Friday, April 16, 2010

A Girl and Her Racist Dog (Part 2)

I have posted before about our dog, who has a proclivity for lashing out at non-Caucasian males. And, as when I posted about this earlier, Mike3550 is out of town doing some professional thing, so I feel a need to submit my typical low-brow contribution to this blog with an update on this burning issue.

Well, we moved about six months ago, and our new neighborhood is diverse like our previous neighborhood, but in different ways. It is mostly white/black. As I posted before, our dog was really displaying aggression towards Latinos (really men mostly). We did not encounter too many black folks in our previous neighborhood while walking the dog.

In our new neighborhood, she has displayed a fear of and aggression towards blacks. In fact, one day after a blizzard, we were walking down a very familiar sidewalk and an African-American man was walking towards us. Just as we got close, the dog executed a terrifying and sudden lunge bark. There is nothing like simultaneous fear, embarrassment, and oh-please-don't-let-us-slip-on-the-ice-and-crush-our-bones. I am sure that the man and I were both feeling all of these emotions, although his fear-to-other-emotions ratio was probably elevated, where my embarrassment-to-other-emotions ratio was. As usual, I yanked the pooch away and offered gratuitous apologies.

Well, I've had enough of it. It's humiliating, not to mention dangerous to let this go on. Yesterday, on a beautiful, sunny April afternoon, I decided to try something.

We live near a park where the neighborhood comes to play. It's really quite a utopian scene - children, adults, dogs of all races and backgrounds joining together to frolic in harmony. Playground, soccer, dog run. I walk my dog around this park nearly every day (the only day when she was really aggressive towards someone just walking on the sidewalk was that blizzardy day).

As we were walking, we approached an African-American man, woman and maybe eight- or nine-year-old child standing on the sidewalk. I wasn't sure what their relationships to one another were, but the way the man was acting with the child, I assumed they were father and son. The boy was smiling at the dog and said, "Look Daddy, a dog!"

My dog loves children. She will let them bang on her head and pull her skin and she will just take it. And she is equal-opportunity - no racism with children. But here was a situation I was not sure about. Historically: a black boy = good history with dog; a black man = bad history with dog.

I told them that she loves to be petted, that she loves kids but is a little afraid of adults. The dad, as I'll call him, encouraged his son to pet the dog. I made the dog sit. The dad started to pet her - not the way you're supposed to pet strange dogs, which I think is with a steady, gentle approach, and under the chin rather than over the head - but a little awkwardly over her head. I think my dog understood that I was endorsing this, so she didn't do anything weird except jump back. I explained, again, that she's weird with adults.

The son, as I'll call him, kept declining to pet her, and we started to walk away. When we were about 10 yards from them, the son said, "No, actually I want to try." I overheard and turned around. Yes. This was going to work.

I made her sit again and stroked her neck while the son patted her head and touched her neck. She was very calm. I said, "see, she likes you." He appeared to be very proud of himself. She also became more comfortable with the dad petting her, and even got distracted by some birds and looked around, relaxing.

I don't think we have solved her problem. But, just like with humans, I think what will help her overcome her fears of people who don't look like her "family" is repeated exposure to different people in a safe, friendly setting encouraged by her beloved masters. So, we need to be friendlier and more outgoing. This is hard for me, as I'm shy, but I am pleased with the tiny bit of progress we made.

Hopefully when Mike3550 comes back he will post about something smart/important.


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