guard dog, was cut “over the right eye, all the way down to the socket bone.” Ross said Owens “never liked the dog. The dog did not bite him (Monday). It appears everything was done out of anger.” Owens allegedly had threatened to kill the dog in the past and claimed Jenna had bitten him last year.

Owens was arrested and charged with felony aggravated cruelty, as well as fourth-degree criminal possession of a weapon, a misdemeanor.

Tocco says he never trained Jenna to behave that way. He said it wasn’t fair to call his dog racist or prejudiced. Jenna  just “doesn’t like minorities,” he said.

Your civil comments on this one, as always, are welcome. Can dogs be “racist?” Is the owner always to blame?  Might this phenomenon show up more in guard dogs, and if so why?


Comment from Anne’n’Spencer
Time April 9, 2010 at 7:23 am

I don’t think dogs have any concept of race at all. Like human children, they have to be carefully taught. The human being associated with this dog has taught her to react to certain other human beings in certain ways. He’s either done that deliberately or through subtle clues and reinforcements. Either way, it’s not the dog’s fault. Are guard dogs more likely to behave in this way? They might be, because they’re generally dogs that are intelligent and responsive to their humans–therefore they may be more likely to pick up those subtly racist clues. Don’t blame the dog. Blame the person responsible for teaching the dog.

Comment from laura
Time April 9, 2010 at 8:52 am

I disagree with Anne’n’Spencer. My parents rescued a dog that does tend to bark at minorities more than caucasians. I believe it was because the dog was never socialized properly. She wasn’t introduced to many people as a puppy, no children and no one of a different race. It’s a difficult thing to fix because no adult or child is willing to be barked at for several minutes while the dog comes to the realization “hey, this person is okay.” That doesn’t mean they should stab the dog in the eye either.

I don’t think the dog is picking up on the owner’s racist reaction. My parents are good people. I truly believe it was a socialization problem starting at puppyhood.

Comment from 2pugsinapod
Time April 9, 2010 at 9:26 am

Can dogs be racists? Sure, if they identify a particular race with mistreatment. And they can be hattists, beardists, sexists, too. In my experience, a dog may associate mistreatment by one individual with a distinguishing feature (wears a hat, has a beard, is a man, is another race, etc.) and react to anyone who matches that image of the abuser. We see it in rescue all the time, a calm dog who suddenly goes crazy when a man with a hat walks by. Or flips out when a garden hose is picked up.
I do agree with Anne’n’Spencer that owners can give off clues that dogs will pick up on and react to. And I completely agree that it’s not the dog’s fault.
But according to the story, the man in question “egged” the dog on. How often had he harassed the dog in the past, maybe when the owner wasn’t looking? Could the employee have been sending out his own signals of dislike which also caused the dog to react by barking? The employee charged at the dog, not the other way around. That isn’t self-defense, that’s assault.

Comment from baltimoregal
Time April 9, 2010 at 5:35 pm

I’ve been told several times by some less than savory people that “pit bulls don’t like black people.” This is of course total crap, because my dog is a pit bull and likes all people, as I have seen on many occasions. Not to mention the fact that I have met a number of African-Americans who are pit bull owners. Some dogs do react to fear, so if a person of color is not used to dogs, the dog may react poorly to that. And all dogs need to be socialized as much as possible to avoid fear of differences- whether it’s hats, uniforms, skin color, male vs. female, etc.

If the owners of this dog never taught it differently or kept it out of harm’s way it is partially their fault this situation got so out of hand. That doesn’t relieve the man who attacked it out of blame but situations don’t have to escalate to that level.

Comment from realdealdave
Time April 9, 2010 at 8:00 pm

Dogs are NOT racist, but they can appear to be. Laura is correct. The critical socialization period in puppyhood is the most important factor. Simply put, if by 12 weeks of age a pup does not have neutral to positive experiences with certain races, that pup will be more likely to be mistrustful of that race. This goes even moreso for breeds that tend to be naturally suspicious such as Shepherds. That’s why they make good guard dogs. They tend to mistrust those they don’t know. Other factors can come into play, but the biggest issue by far is LACK of exposure to people, objects, experiences. You can easily make a dog prejudiced against umbrellas or motorcycles, too, if they’ve never seen one before 12 weeks.

Comment from JACK
Time April 9, 2010 at 11:43 pm

The dog is probably racist , if you check you will find that his owners are probably christian, white, and love their country- I have seen these dogs at Tea Parties, usually without a muzzle barking woof …woof!!

Comment from Hope
Time April 11, 2010 at 2:12 pm

I don’t think dogs are just racist because they want to be. My dog is still very young but has a problem with the smell of drugs. If he detects any type of drug scent he goes crazy. I didn’t teach him to be this way it’s just how he is. Maybe this dog reacted in the same way. Perhaps it’s not the persons race that caused the dog to bark and growl the way he did. Maybe he had a scent that triggered the dog into assuming there was something wrong.

Comment from xox
Time July 23, 2010 at 11:26 pm

To be quite honest, I think dogs can be racist. I had a neighbor who had a dalmation for a while, then we moved in. I walked to the dog to pet it and then it started barking and charging at me. Non of the caucasion neighbors had problems. My next door neighbors are Indian like me and say they had similar experiences(and they have a dog themselves). But luckily, the neighbors made sure to keep it on a leash and not near me. I swear, either it was racist, or a very weird guard dog.

Comment from illini69
Time March 28, 2011 at 2:03 am

To tell you the truth, i wouldn’t say dogs are racists… years ago, I had two german shepherds and one black lab. The older german shepherd and the lab are never afraid of black people; they love black people, however the younger was soooo afraid of them. One time, id have a black friend come over and the dog would ran away as fast as he could. The poor german shepherd wouldn’t let any black person to stay 20 yards or less from him… my sis had to call the breeder why he’s so afraid of nonwhites, the original breeder had mentioned that her dog caretaker has beaten our poor dog when he was a puppy and that explained his behavior… so my honest opinion, dogs arent racist at all… you gotta be careful on how to train the dog as a puppy and not mislead them.

Comment from Cugo
Time November 6, 2011 at 11:08 am

Are you out of your minds! I have the best kindest, socialized animal in the world. I treat adults, children of any color the same. I am searching for the same answer. He absolutely changes who he is when a person with different skin color comes near him. I believe it’s what a dog can not see as a posed to what he can see. A dog sees in black And white. I believe it has something to do with his eye sight.